New bureaucracy boss will offer ‘frank and fearless’ advice to government

By Melissa Coade

May 31, 2022

Glyn Davis
Davis has led an illustrious academic career. (AAP Image/Alan Porritt)

The prime minister’s pick of Glyn Davis to lead the APS as the next head of DPM&C has been celebrated by some of Australia’s leading institutions.

A former top mandarin from Queensland’s Department of Premier and Cabinet (1998-2002), vice-chancellor of Melbourne University, and public sector thought leader – if Professor Glyn Davis was not acquainting himself with MoG ins and outs as a practitioner, he was thinking and writing about it.  

Davis has led an illustrious academic career, serving as chair for the Group of Eight, Universities Australia, and Universitas 21, respectively. 

Speaking to The Mandarin about the next APS boss, Davis’ successor as Melbourne University vice-chancellor wished him every success in his new role. Professor Duncan Maskell said Davis was an inspired choice for an important role.

“The University of Melbourne congratulates Professor Glyn Davis AC on his appointment as Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet,” Maskell said.

“Glyn has had a highly distinguished career in academia and the public service over many years. We wish Glyn every success in the future.”

Davis enjoyed a long tenure at the University of Melbourne, a post he took on after leading Griffith University as its third vice-chancellor and president from 2002 to 2005. In a statement, Griffith University welcomed the news of Davis’ next appointment, claiming affiliation with the public administration expert as far back as the mid-80s, when he worked as a lecturer for its business school.

“Professor Davis’ knowledge, experience and deep understanding of public policy will prove invaluable to the Albanese government. 

“He is a visionary leader who will provide strategic thought leadership for the Australian Public Service and provide frank and fearless advice to government,” the university shared in a statement. 

Davis’ connection to the public service goes as far back as his early academic career, when he obtained a PhD after graduating as a political sciences graduate. In 1983, he took time away from his higher research studies to assist with the Review of Commonwealth Administration and answer the question ‘why can’t the public service operate like a business?’.

That deep connection with the APS was underscored by prime minister Anthony Albanese in a statement announcing Davis’ appointment on Monday, when he described the next public sector boss as a person with a “deep understanding of public policy”.

“Professor Davis will work with my government in bringing about positive change for the Australian people,” the PM said.

Even the Australia and New Zealand School of Governance (ANZSOG) has benefited from Davis’ expertise. As chair of its research committee, Davis offered guidance on the organisation’s research priorities. ANZSOG confirmed Professor Davis would resign from his current position so he can take up his new job with PM&C.

ANZSOG Dean and CEO Professor Ken Smith said Davis was an ‘excellent appointment as Australia’s most senior public servant’, also noting his instrumental role in the 20-year history of the organisation. 

“ANZSOG congratulates Glyn on this significant appointment in leading the Australian Public Service, ensuring sound policy advice is provided to the new government and [that] there is an increasing ability to focus on major issues within the Federation and with civil society more broadly,” Smith said. 

“From our establishment in 2002, when he was vice-chancellor of Griffith University, through his leadership of University of Melbourne and then onto his position as CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation and his appointment to part-time distinguished professorial position jointly funded by the University and ANU, he has been a long-term member and chair of our board and more recently chair our research committee,” Smith said. 

Professor Smith also acknowledged outgoing DMP&C secretary Phil Gaetjens and thanked him for his cooperation in advancing ANZSOG’s goals over the past few years. 

“Professor Davis will replace Phil Gaetjens in this important position. I wish Mr Gaetjens well,” he said.

During Davis’ tenure as vice-chancellor of Melbourne University, he served as chair of the prestigious Group of Eight (Go8). Vicky Thomson, CEO of the company which aims to lead the development and delivery of long-term sustainable national higher education and research policy, said Davis was a boon for the APS.

“He has a history of running complex organisations and a proven track record of being considered and thoughtful in his deliberation which is particularly important in these uncertain times,” Thomson told The Mandarin.

Thomson said Davis was capable of working ‘above the fray’ while controlling it at the same time.

“He has a quiet albeit enormous intellect, that removes heat from any discussion that stands in the  way of a result.”

“Having witnessed first-hand his collaborative approach as former chair of the Go8 and former vice-chancellor of Melbourne University, Professor Davis’ expertise will foster the development of evidence-based public policy in the Australian Public Service,” she said.

Professor Davis will also step down from the Menzies Foundation board of directors to take on his new role. Menzies Foundation CEO Liz Gillies acknowledged the important contribution Davis made to the work of the philanthropic organisation, especially in advancing its goal to develop “a catalytic approach to supporting leadership for the ‘greater good'”.

“Glyn’s service to the nation is reward enough for our loss, which we acknowledge with regret,” Gillies said.

Gillies also noted Professor Davis possessed the leadership qualities the prime minister would need to call upon for his APS head.   

“Glyn exemplifies the leadership qualities that are increasingly important as Australia navigates the challenges of an increasingly complex, polarised, tribal and digitised world.

“Glyn’s deep experience, thoughtful consideration of complex issues, and preparedness to be adaptive and a change agent ensures that he will make an important contribution to the opportunities and challenges ahead,” Gillies said. 


Albanese chooses new DPM&C head

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