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No ‘night of long knives’, but Qld bureaucrats face axe

Sacked by Campbell Newman, Dave Stewart returns to Queensland to head up Premier and Cabinet under Annastacia Palaszczuk. And other director-generals will have to reapply for their jobs.

New Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has dumped the director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet on her second day in the job, luring top New South Wales bureaucrat Dave Stewart back to Queensland to lead her department.

And director-generals at other departments will be forced to reapply for their jobs via a merit-based process. The new Premier says there will be “very minor changes” to the bureaucracy but bosses do face the axe if they don’t measure up.

Palaszczuk (pictured) was sworn in on Saturday after a final vote count confirmed Labor had claimed 44 seats, with the vote of independent Peter Wellington providing a majority. On Sunday Palaszczuk named her 14-person ministry, which she called an “exciting mix of experience and fresh talent”.

Jon Grayson was recruited from the corporate world by former Liberal-National Party premier Campbell Newman to lead his department in 2012. Labor pressured Grayson last year to divest his business interests after he was mentioned in a NSW corruption hearing concerning Australian Water Holdings. Palaszczuk said in May:

“Is there something wrong with this? Absolutely there is. Does this stink? Absolutely it does.”

Dave Stewart
Dave Stewart

Stewart was sacked by Newman as director-general of the Department of Transport and Main Roads in 2012, only to be hired back in a move Palaszczuk called “simply disgusting” and a waste of $1 million:

“As a former transport minister I worked very closely with Dave Stewart. Dave Stewart is one of the most respectable, earnest, hardworking public servants that I know. He should never have been sacked in the first place.”

He was replaced in Transport and Main Roads by Newman’s pick and LNP player Michael Caltabiano, but he was stood down and finally fired in 2013 after an investigation by the Ethics Committee and the Crime and Misconduct Commission over claims he provided misleading answers about his ties to a departmental officer.

Caltabiano’s termination cost taxpayers more than $650,000, while Stewart was paid out $343,000. After working for Ernst and Young for a period, Stewart was hired back by the government as the head of Projects Queensland and went on to work at the Queensland Treasury Corporation and the Department of Treasury and Trade.

In October 2013 then-NSW premier Barry O’Farrell recruited Stewart, a former engineer, as director-general of Transport for NSW for his “track record of major infrastructure delivery and improving public transport services”.

After just 15 months at the agency, Stewart will now return to George Street to lead the Department of Premier and Cabinet. In a statement, Palaszczuk called him a “highly experienced public servant”. She also stated:

“I’d like to place on record my appreciation to Jon Grayson for the work he has done as director-general over the past three years and for his commitment to ensuring a smooth and professional transition.”

It’s unclear when Stewart will quit Transport for NSW to take up the role. It’s understood Grayson — who leaves under “mutual agreement” according to Palaszczuk — will move on almost immediately, with Kevin Yearbury, a former director-general and CEO of Stadiums Queensland, leading Premier and Cabinet on an interim basis.

Palaszczuk says the merit-based application process for other director-generals will avoid a “night of the long knives”:

“That is what Queenslanders want and that is one of the fundamental tenets of my commitment to integrity and accountability. There will be very minor changes but there will be a merit-based process and current director-generals will be invited to reapply.”

Four ministers with cabinet experience

Palaszczuk’s cabinet has five fewer chairs than Newman’s, a pre-election commitment to reduce the number of ministries and save $27 million this term. Labor is yet to confirm whether the ministerial changes will have further impact on departments and agencies.

Palaszczuk was highly critical of cuts to the public service under Newman, which saw 14,000 staff sacked from government ranks. She vowed not to make further cuts in government.

“I’m excited by the level of talent and fresh ideas my ministers will bring to cabinet.”

Just four ministers have previous cabinet experience, including Kate Jones (Education and Tourism) who returns to government after winning her seat of Ashgrove and ousting Newman at the election. Jackie Trad is Deputy Premier and holds the portfolios of Transport, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning, and Trade. Curtis Pitt becomes Treasurer, while Cameron Dick, who returns to Parliament after winning back his seat of Woodridge, takes on Health.

Coralee O’Rourke joins cabinet as Minister for Disabilities and Minister for Seniors, with specific responsibilities for northern Queensland. Palaszczuk says it exceeds her original commitment to have an assistant minister for North Queensland issues.

There is just one assistant minister position, Stirling Hinchliffe, who will work on integrity and accountability issues for the Premier while also serving as leader of the house.

The Premier, who will also serve as Arts Minister, said in her statement ministers will focus on job creation, listening to Queenslanders and “restoring integrity and accountability to government in Queensland”:

“I’m excited by the level of talent and fresh ideas my ministers will bring to cabinet. I have no doubt they will hit the ground running when it comes to delivering for Queenslanders.”

Queensland government ministries

Annastacia Palaszczuk
Premier and Minister for the Arts

Jackie Trad
Deputy Premier
Minister for Transport
Minister for Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning
Minister for Trade

Curtis Pitt
Treasurer
Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations
Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships

Cameron Dick
Minister for Health
Minister for Ambulance Services

Kate Jones
Minister for Education
Minister for Tourism, Major Events and Small Business
Minister for the Commonwealth Games

Dr Anthony Lynham
Minister for State Development
Minister for Natural Resources and Mines

Yvette D’Ath
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice
Minister for Training and Skills

Jo-Ann Miller
Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services
Minister for Corrective Services

Bill Byrne
Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries
Minister for Sport and Racing

Mark Bailey
Minister for Main Roads, Road Safety and Ports
Minister for Energy and Water Supply

Leeanne Enoch
Minister for Housing and Public Works
Minister for Science and Innovation

Steven Miles
Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection
Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef

Coralee O’Rourke
Minister for Disability Services
Minister for Seniors
Minister Assisting the Premier on North Queensland

Shannon Fentiman
Minister for Communities, Women and Youth
Minister for Child Safety
Minister for Multicultural Affairs

Stirling Hinchliffe
Leader of the House
Assistant Minister of State Assisting the Premier

Author Bio

Jason Whittaker

Jason Whittaker is managing editor of The Mandarin based in Melbourne. He has written for and edited political, business and culture publications for a decade. He spent two years as editor of sister Private Media publication Crikey.