Blair Comley, sent packing from Canberra by the Abbott government, will become New South Wales’ most powerful bureaucrat under Premier Mike Baird.
Comley was one of the architects of Labor’s emissions reduction programs as secretary of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, before moving to the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism. Prime Minister Tony Abbott offered him a payout to leave last September.
Baird’s secretary role has been unfilled since Chris Eccles was moved on in June. Baird effected a spill of the role and Eccles chose not to reapply. Simon Smith has been acting in the role.
Baird calls Comley an “outstanding public servant who has a track record of leading and delivering major policy reforms in areas including taxation, energy and climate change”. He said in a statement:
“I believe he is the ideal person to take leadership of the public sector in NSW as, together with the Public Service Commission, we work to transform it into an even more dynamic, flexible and productive organisation, and indeed drive reform for the government and the people of NSW.”
Baird also paid tribute to Smith, who transitioned the department after Barry O’Farrell stood down as premier:
“Simon has done an outstanding job in leading the Department of Premier and Cabinet, especially during the transition to a new premier. I have no doubt that Simon will continue to be an important leader in the NSW public service.”
Comley, who will take up the role on October 7, is an economics graduate at Monash University (where he also lectured) and worked his way up through Treasury in the areas of tax, macroeconomic policy and debt management as a protege of secretary Martin Parkinson. He also represented Australia for three years at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and was acting head of the Australian Office of Financial Management.
In 2008 he was appointed deputy secretary of the Department of Climate Change (with executive oversight for strategy, market instruments and international climate change policy) and was elevated to secretary in 2010. In a surprise move, former prime minister Julia Gillard shifted him to Resources in February.
Within days of claiming the prime ministership Tony Abbott moved on three departmental heads: Don Russell (Innovation, Industry, Science and Research), Andrew Metcalfe (Agriculture) and Comley.
Since leaving the public service Comley has worked on the advisory council to the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy and as a special adviser to PricewaterhouseCoopers on economics and policy in Canberra.
In 2012 Comley was awarded a Public Service Medal for “outstanding public service in the development of public policy, particularly in the areas of carbon pricing and emissions trading, tax policy design and debt management”. A Crikey profile on Comley last year reported:
“A technocrat, he’s known for being gregarious, bright and a talker. ‘I didn’t get a word in for an hour,’ a source recalled about a meeting. And he’s won a scholarship to Harvard.”
Comley said in a statement he’s “delighted to be appointed”:
“I look forward to working with the government to help make NSW an even better place to live.”