McCarthy's new challenge: from centre of national security to aged care policy

By Stephen Easton

September 9, 2015

Margot McCarthy
Margot McCarthy

National security is a pretty big deal for the Abbott government, but the prime minister’s department will be doing without one of its top experts in the field from now on as she takes charge of aged care policy.

Former National Security Adviser Margot McCarthy, whose title changed to associate secretary shortly after the Coalition won the 2013 election, has now taken a slight demotion to deputy secretary at the Department of Social Services.

The DSS organisational chart shows that on August 17, McCarthy became permanent deputy secretary in charge of ageing and aged care at DSS, as our publishing stablemates at Crikey reported today. Speculating she was “exiled” to DSS in Tuggeranong from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet in central Canberra, the report suggests she was “too focused on actual security issues and not enough on hype and stunts”, but many make side-ways moves for themselves and their families.

Defence, intelligence and national security is an extremely high-pressure area of responsibility where McCarthy served for almost two decades before being elevated to the role of national security adviser by the Gillard government in February, 2012. Prior to that she was deputy to Duncan Lewis, the inaugural national security adviser appointed by the Rudd government in 2010.

Just after the 2013 election, Fairfax Media reported that Abbott had moved quickly to diminish McCarthy’s role within PM&C by removing the national security adviser title and moving her direct report Allan McKinnon to Operation Sovereign Borders. McKinnon is now the department’s deputy secretary for national security.

There is also the view that the position was abolished under Abbott as part of its process of undoing and removing various reminders of the previous Labor governments. On the other hand, others observed that Gillard seemed less keen on the centralised arrangements for national security advice than Rudd, who created them, based on the length of time it took her to permanently appoint McCarthy to the role she was acting in, following her predecessor’s move to Defence secretary.

During her recent stint in PM&C, McCarthy made a strong contribution to the development of a holistic national strategy to improve the disaster resilience of Australian communities.

She has previously been a deputy secretary in Defence and head of the Defence Security Authority, after an earlier stint in the PM’s department as assistant secretary for defence and intelligence. Prior to that, McCarthy has been a deputy director at the Defence Signals Directorate and a principal adviser in the office of the secretary at the Department of Defence.

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