The merry-go-round in Canberra is still spinning, with jostling taking place to take the reins of the Department of Education and Training.
As Martin Parkinson puts his feet under the secretary’s desk at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet this week, Lisa Paul is packing boxes ahead of her departure from Education in weeks. She told the government in December she wanted out to pursue roles outside the public service, part of a mid-term purge that saw four agency heads quit late last year.
Media speculation last week had Nerida O’Loughlin — a deputy secretary at the Department of Communications and the Arts — in the frame to take Paul’s place at Education. O’Loughlin has acted as Communications secretary since Drew Clarke was seconded to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s office. Heather Smith was named the new Communications chief last week.
O’Loughlin came to Communications in 2011 to lead work on switching television viewers to digital, and had carriage of broadcasting, corporate and legal matters. Previously she worked at the Australian Communications and Media Authority, after a career in senior positions in the Victorian and Commonwealth ranks in technology and cultural areas but not education.
O’Loughlin’s appointment would also add another women to the ranks of agency heads — just four currently serve among the 18 Commonwealth departments and agencies.
Smith is due to start at Communications next Monday, a spokesperson for the department told The Mandarin without commenting on the speculation. “Ms O’Loughlin will return to her role as deputy secretary, strategy at that point,” they said.
Paul’s last day at Education is January 29, when associate secretary Tony Cook is due to move into the acting role, a department spokesperson confirmed.
A decision at Communications would leave one secretarial appointment remaining to be made, at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Peter Varghese quit last November but will serve until July.
Parkinson is due to officially start at PM&C on Saturday, a spokesperson for the department confirmed.