Industry secretary Glenys Beauchamp is expected to become the next secretary of Health, after the abrupt resignation of Martin Bowles last week added to an unusually disorderly and piecemeal reshuffle of mandarins.
Bowles’ resignation is being closely linked to difficulties in dealing with Health minister Greg Hunt’s notoriously demanding ministerial office. He also missed out on being appointed to Defence.
Although it is the prime minister who chooses secretaries, he has to consult the relevant minister. Hunt is said to want Beauchamp and, as one senior source put it, ‘What Hunt wants, Hunt gets.’
Bowles’s resignation has put three secretary’s jobs in play – Health; Infrastructure, where Mike Mrdak (who made headlines last week) has been extended to the end of the year; and Environment, where Gordon de Brouwer finishes at the end of this week, having announced his resignation earlier this month.
Including the retirement in May of former Defence secretary Dennis Richardson, four secretaries will have left in this calendar year alone, adding to the sense of turmoil in the Turnbull administration that has taken on almost a surreal quality with the unresolved dual-citizenship issue hanging over the government.
Adding to the secretary’s appointments is the establishment of the new Home Affairs domestic security department and portfolio. Current Immigration and Border Force secretary Mike Pezzullo is widely expected to become secretary-designate ahead of the launch of the machinery-of-government changes. He was another front runner for the Defence secretary role but was also pipped at the post by Turnbull’s chief of staff, Greg Moriarty.
Replacement at Industry department
The move to Health of the highly regarded Beauchamp, a resilient and experienced secretary whose style is understated and non-confrontational, paves the way for another woman to be promoted to the secretaries’ group on merit.
This is most likely to be Industry deputy secretary Sue Weston, which would ensure a smooth transition.
Of Industry’s three deputy secretaries, the other two are currently acting in their positions – David Hazlehurst and Mike Lawson.
The well-regarded Weston, who runs the science areas of the Industry portfolio, has worked across most aspects of the department as deputy secretary after a career largely spent at the Australian Taxation Office.
The head of IP Australia, Patricia Kelly, another former Industry deputy secretary, is also highly qualified to run Industry and is also well known to minister Arthur Sinodinos, who would likely have a strong say on Beauchamp’s replacement given it is not his choice to part with her.
Outside appointments to Infrastructure and Environment would bring some new blood into the secretaries’ cohort.
But with the current government and ministerial turmoil, senior people from outside Canberra are not always willing to give up their current jobs – especially to administer a portfolio such as Environment whose climate and energy policies are riven by Liberal factional and ideological warfare. Infrastructure is more likely to attract outside candidates with industry experience.
Under the Public Service Act, the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, reports to Turnbull on secretary’s vacancies (other than his own) but if his view is different from that of the Public Service Commissioner, John Lloyd, he must explain why. The Governor-General, Peter Cosgrove, actually makes the appointments.
Parkinson would be in a difficult position were he to recommend his spouse, Communications secretary Heather Smith, for another secretary’s job, given the obvious personal conflict of interest.
Turnbull’s appointment this month of Moriarty to Defence, thus leapfrogging from the Prime Minister’s Office over other well-qualified candidates despite having no large-agency administrative experience, has caused immense disquiet in top echelons in Canberra. Even though it is perfectly legal, it is being viewed as somewhat improper.
It is also seen as another factor in Bowles’s resignation, because he was one of the key candidates.
But because secretaries are now highly paid and have lucrative superannuation pensions, few are faced by any financial hardship should they walk away from their jobs.
As one former secretary said at the weekend, ‘We have options.’