Defence loses half its top executives

By Harley Dennett

January 25, 2018

Fancy a crack at a Band 3 or higher in a large, high profile department?

It’s still largely a boys’ club in the upper echelons of Defence, but with so many executive vacancies, that could soon change.

In the eight months since Dennis Richardson retired from the plum post of secretary of the Department of Defence, more than half of the portfolio’s top public service positions — Band 3 and up — have been vacated.

Yesterday, one more high profile deputy secretary, Roxanne Kelly, announced to staff that she was leaving.

As of today, just three of the nine top Defence department positions are still filled by the person who was appointed at the time of Richardson’s departure.

Here is a rundown of how this happened:

  • Richardson retired at a time of his own choosing. A shortlist of candidates to replace him was prepared by Dr Martin Parkinson in the Prime Minister’s department, but Malcolm Turnbull’s office was not happy with the choices. After months of vacancy, the PM chose his own chief of staff Greg Moriarty — a surprise pick and still controversial in some parts.
  • Associate Secretary Brendan Sargeant has the honed resume for the top job and should have expected to at least been considered for the role, but in the end didn’t even make the shortlist. He’s now gone too.
  • Rebecca Skinner barely had time to settle into the key ‘fast track for higher office’ role of Deputy Secretary, Strategic Policy and Intelligence before she was asked to step in for Sargeant as acting associate secretary.
  • Peter Lawrence quit as CIO just days before Moriarty was announced as the new secretary. The department “stumbled” the recruitment process, according to The Australian newspaper; eventually selecting Stephen Pearson, formerly of Lattice Energy, to take over as Australia’s highest paid public sector CIO early this year.
  • Philip Prior, the government’s only Band 3 CFO lasted more than a decade in the role, surviving more than one attempt to oust him. That came to a swift end at the end of 2017 when Prior made his own choice to leave. The Mandarin understands Moriarty was proceeding with an investigation into workplace behaviour in the CFO’s office.
  • Angela Diamond is currently acting CFO, and is well-liked, but the position, which has not yet been advertised, has traditionally gone to someone with no government experience.
  • Roxanne Kelly was just recently appointed Deputy Secretary, Defence People, taking over from Rebecca Skinner. Kelly’s rise to Band 3 after being the only woman on the One Defence/First Principles Review implementation team was seen as confirmation the department was, like Skinner, grooming her for a move into the cabal-like senior strategy roles, notorious for being male-dominated. Instead, The Mandarin understands Kelly is taking a lateral shift to the Department of Social Services under Kathryn Campbell, another person once linked to ditched Defence secretary shortlist.

Those with no interesting career happenings — by the unusual standard set by those aforementioned — include Steve Grzeskowiak, Deputy Secrety, Estate and Infrastructure; Kim Gillis, Deputy Secretary, Capability Acquisition and Sustainment; and Dr Alex Zelinsky, Chief Defence Scientist.

One more acting deputy secretary is likely to be sticking around too. Marc Ablong, who backfills for Skinner in Dep Sec SPI, picked up a Public Service Medal today for his leadership of the 2016 Defence White Paper team.

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