New South Wales Department of Industry secretary Simon Smith was replaced over the weekend by Simon Draper, who has been promoted from deputy secretary for economic policy in the Department of Premier and Cabinet.
“It has been an honour and a privilege to serve the state across the portfolios of Industry, Finance, Premier and Cabinet, and the Environment, but it’s now time to move on to a new phase of service,” Smith said in a statement published by Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday evening.
Berejiklian provided no clear explanation for the sudden changeover, leading to speculation that it is linked to the fallout from last year’s Four Corners report on regulation of agricultural water use.
The Premier simply announced Smith would be “moving on after three years’ service in that role and a total of 24 years in the NSW public service” at 6.30pm on Friday. Moving on quickly herself, she issued a second statement at 11am on Saturday confirming Draper (pictured above with Department of Planning and Environment secretary Carolyn McNally) would start as his replacement on Monday.
There is no official confirmation that Smith was sacked or that he resigned and his comment about “a new phase of service” leaves open the possibility that he may still work for the government in a different role. Staff at the department were left in the dark too.
“During his time as secretary, the Department of Industry has evolved into the state’s most diverse cluster, helping create conditions for the NSW community to prosper, ensuring we have a highly skilled workforce, managing our natural resources sustainably and encouraging investment and competition,” Berejiklian said.
Portfolio in constant flux, lingering scandal
The Department of Primary Industries, the state agency that was accused of allowing NSW farmers to take more than their fair share of water, is part of the sprawling Department of Industry cluster and its director-general is on the same level as deputy secretaries of the larger department.
One of several reports on the water-regulation issue, a review by acting ombudsman John McMillan, said one key issue was the “devastating” impact of almost constant machinery-of-government changes over 20 years.
“At least eight of those changes in the last 15 years were major restructures that resulted in substantial staff relocations and retrenchments, carving up of functions, splitting of departments, amalgamation of units and establishment of new agencies,” the McMillan report said.
“Since 2003 when the Department of Land and Water Conservation was abolished, there has been a restructure involving water-management functions approximately every two years.”
Smith took on the top job at Industry in July 2015 after it was created through a fairly extensive round of post-election MoG changes and had previously led the Office of Finance, Services and Innovation, following deputy-level roles in DPC and the Office of Environment and Heritage.
Industry Minister Niall Blair said Smith had played “a critical leadership role for a generation of public servants” and had a key role in “the creation of 250,000 jobs” as secretary of the department over the past three years.
“Simon has been a key adviser to me and my fellow cluster ministers and I thank him for his service over many years to the state,” Blair said.
Premier keen to reset and move on
It is not clear what Smith will do next, but Draper is expected to swiftly pick up where he left off and assist the government to pursue its busy economic agenda. Berejiklian emphasised his combination of “extensive experience across the private sector in the energy and infrastructure fields” and experience in public policy.
In contrast, “the nexus between the economy and the environment” has been a key focus of Smith’s roles as a public servant, according to his official departmental bio.
Blair also made a point of noting Draper’s “previous commercial experience, combined with a strong understanding of good public-sector practice” in an appeal to business leaders.
“Sydney is hosting business leaders from across the ASEAN region over the weekend who have all come to see and hear how our strong economic management is transforming the lives of people across the state,” Mr Blair said.
“I look forward to working with Simon Draper and the leadership team of the Department of Industry to consolidate the work done by Simon Smith, and Mark Paterson before him, to ensure a strong economic future for everyone in NSW.”
Also over the weekend, NSW unveiled its grand plans for infrastructure over the next 20 years, which tie in with its very long-term “future transport” plan that looks ahead to 2056 and strategies for development of the greater Sydney area and regional areas.
Top image: Simon Draper, Carolyn McNally via NSW Public Sector Commission.