John Fraser is to be replaced as federal Treasury secretary with another Peter Costello protege, Phillip Gaetjens.
Fraser is resigning on Tuesday 31 July, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced in a statement on Thursday.
His term did not run out until January 2020, and there had previously been speculation he would not last long after the departure of prime minister Tony Abbott, who appointed him.
Yesterday, Fraser reflected on his two stints at Treasury in a speech to the Australian Conference of Economists:
“Treasury is no longer the lone, or one of only a few, sources of economic policy advice. This is now a crowded field. On any given policy question, ministers will have access to a welter of informed and credible private sector, academic and even international views.
“In this world, Treasury cannot assume it is in the box seat. Our advice can and will be tested. If what we are telling ministers is not up to scratch, its flaws and limitations will be exposed.
“It is commonplace, if not a cliché, to say that public service advice is contestable but the reality is harsher than that. Poor public service advisers can be bypassed altogether.
“Let me make clear that I consider competition in the market for advice to be a good thing. When the public service knows their views will not be challenged, complacency can set in. Protectionist barriers have that effect, as we all know.”
Gaetjens takes the reins
Philip Gaetjens will take over as the next secretary to the Treasury.“John has built a strong and respected senior executive team, and has taken a keen interest in recruiting great talent into Treasury.”
Gaetjens has held leadership roles in the Commonwealth and state public sectors including as secretary of the New South Wales Treasury between 2011 and 2015 and has served as a senior executive in the Commonwealth Treasury, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the South Australian Department of Treasury and Finance.
He has recently departed as the chief of staff to the Treasurer, a role he also undertook for the Peter Costello when he was Treasurer. He also previously served overseas as the inaugural director of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Policy Support Unit, Singapore during 2008-2010.
Praise for Fraser
The PM thanked Fraser for his service.
“In the last three and a half years in the role as Treasury Secretary Mr Fraser has led Treasury to new heights, especially in the areas of corporate and personal income tax reform. He has strongly supported the government’s efforts to help repair the Budget. He has been a trusted adviser to the Treasurer, ministers and myself on key economic matters,” said Turnbull.
“On behalf of the government, I thank him for his service to the Australian community and our economy.”
Gaetjens’ appointment to Treasury puts the department “in good stead for the future”, Turnbull added.
Treasurer Scott Morrison said in a statement:
“As Treasurer I would like to thank and pay tribute to Mr John Fraser for his leadership as Secretary of the Department of Treasury for the last three and a half years.
“Since his appointment in January 2015, Mr Fraser has provided exemplary leadership and advice on economic and financial issues. In this capacity, John has served as a member of the Board of the Reserve Bank of Australia, a member of the Australian Council of Financial Regulators and Chair of the G20 Global Infrastructure Hub. He also provided strong leadership within the Council of Federal Financial Relations Heads of Treasuries group. Mr Fraser’s tenure served to enhance the reputation of the Treasury within the public service and the wider government.
“John has built a strong and respected senior executive team, and has taken a keen interest in recruiting great talent into Treasury. John has also significantly upgraded the Treasury’s liaison programme with business and the broader economy, with a particular focus in rural and regional areas. In this context, John drove the expansion of Treasury’s presence outside of Canberra to both attract new officers with a business background into Treasury and ensure Treasury was more plugged into what was happening in the wider economy.
“John Fraser’s return to public service followed a distinguished career in the private sector, including as Chairman and CEO of UBS Global Asset Management from late 2011 to 2013. His private sector experience was invaluable to the government across a broad policy agenda, including in relation to budget repair, tax reform, infrastructure financing and financial sector stability.”
At lunch at ACE yesterday he said that the day he wasn’t welcome to give frank and fearless advice was the day he’d tender his resignation!
Still, he was full of praise for his Treasurer so it probably wasn’t a coded signal https://t.co/ZAm31hHkJ8
— Nicholas Gruen (@NGruen1) July 12, 2018
Yesterday’s speech was in some ways a valedictory from Fraser. This line stuck out: “I wouldn’t be doing this job, and I didn’t particularly want it, but you wouldn’t see me through the dust if my ability to give advice was constrained.” #auspol https://t.co/uzxZhLscyU
— Eryk Bagshaw (@ErykBagshaw) July 12, 2018