Movers & shakers: Cabinet Secretary returns, Jobs & Small Business leadership

By The Mandarin

October 12, 2018

For appointments and promotions this week are some new royal commissioners, a returning cabinet secretary, a mini-reshuffle of top executives in the Department of Jobs & Small Business, and more.


Peter Conran AM

Peter Conran starts as the new cabinet secretary for the Morrison government today — a role he has held before under the Howard government.

The position has often been held by a senior mandarin, a political staffer, or a government minister. For instance, it was recently held by Senator Arthur Sinodinos. It was most recently bestowed on an employee of the Prime Minister’s Office — Simon Atkinson, who moved “at level” into the APS in August this year into Treasury as a deputy secretary.

Conran is, unquestionably, of the mandarin variety — although he did also work as a senior advisor in the PMO during the Howard government. His most recent government appointment was as the top public servant in Western Australia, chief executive of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, where he served two terms. Conran was also the head of the Northern Territory public service, as secretary of the Department of the Chief Minister, among many senior leadership roles during his long public service career.

In 2009, he was made a member of the Order of Australia for service to the executive arm of government, particularly through advisory roles and to strategic policy development and implementation, and to intergovernmental relations at both state and federal levels.

Conran retired in August 2016, telling The Mandarin he was riding off into the sunset following an exceptionally rewarding career: “I’ve worked for and with some great people all around Australia and have had a lot of fun in doing it. Hopefully I’ve had some small influence. My only other comment is that the rewards for a public servant prepared to work hard and take some risks are immense.”

According to the 11th Cabinet Handbook, the cabinet secretary has authority to:

  • provide authority to ministers to bring items forward for consideration by the Cabinet or a Cabinet committee
  • finalise the Cabinet and Cabinet committee agendas
  • maintain and enforce the integrity of Cabinet rules and processes
  • working with Ministers and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to uphold the quality and timeliness of documents coming forward for the Cabinet’s consideration
  • recording deliberations of Cabinet and Cabinet committee meetings and authorising Cabinet minutes
  • approve absences of Cabinet ministers
  • deal with practical issues regarding the co-option of non-Cabinet ministers and assistant ministers, and the attendance of officials.

The cabinet secretary is also responsible for advising the prime minister on:

  • appointments made by the Cabinet, including Board appointments and appointments of Government, and other appointments as required; and
  • the forward programme of the Cabinet and Cabinet committee meeting dates.

The other key cabinet official roles inside PM&C, beyond the cabinet secretary, the departmental secretary, Dr Martin Parkinson, and the Governance deputy secretary, Stephanie Foster, include:

  • Yael Cass, first assistant secretary, Cabinet division
  • Michelle Graham, assistant secretary, Cabinet Secretariat and Implementation branch
  • Megan Edwards, assistant secretary, Implementation Taskforce
  • Rebekka Wheate, acting assistant secretary, Strategic Coordination and National Security

Jobs and Small Business

There has been a mini-reshuffle in the Department of Jobs and Small Business with a new team of deputy secretaries with prior experience across a large of portfolios with oversight of major employment sectors.

Nathan Smyth goes from building airports and motorways to employment policy. He’s been promoted from executive director of the Western Sydney Unit in the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities to deputy secretary of the Employment cluster. Smyth has worked in various portfolios including as a senior executive on food policy in the Department of Health.

Now Smyth is now responsible for fostering a productive and competitive labour market through employment policies and programs that assist job seekers into work, meet employer needs, and increase Australia’s workforce participation.

Martin Hehir — the current deputy secretary for the Employment cluster– will move sideways to head up the Workplaces & Small Business cluster. He has also been a deputy secretary in the Education portfolio, as well as a director-general of the Community Services Directorate in the ACT government. Hehir is now responsible for facilitating jobs growth and workforce participation through workplace relations and work health and safety policies that promote fair, productive and safe workplaces. Australian Small Business & Family Enterprise Ombudsman, Kate Carnell, also fits in Hehir’s new group.

The final of the department’s three deputy secretary positions is the Corporate group, which will continue to be led by Dr Jill Charker. This role is responsible for building capability and performance across the department, ensuring the reputation and accountability of the department, and delivering the department’s strategic priorities whilst supporting a positive, flexible and
innovative workplace culture. Charker’s background includes roles as deputy secretary in Human Services, and other senior roles with Immigration, ComSuper and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The role of acting deputy secretary for Workplaces & Small Business was temporarily filled by Jeremy O’Sullivan — the department’s long standing chief counsel.

The department also recently promoted seven new assistant secretaries:

  • Kraig Lowes
  • Bruce Cunningham
  • David Cains
  • Sharon Huender
  • Lace Wang
  • Fiona MacDonald
  • Angela Hope

In case you missed it, the department secretary, Kerri Hartland, also recently addressed the second Women in Leadership forum run by IPAA ACT.


Nyunggai Warren Mundine has been appointed chair of the new Indigenous Business and Economic Advisory Council. The new business-focused council’s role will be to support new measures to monitor companies and prevent “wrongdoing” in relation to the procurement policy. Read more about these developments in our earlier story.

Aged care

Lynelle Briggs and WA Supreme Court Justice Joseph McGrath have been appointed commissioners of the upcoming Royal commission into Aged Care.

The government announcement noted their “strong investigative skills and extensive experience in corporate and public sector governance” and that Briggs, a member of the Centre for Strategy and Governance, is also leading reviews of the federal Enhancing Online Safety Act and Online Content Scheme.

The Royal Commission will be based in Adelaide and work towards publishing an interim report by October 31, 2019, and a final report by April 30, 2020.

Briggs is, of course, a former Australian Public Service commissioner and chief executive of Medicare Australia. She was made an officer of the Order of Australia in 2013 for distinguished service to public administration, particularly through leadership in the development of public service performance and professionalism.

Justice McGrath was a former WA Director of Public Prosecutions and was a senior assistant director in the office of the Commonwealth DPP.

Australia Council

Adrian Collette has been named the new chief executive officer of the Australia Council for the Arts. He is a previous chief executive of Opera Australia, managing director of Reed Books Australia, and vice-principal (engagement) at the University of Melbourne. Collette has also been a member of the council’s board since 2013. In 2008 he was made a member of the Order of Australia for service to the performing arts, particularly through executive roles with Opera Australia, as a mentor to young artists, to publishing and to the community.

Collette will take over from current chief executive Tony Grybowski, whose term concludes on October 23.

See last week’s movers and shakers update here.

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