Prime Minister Scott Morrison is promising a shake-up of the nation’s public service. Picture: AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is promising a shake-up of the nation’s public service. Picture: AAP

PM taps former staffer for top job amid cuts

SCOTT Morrison has appointed his former chief-of-staff to a plum role as Australia's most senior bureaucrat.

The Prime Minister announced today Phil Gaetjens would be the new head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Mr Morrison said he and current secretary Dr Martin Parkinson had "agreed it was time for new leadership".

Dr Parkinson has confirmed he will be stepping down at the end of August.

Mr Gaetjens has been the boss of the Treasury Department since August 2018. He was appointed just three weeks before Mr Morrison became Prime Minister in the shock Liberal leadership spill.

Immediately before that, he was Mr Morrison's chief of staff.

Treasury Secretary Philip Gaetjens. Picture: Kym Smith
Treasury Secretary Philip Gaetjens. Picture: Kym Smith

The Prime Minister denied the appointment was politicising the public service, saying Labor leaders had also appointed former Labor staffers to key roles.

He cited the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Frances Adamson as one of them.

"It is about merit and it is about quality," Mr Morrison said.

"And in the two appointments I have announced today, I believe that the two men have done an extraordinary job, and have earned my trust and my respect and the respect of my government."

Mr Gaetjens will be replaced as the head of Treasury by Dr Steven Kennedy, the current secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Regional Development and Cities.

Mr Morrison did not rule out further changes to the heads of departments where he believed they were necessary.

The PM is also promising a shake-up of the nation's public service.

A senior government source has told The Australian the reforms could also involve cutting back the number of departments and public service chiefs.

Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson has confirmed he will step down from his role at the end of August. Picture: Sean Davey
Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson has confirmed he will step down from his role at the end of August. Picture: Sean Davey

Dr Parkinson, who was appointed to lead the PM&C by Malcolm Turnbull, told The Australian it was his decision to leave.

But he said there was no bad blood between himself and the Prime Minister and that he had planned to retire at the end of his team in January 2021.

"It's quite simple, really. ­Absolutely I would not want anyone to think there was anything about my relationship with the Prime Minister that was leading me to leave," Dr Parkinson told The Australian.

"It is up to others to judge, but I think what he would tell you is that he and I have a very good personal and professional relationship.

"And I've really enjoyed working with him since the period he became PM.

"He is at the beginning of the term. He has a full agenda. And I came to the view it was better all around that he had someone who could go the full term with him."

Mr Morrison reportedly indicated other government department heads could also be replaced as he promised to overhaul the public service.

"We don't expect the public service to run the government," he told The Australian.

"That's what we were elected to do.

A look back at 2016. Then-PM Malcolm Turnbull, flanked by then-Treasurer Scott Morrison and PM&C Secretary Dr Martin Parkinson at the start of a COAG meeting. Picture: Ray Strange
A look back at 2016. Then-PM Malcolm Turnbull, flanked by then-Treasurer Scott Morrison and PM&C Secretary Dr Martin Parkinson at the start of a COAG meeting. Picture: Ray Strange

"In my ­experience, the public service ­always works best when it has strong guidance and leadership.

"That is what they will get from me and my ministerial team."

Mr Morrison said he planned to move quickly with the sweeping reforms before the final recommendations from a 12-month review of the public service.

He added that his view of the public service was about "respect and expect".

"Respect their capabilities and expect them to get on board and implement the government's agenda," he said.

Mr Morrison thanked Dr Parkinson for his service.

"I thank Martin for not only his service to me and service to my department but his work over a much longer period ... I thank him for service to our country."

A senior source in the public service told the publication there was a clear message Mr Morrison intended to "shake up the entire show" and remove "unwieldy" bureaucracy.

They also expected "heads to roll".

A 12-month review of Australia's public service conducted by businessman David Thodey, chairman of the CSIRO, was due to report in the first half of 2019.


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