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  • Writer's pictureHannah Phillips

Malcolm Turnbull Makes Major Team Changes

The Prime Minister has appointed nine new departmental secretaries.

Australian Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou, Rugby Union coach Michael Cheika and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull have something in common: they keep swapping their players around with mixed success.

Last week the PM made wholesale changes at the top level of the public service and it remains to be seen whether putting a whole lot of inexperienced operators into critical portfolios will lead to better outcomes.

The Prime Minister has appointed nine new departmental secretaries as well as confirming that Mike Pezullo will be the secretary of the new Department of Home Affairs.

Perhaps the most surprising change is the promotion of a Deputy Secretary from the Department of Finance, Kerri Hartland, to head the critical Department of Employment.

The incumbent secretary, Renee Leon, has by all accounts done a good job and her minister, Michaelia Cash, has a record of considerable accomplishment over the period since the last election.

Ms Hartland, on the other hand, appears to have no substantial background in industrial relations. However Minister Cash’s office is said to be replete with gun industrial lawyers from her old firm of Freehill’s.

It’s possible that Ms Hartland’s previous experience as a deputy director general of ASIO may be useful in dealing with the more difficult unions. Renee Leon is being moved to the Department of Human Services to try and overcome the recent issues that have dogged the former Secretary Kathryn Campbell.

These include the robo-debt issue and the allegations of fraud by IT contractors. While these issues appear to have been over-hyped by critics the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson appears to have gone to water at the first sign of criticism.

The move of Glenys Beauchamp to the Department of Health is also a surprise.

She was a competent Secretary of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science but her background is in social services not health. The Department of Health has suffered for many years because it has lacked people with a health professional background at the top.

This failing has now been compounded. Ms Beauchamp has been replaced by Dr Parkinson’s wife, Dr Heather Smith, who has been responsible for the media laws which are yet to be passed through the Parliament.

Mike Mrdak, the current secretary of the Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, has been moved to the Department of Communication and the Arts to handle the difficult issues of the media laws and the poor performance of the NBN.

Mr Mrdak has recently been publicly critical of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Prime Minister’s office for their failure to deal with policy proposals from line departments.

His movement sideways and replacement by a PM&C insider, Dr Stephen Kennedy, seems to indicate that there is no great interest in responding to the criticisms.

Good governments are always supported by strong public administration.

It is not policy development that undermines governments politically, it is poor policy implementation.

The current public administration is the weakest in years which goes some way to explaining why the Turnbull government is performing so badly.

These changes are unlikely to improve the situation.

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