Australia

PM dismisses politicisation questions after naming former aide as top public servant

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The new head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet is a former advisor to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed questions about the politicisation of the public service after naming a former advisor to become the country’s most senior bureaucrat.

Treasury Secretary Philip Gaetjens, a former chief of staff to Mr Morrison when he was treasurer, will become the new head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.

He will fill the spot vacated by outgoing PM&C head Martin Parkinson.

When asked about the hiring of a former advisor in the role, Mr Morrison said this was a common practice that the opposition had also engaged in.

He named several senior public servants who previously served as advisors for the Labor party.

Treasury Secretary Philip Gaetjens speaks during Senate estimates at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, February 20, 2019. AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Treasury Secretary Philip Gaetjens speaks during Senate estimates at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, February 20, 2019.
AAP

“This is not uncommon that people have worked in the political sphere and the bureaucratic sphere, because it is both, and where they have that experience, I think that aids them well in the tasks that they have,” he told reporters in Canberra.

Mr Morrison also named Steven Kennedy as the new head of Treasury, shifting him from the Infrastructure Department.

“Steven has obviously worked on the Labor side; Phil has worked on the Coalition side,” the prime minister said.

“This is about merit, this is about people that know how to get a job done, and people have earned the respect for the roles that I think they will now be able to serve in.”

Labor last year attacked Mr Gaetjens’s independence at a Senate estimates hearing, when Labor Senator Kristina Keneally complained about not being able to question him.

“You’re running political interference for this supposedly independent treasury secretary – he’s not allowed to speak for himself,” she told Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

But Labor softened its tone after Mr Gaetjens's latest appointment, saying it was prepared to give him the "benefit of the doubt".

"Whether Mr Gaetjens is capable of providing the leadership the (public service) needs at this time remains to be seen," Labor's public service spokeswoman Katy Gallagher said.

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally speaks during Senate Estimates at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING
Labor Senator Kristina Keneally speaks during Senate Estimates at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, April 11, 2018.
AAP

It comes as Mr Morrison flagged what’s being labelled as sweeping changes to the federal bureaucracy in the coming months.

He said he wants the public service to focus more on “implementation”, and reserved the right to make further changes to the head of departments where they were “necessary”.

“When it comes to the public service, my view is to respect and expect.

“Respect their professionalism, respect their capability, respect what they can bring to the table and what they can do, and expect them to get on with the job of implementing the government's agenda.”

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