There’s nothing like a comprehensive election win to trigger a shake-up of government departments to reflect the vision of a victorious Premier and New South Wales’ seemingly unassailable leader, Mike Baird has moved swiftly to put his personal stamp on the machinery of government.
The Premier’s office on Tuesday revealed it has launched a recruitment search for top talent at the state’s Treasury, Department of Transport and a reincarnated Department of Finance, Services and Innovation that has been gifted an extra Parliamentary Secretary.
The rollover of the three top departmental heads comes amid a myriad of other changes to the structure of the bureaucracy and the addition of three new Parliamentary Secretary roles in the outer ministry to better spread the policy workload.
The open call for applications for secretaries of Treasury, Transport and Department of Finance, Services and Innovation is highly significant because the portfolios are regarded as key areas of in terms of performance and execution that have kept the government well ahead in the polls.
While other states and Canberra have conspicuously struggled in terms of keeping their budgets on track while pushing reforms, New South Wales has been buoyed by consistently strong ministerial performances in improving electorally sensitive areas like transport and customer facing service delivery.
At the same time its coffers have been boosted by stamp duty receipts from Sydney’s residential property boom that is now so strong that it is influencing Reserve Bank interest rate decisions.
The consistent strength of relationships between ministry and key departments and their heads is a key factor that public sector veterans believe has underpinned major reforms like the introduction of transport service integration, smartcard tickets as well as procurement reforms and a rapid increase in the rollout and take-up of online transactions that have been a proven boost to productivity and cost control.
That momentum will get a further boost under the latest restructure of departments and agencies through the formation of a new ‘cluster’ known as the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation which expands the scope of previous Minister for Finance, Services and Property, Dominic Perrottet.
Within that cluster Mr Perrottet gains an additional minister in the form of Victor Dominello, who takes on the new role of Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation.
According to the Premier, Mr Dominello’s appointment signals the government’s “determination to attract more businesses from interstate and reduce red tape.”
However Finance’s highly regarded departmental chief, Simon Smith, has been promoted to head a recalibrated Department of Industry, Skills and Regional Development that has been spawned from the Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services being abolished and its functions chopped up and redistributed.
Mr Smith replaces veteran public servant and former industry lobbyist Mark Paterson who is stepping down from his role.
Also taking an exit is NSW Treasury chief former chief of staff to Howard government Treasurer Peter Costello, Phil Gaetjens, who the government has said is moving back to Canberra where his family is based.
That move has set tongues wagging in the national capital that Mr Gaetjens could be on the runway for a post-Budget federal public service appointment to help the Abbott government navigate through the aftermath of massive APS job cuts and ongoing industrial strife over enterprise bargaining.
Mr Gaetjens remains revered within Coalition circles as a ‘go to’ problem solver capable of crafting easily understood and saleable messages around complex issues.
Meanwhile, Premier Baird has added bolstered his position as the state’s spruiker in chief snapping up Investment Attraction, Trade and Tourism and Major Events out of the Trade and Investment portfolio that will now come under the umbrella of the department of Premier and Cabinet.
That move could be a business savvy in terms of poaching cross border business, especially now that both Victoria and Queensland now have Labor governments thanks to single term electoral flops by the Coalition.
There’s also action on the waterfront. The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority – which administers some of the state’s most valuable real – has been cut adrift from the Department of Planning and Environment and will go to Mr Perrottet’s Department of Finance, Services and Innovation.
That shift is likely to be interpreted as a prelude to a more hardnosed approach to putting the capital value of waterfront land to work in a manner similar to the liquidation of parts of the government’s property register, like the Department of Education’s grand Victorian sandstone offices near Circular Quay.
The Education portfolio also gets a single purpose make-over and will now be just the Department of Education rather than Education and Communities.
Following that theme, what was the Department of Family and Community Services picks up the Office of Communities from Educations but loses the Family bit to become just the Department of Communities.
There’s also a revisitation of concept of agency ‘clusters’. The Department Justice (or Justice cluster) swallows the Department of Police and Emergency Services and also picks up a few regulatory vices in the form of the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing.
Federal Attorney General George Brandis may also have been providing some mechanical inspiration to Deputy Premier Troy Grant who becomes the Minister for Justice and Police, Minister for the Arts and Minister for Racing, and senior minister in the Justice cluster.
Government News tips that with that cluster’s collection of synergies, its Christmas party could be the pick of crop.