THE Western Australian government has started the formal process of selecting a new chief for the Department of Premier and Cabinet, even though the widely tipped winner - Peter Conran who was until a year ago in the inner sanctum of John Howard's prime ministerial office - is already known.
While Mr Conran declined to comment and senior government sources were reluctant to confirm his appointment as a fait accompli due to the formal process required, most Liberal insiders consider him a shoe-in for the high-profile role given his broad experience, blueblood party standing and knowledge of the WA scene.
The state officially advertised the position of director general for the department at the weekend. The previous director general, Mal Wauchope, has already been appointed commissioner of the Public Sector Commission, a newly created body split out of Department of Premier and Cabinet to oversee the independence, professionalism and integrity of WA's public service, an area known to be of concern to new premier Colin Barnett and his influential education minister, Liz Constable.
Few would come as credentialled as Mr Conran to run the state's most influential department, which is likely to become an even more powerful position when the huge Department of Industry and Resources is split up into a Department of Resources and a Department of Commerce, as is expected.
Mr Conran, who was Mr Wauchope's deputy until the fall of Richard Court's Liberal state government, rose to become one of three official advisers close to Mr Howard as his secretary to cabinet - the others being former prime ministerial chief-of-staff Arthur Sinodinos and principal private secretary Tony Nutt.
He started his career as a lawyer in Queensland in the early 1970s and worked as a lawyer and then legal administrator for the governments in Darwin and Hong Kong until the early 1990s. He then became the CEO of the Northern Territory's Department of the Chief Minister.
After a brief stint as consultant on Native Title and strategic issues to the Court government, Mr Conran took up the deputy director general's role in 2000.
Liberal insiders speak highly of Mr Conran, believing he will bring significant experience to the role.
Should the appointment go ahead, Mr Conran would join several other former Howard government advisers in the new Barnett government, including David Wawn, of former finance minister Nick Minchin's office, Colin Edwardes and Dawn Fitzgerald who both worked for ex-federal environment minister Ian Campbell, Eacham Curry (several federal ministers) and Rachael Turnseck (Julie Bishop when she was federal education minister).
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