06/05/2016 - 12:53

Top bureaucrats jump ship

06/05/2016 - 12:53

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The imminent departure of four heavy hitters in the public service couldn’t have come at a worse time for the state government.

Top bureaucrats jump ship
BEHIND: The premier wants the Perth Children’s Hospital to be open by Christmas, but it will have to happen without Tina Chinery, who has left to take up a role in Queensland. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The imminent departure of four heavy hitters in the public service couldn’t have come at a worse time for the state government.

Make no mistake, the resignation of Peter Conran as the state’s senior bureaucrat is an untimely setback for Premier Colin Barnett and his government.

Mr Conran’s decision to retire as director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet mid-year compounds the effect created by the imminent departure of three other officials:
Reece Waldock, Department of Transport director-general, Main Roads Western Australia commissioner, and CEO of the Public Transport Authority of WA CEO (retiring in July);
Stephen Troughton, Main Roads Western Australia managing director (finishes contract early July to take up role with NSW government); and
Tina Chinery, executive director commissioning of the Perth Children’s Hospital (quit role for position with Cairns and Hinterland Health Service).

The fact that this trio comes from the politically sensitive transport and health sectors will have set off alarm bells in the corridors of power.

They represent a huge amount of seniority and expertise walking out the door at a crucial time for the government.

Mr Conran’s availability was of enormous benefit to Mr Barnett when he won power in 2008. He held a senior post during Richard Court’s term as premier, after being lured from the Northern Territory.

He then moved to Canberra, impressing prime minister John Howard, who made him head of the cabinet policy unit.

When Mr Barnett became premier in 2008, he sought Mr Conran’s advice on public sector restructuring, including public sector standards. This led to speculation, correct as it turned out, that he would be appointed to the top post in Western Australia.

His early advice to the premier proved timely as then Labor prime minister Kevin Rudd unveiled reform plans, such as taking responsibility for public sector hospitals in return for a significant slice of the states’ GST revenue. It was a lonely time for a Liberal premier at COAG meetings – all the other leaders were from the Labor side.

Some WA Labor MPs gunned for Mr Conran, asserting his was a political appointment and that he had quit WA after Richard Court’s defeat in 2001 because he didn’t want to work with Labor.

Mr Conran disagreed with this assessment, saying rather that he had moved on because new premier, Labor’s Geoff Gallop, had told him there was no role for him in the new team’s bureaucracy.

The departure of Mr Waldock, Mr Troughton and Ms Chinery is a blow, especially given the political sensitivities linked with the transport and health areas.

Mr Waldock is the first to hold the three key transport roles, but they point to the importance of coordination in coming to terms with the Perth’s traffic congestion problem.

And Mr Troughton will take with him vast knowledge in the key coordinating role in traffic planning, which his replacement will have to pick up quickly.

The challenges posed by Ms Chinery’s departure are perhaps the most strategic. The commissioning of major new hospitals should be a vote winner. But the first year of the showpiece Fiona Stanley Hospital became a nightmare, stoked by political and industrial factors.

The new Children’s Hospital has had its own building issues and delays, but Mr Barnett is determined it will be operating by Christmas.

Does Ms Chinery know something we don’t?

Budget tears

NOW that Treasurer Scott Morrison has delivered what he hopes will be a vote-winning budget ahead of the July 2 election, Mike Nahan will aim to emulate him when it’s his turn on Thursday May 12.

It will be Dr Nahan’s third budget, and the last before the next state election. But WA voters won’t give their verdict on his government until March 11 next year.

Dr Nahan wouldn’t have known whether to laugh or cry when Victoria announced a projected budget surplus of $2.9 billion for 2016-17, helped by a bigger payment from the GST revenue, courtesy of the Commonwealth Grants Commission.

It’s hard to believe but the GST distribution for Victoria is being boosted to 91 cents in the dollar, up from 89 cents. WA’s payout from the GST pool is virtually static at about 3.4 per cent, resulting, as noted previously (Business News, April 25) in just $148 million more coming the state’s way next year – a drop in the bucket compared with a forecast deficit for 2015-16 of $3 billion.

Obviously that’s not a good result for the ‘State on the move’, to quote one of former premier Sir Charles Court’s favourite slogans. And sadly, no quick fix is in sight. That is enough to make grown men cry.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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