The Howard government began its life by axing six departmental heads. It sent public servants a clear message: we're in charge now - do as we say, or you're out.
The Abbott government has begun in similar vein. As the new ministry was being sworn in, the Prime Minister announced that three departmental secretaries are now former secretaries.
A fourth - the secretary to the Treasury Martin Parkinson - will join them in mid-2014.
Peter Baxter, director of AusAid, fell on his sword after learning the agency would lose not only $4.5 billion but also its identity, merging into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
There will always be changes when new governments take over. This one plans to scrap two departments, for good reasons, so someone has to go. And some heads are vulnerable when their old boss' enemy becomes their new boss. But the selection criteria this time sends public servants a clear message: we're in charge now, and you can't be seen to have a different view on key policies from ours.
Parkinson and his then deputy Blair Comley designed the emissions trading scheme the Coalition wants to scrap. In public, they made a lucid case that a price on carbon is the cheapest, most effective way to reduce emissions.
Their new boss disagrees and doesn't want them around - although Parkinson has been allowed time for a graceful exit. Andrew Metcalfe, as secretary of the Immigration Department, argued a policy of turning back the boats would not work. That is now government policy, so he had to go.
Don Russell, secretary of the Department of Innovation and much else, had been Paul Keating's right-hand man in power. He probably would not have expected to stay on under the old enemy.
But we are losing talented people here. Parkinson, who did his PhD at Princeton under Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke, is one of the best economic minds in the country, a cool head with an open mind and fine judgment. What message does it send when someone of his ability is pushed out?
The good news is that the new departmental heads, Gordon de Brouwer at environment and Renee Leon at the new Department of Employment, are also from the top drawer. And when savings are needed, this reorganisation of departments makes sense. What matters now is that Abbott and his ministers make it clear they want officials to give fearless expert advice - and not tell ministers just what they want to hear.