PM's new department head 'an asset'

Julia Gillard has appointed a new head to a department whose main program would be significantly changed by an incoming Coalition Government.

After almost three years as secretary of the Resources, Energy and Tourism Department, Drew Clarke will take over the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy.

He is a career bureaucrat and a former surveyor who has worked in Australia and the Antarctic.

His earlier roles include deputy secretary for Resources, Energy and Tourism, head of the Energy and Environment Division and executive general manager of AusIndustry and leadership of science agencies.

The Prime Minister described Mr Clarke as an experienced secretary who was well placed to take on the new position.

"His knowledge and experience will be an asset to the Commonwealth in his new role," she said.


"I will announce arrangements for the position of secretary of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism in the near future."

Mr Clarke has been appointed for a five year term.

In November the then-head of the Broadband Department, Peter Harris, was given the task of chairing the Productivity Commission.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said Mr Clarke had impressive contributions to public policy.

"These include his work in spatial data, the establishment of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, and driving an economic agenda for the tourism industry," he said.

"Of particular significance is his work in energy policy, where he has been at the helm of the national energy market reform agenda for over a decade.

"He has also been a major contributor to the International Energy Agency, serving on its governing board, and has been instrumental in clean energy technology development and energy-related climate change policy."

Mr Abbott says Australia does not need to spend billions on the National Broadband Network.

A Coalition Government would redesign the project to limit the laying of fibre optic cable to suburban nodes instead of into homes.

Mr Abbott has promised to abolish the Department of Climate Change and reduce staff in the Health Department, Education and Defence Materiel Organisation.

He would reduce the federal public service by 12,000 nationwide through natural attrition and establish a commission of audit to test all cost reduction options.

"Other questions that the Commission of Audit might ponder could include, whether the federal Health Department really needs all 6000 of its current staff when the Commonwealth doesn't actually run a single hospital or nursing home, dispense a single prescription or provide a single medical service?" he said in a speech last year.

"Whether the Federal Education Department really needs all 5000 of its current staff when the Commonwealth doesn't run a single school? And whether we really need 7000 officials in the Defence Materiel Organisation, when the United Kingdom, with armed forces at least four times our size, gets by with 4000 in the equivalent body?"

Last week he played down a Coalition discussion paper that included a proposal to force tens of thousands of federal public servants to go to northern Australia.

Federal Parliament passed a bill last Thursday to extend the terms of departmental secretaries to a minimum five years, with a possible extension of another five.

The Public Service Amendment Bill strengthens governance arrangements for the federal public service leadership, including reforms that strengthen the independence of secretaries and provide a clear statement of their role and the performance expected of them.

The bill strengthens the apolitical nature of the APS by restoring the arrangement that operated under the Public Service Act 1922 whereby the appointment, and termination of appointment, of departmental secretaries is a matter for the Governor-General.