The prime minister is slashing the number of government departments from 18 to 14 in an effort to cut red tape and improve services.
“Having fewer departments will allow us to bust bureaucratic congestion,” he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
Several department secretaries are being sacked in the purge: Department secretaries Kerri Hartland (employment), Renée Leon (human services), Mike Mrdak (communications and arts), Daryl Quinlivan (agriculture) and Heather Smith (industry, innovation and science).
Four new mega departments will be created when the changes come into effect on January 1:
* Department of Education merged with Department of Employment and Skills.
* New Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. It will also include arts.
* Department of Agriculture and Water Resources merged with the Department of Environment.
* Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. It now includes emissions reduction and small and family business functions.
The Department of Human Services will be established as a new executive agency called Services Australia within the Department of Social Services.
The remaining 10 departments are unchanged.
Department of Communications and the Arts secretary Mike Mrdak said his department was not consulted about the shock move.
“I was told of the government’s decision to abolish the department late yesterday afternoon,” Mrdak said in a memo.
“We were not permitted any opportunity to provide advice on the machinery of government changes, nor were our views ever sought on any proposal to abolish the department or to changes to our structure and operations.”
He said he would work with staff to make the transition as seamless as possible.
“I will keep everyone regularly advised of what is proposed and what is happening.
“I will do my best with our SES (executive) team to ensure that there is as much certainty as possible for all of you, and our agencies, and a continuity of services for the community we serve.”
Mrdak said Australia had the best public service in the world.
“Long may it continue to be so.”
Labor deputy leader Richard Marles urged the prime minister to tread carefully about the changes.
“Obviously the public service has a very significant role to play and there needs to be stability within the public service,” Marles told Sky News.
“I think it’s really important – particularly at this time, given all the challenges that we’re facing – that the government is managing the public service in a way which maintains stability and ultimately maintains morale.”
Earlier this year, the prime minister said the Australian Public Service needed to “evolve” and in some cases “conventional wisdom needs to be challenged”.
He also called for “congestion-busting” to encourage new ideas on how to improve services.
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