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Jay's top public servant quits, leading to CE shake-up

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The controversial head of Premier Jay Weatherill’s department has quit, leading to a major reshuffle at the top of some of the state’s key public sector agencies.

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The chief executive of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Kym Winter-Dewhirst, told staff this morning he would resign immediately to support his wife Sandra, a former head of the ABC in Adelaide, who was diagnosed with cancer last year.

Weatherill said Winter-Dewhirst would be replaced from today by Don Russell, the chief executive of the Department for State Development.

Mark Duffy, the Government’s chief economist, will take on Russell’s state development role.

Ingrid Haythorpe, previously the deputy chief executive of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, has been appointed chief executive of the Attorney-General’s Department.

Winter-Dewhirst has had a sometimes controversial two years in charge of Weatherill’s department, copping flak for his $500,000 open plan refurbishment of the departmental offices on Victoria Square, and for his speedy clean-out of 11 executives, some of long-standing service. As recently as last week he was attracting political flak for his department’s quick-fire approval of a $750,000 grant to a community organisation to campaign against Federal Government cuts.

In an email to staff today, he said his wife’s illness had caused him to reflect on his priorities.

“As for me, the decision to leave after a little more than two years as CE, was made during the Christmas/New Year period for personal reasons. In October last year my wife was diagnosed with cancer and underwent a series of operations and radiation treatment,” the email said.

“This led to some deep reflection about our personal priorities as a family and the desire to spend more time with those close to you. In the end it was an easy decision to support my wife.

“It has been a privilege to serve in this role and work with so many capable people on such a wide range of issues on behalf of the great state of South Australia.

“I want to personally thank Premier Weatherill for giving me this opportunity and to my executive team for supporting a wide ranging reform agenda. To my SMC colleagues, thank you all for your support, advice and understanding over the past couple of years.”

His replacement Don Russell, a former ambassador to the US and senior adviser to Paul Keating during his prime ministership, has been in charge at State Development since August 2014.

Duffy, as reported exclusively by InDaily last year, is a respected economist and former senior NSW public servant.

The combative Winter-Dewhirst, a former BHP executive, told InDaily last year, perhaps presciently, that he believed time was short in his job.

“I always felt that in this job time is my enemy… And so I decided I would make some significant changes and I would start at the top, and I would create opportunities for others to step up and seize a new agenda.”

Haythorpe’s appointment to the top job in the Attorney-General’s Department comes after previous CE, Rick Persse, moved to the Education Department last year. In the interim, Caroline Mealor was acting CE.

Weatherill said today that he was “deeply grateful” for Winter-Dewhirst’s “outstanding service” to the South Australian community.

“He has achieved extraordinary results over the last two and a half years, in particular his efforts in modernising the public sector and focusing on international engagement,” he said.

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