New secretary of Australia’s Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet named

By on 01/06/2022 | Updated on 29/06/2022
Glyn Davis will start his five-year term on 6 June. Photo courtesy University of Melbourne

Professor Glyn Davis has been named secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C). His appointment follows the departure of Phil Gaetjens after Labor won the country’s federal election on 21 May.

A public policy expert, Davis’ career has spanned both government and academia. He served as commissioner for public sector equity at the Public Sector Management Commission in the early 1990s before becoming director-general of Queensland’s Department of Premier and Cabinet.

He spent 13 years as vice-president of Melbourne University, until 2018, and was a member of the panel behind the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service – also known as the Thodey Review – which came out in 2019.

In 1983 he assisted with the Review of Commonwealth Administration to answer the question ‘why can’t the public service operate like a business?’, and he has commented extensively on the decline of capability within the APS.

Australia’s governor-general David Hurley appointed Davis for a five-year term on the recommendation of the new prime minister Anthony Albanese. Davis is to start on 6 June.

Albanese said Davis “will bring to the role of secretary a deep understanding of public policy and will work with my government in bringing about positive change for the Australian people”.  

High praise from former colleagues

Davis has been described by former colleagues as a “visionary leader” and “change agent” with “enormous intellect”.

“Professor Davis’ knowledge, experience and deep understanding of public policy will prove invaluable to the Albanese government,” Griffith University, where Davis started his career as a lecturer in public policy in 1985, said in a statement.

“He is a visionary leader who will provide strategic thought leadership for the Australian Public Service and provide frank and fearless advice to government.”

As reported by The Mandarin, Vicki Thomson, chief executive of the Group of Eight – which comprises Australia’s leading research universities and of which Davis is a former president – said he has a history of running complex organisations and a “proven track record of being considered and thoughtful in his deliberation”. This, she said, “is particularly important in these uncertain times”.

She added that he has a “quiet albeit enormous intellect, that removes heat from any discussion that stands in the way of a result” and that his expertise would foster the development of evidence-based public policy in the APS.

Liz Gillies, chief executive of King’s College London’s Menzies Foundation, where Davis will stand down as a board member to focus on his new role, said he “exemplifies the leadership qualities that are increasingly important as Australia navigates the challenges of an increasingly complex, polarised, tribal and digitised world”.

His “deep experience, thoughtful consideration of complex issues, and preparedness to be adaptive and a change agent ensures that he will make an important contribution to the opportunities and challenges ahead,” she said.  

Read more: Australia’s top public servant leaves post after Labor election victory  

Gaetjens’ departure

Gaetjens had served as PM&C secretary since 2019 under the Coalition government headed by Scott Morrison. He was previously Morrison’s chief of staff. Gaetjens stepped down when the Coalition government was ousted in the federal election earlier this month, after Albanese hinted that he planned to replace him.

Stephanie Foster, who features in Global Government Forum’s Leading Questions podcast, briefly held the APS top spot in an acting capacity until a permanent appointment was made.

Davis’ numerous other past and present roles include that of chair of Universitas 21, a group of leading universities from around the world; a member of the Hong Kong Commission; a visiting professor of the University of Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government; a foundation chairman of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government; and a distinguished professor at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy.

He is also a patron of Australia 21, a non-profit organisation developing research networks on key issues affecting Australia’s future, a former chief executive of the Paul Ramsay Foundation, and a member of the Innovation Taskforce, a group of experts tasked with reviewing Australia’s research and innovation systems.

Davis obtained a Bachelor of Arts in political science from the University of New South Wales, has a PhD from the Australian National University, and has also studied at the University of California Berkeley, the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the Brookings Institution in Washington DC.

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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