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Yes to Kathryn Campbell’s plum job Prime Minister, but why?

by Rex Patrick | Jul 28, 2023 | Government, Latest Posts

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese signed off on Kathryn Campbell’s termination on June 21, 2022, the day before he announced she was off to serve in a plum $892K per annum job in Defence’s AUKUS team. The big question is why? Rex Patrick reveals the FOIs.

When Albanese was sworn in as Australia’s 23rd Prime Minister the Federal Court had already declared RoboDebt unlawful and, thanks to the investigations of his Senate team, he already knew the scheme deserved nothing less than a Royal Commission. 

And so it comes as no real surprise that he signed paperwork on June 21 last year to terminate Campbell as the Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Termination signed by the PM ready for a 23 June Executive Council Meeting

He signed off on the termination of three Secretaries that day: David Fredericks, an elder statesman of the bureaucracy, was terminated as the Secretary of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources so that he could take up a new role as Secretary of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment & Water. 

Simon Atkinson, then Secretary of Infrastructure, was the second person terminated. He is no longer in the Public Service.

Campbell was terminated but she was given a new job especially created for her by the ‘Secretaries Club’.

Jobs for mates

When someone is parachuted into a well-paid bureaucratic position without an open and merit based process, the public service loses and the taxpayer loses.

Whether the job is as a New York based trade commissioner for the Americas, like that awarded to former NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro, or an ambassador, or a government board appointment, or a Tribunal Member, or an AUKUS advisor, it’s wrong when appointments are made principally because of who the appointee knows, who they are allied to, or who they have served in the past.

Merit is the only proper test. And that test should always, except in a public emergency (as opposed to a private emergency), be a test by way of open competition. That’s when you get people who are the best at policy development, good decision making and ensuring good outcomes area achieved.

The focus is too often exclusively directed at the appointee, and not at the appointers.

The Secretaries Club at work

Australia’s top public servants are an elite that looks after their own. Many of the top bureaucrats know each other well, having encountered, befriended and helped each other as their climbed the greasy bureaucratic pole.  

Enjoying six and seven figure salaries and exercising power over tens of thousands of public servants, they form a tight knit group with a keen sense of their privileges and prerogatives.  

They sit next to each other at interdepartmental committees and task forces. They lunch at the exclusive Commonwealth Club. On reaching retirement they often nominate each other to sit on various government boards and advisory bodies, continuing to enjoy feeding from the taxpayers’ teat.

Fire and hire

As Albanese was settling in to his newly elected role, the head of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Professor Glyn Davis, called for a meeting with the then Australian Public Service Commissioner, Peter Woolcott, to discuss recommendations to the Prime Minister on Secretary appointments.

They met at 430 pm on the June 8 at the Office of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, a stone’s throw from Parliament House. The meeting lasted about an hour.

Although the fact of the meeting has been revealed by FOI, no record of the discussion has been released. It’s likely no notes were kept.  

In the days that followed, a brief was sent to the Prime Minister and the wheels were set in motion for Campbell’s termination as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 

A few days later, Davis confided in the Secretary of Defence, Greg Moriarty, that Campbell was going and planted the seed that a new position might be found for her somewhere in the public service.

On June 14, Moriarty received a call from Davis to water the seed. Moriarty came through with a yet-to-be-created role of AUKUS advisor in the nuclear submarine task force. How he determined Campbell was the best person for an as yet undefined role is something Moriarty, alone, will have to explain.

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Woolcott was looped back in.

On the June 16, things had progressed further. Campbell had been bought into the picture. Woolcott emailed Davis:

“Also spoken to Greg Moriarty and Katherine (sic) Campbell. We are moving forward on that and it is very manageable. We will need to work with [Australian Government Solicitor]. I have suggested to them both that once Catherine (sic) is terminated she is immediately placed on a three year non on‐going contract with Defence. She will then take LWOP for a month or two while the job is worked up, noting that it would really come into its own once the decision on the provider was made. Katherine (sic) would also sign a document on termination waiving her rights to any termination payment. Her salary would be set by correspondence between Greg and myself, but could be expected to match her current salary. The (sic) will give thought to her title, but she will basically be a highly paid Band 3.”

The deal on salary was done.

“Appreciate you working with Greg and Kathryn through to a landing – these sound an entirely workable set of arrangements,” responded Davis. He was happy. His predecessor, Philip Gaetjens, was a fixer, and he had just become one too.

The termination paperwork was spun up and presented to Albanese on the 21st June. He signed the relevant paperwork on the same day, ready for an Executive Council meeting with the Governor-General scheduled for the 23rd.

On the June 22, with everything in order, Albanese went public with his line-up of departmental secretaries. He laid out the team and then went on to say, “Simon Atkinson and Kathryn Campbell AO CSC will conclude their secretaries’ roles with effect from 1 July 2022”.

The Prime Minister thanked them for their service, praising their “great professionalism and deep experience to the range of roles they have held”. He then very briefly revealed, almost as an afterthought, what had been arranged behind the scenes and without any process. “Ms Campbell will be taking up a senior appointment in the Defence portfolio in an AUKUS-related role”. He did not mention her $892K salary.

Efficiency oozing

That evening in the Department Defence the backfill paperwork commenced. Forms establishing the role, briefs recommending her to the role and briefs proposing a matching salary, a letter to Woolcott to ‘consider’ and sign off on the salary he’d already agreed to, and a contract drawn up and signed for Campbell’s employment.  

Efficiency of process oozed from the team around Moriarty and Woolcott with a job contract being signed in just on eight days from Albanese’s announcement, with no money being ‘wasted’ on normally appropriate advertising and filling the new position through an open, competitive process.  But why would they?  The position had been created for just one person, a member of the Secretaries Club who needed to be protected.

With an abandonment of due process, equilibrium within the Secretaries’ club was restored.

Slide down the integrity ladder

The PM may have plausible deniability when it comes to an excessive salary that was allocated to the Senior Executive Service Band 3 position created for Campbell. But he knew the rest.

Not only did he know it, he signed off on it. At the very least, he has to accept he tacitly approved a jobs-for-mates arrangement. And the fact is he was advised on the procedural fairness requirements necessary to terminate a Secretary, which would have much more easily been met with the AUKUS arrangements that had been put in place.

Advice given to the PM on Procedural Fairness Requirements Being Met

His approval of such an appointment without process knocks him down the integrity ladder a step or two. That’s the best that can be said. 

Of course, he can explain himself any time he wants. But if he is to do that, whatever he says must fit with the increasing information that is making its way into the public domain on how this jobs-for-mates event unfolded.

In Opposition Albanese and Labor had spoken a lot about the need to rebuild integrity and proper process within the Australian Government. Once elected as Prime Minister, it didn’t take long for the high aspirations to slip.  

Kathryn Campbell – from RoboDebt ignominy to plum Defence job with the PM’s help

Rex Patrick is a former Senator for South Australia and earlier a submariner in the armed forces. Best known as an anti-corruption and transparency crusader - www.transparencywarrior.com.au.

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