Boxall in the box seat?

Just as Martin Parkinson has been forced to contemplate life after Treasury, Treasurer Joe Hockey has to contemplate life after Martin.
The question is, who will he pick? Or, perhaps more likely, who has he already picked?
Most speculation so far seems to centre around two former senior Costello staffers – Mike Callahan and Phil Gaetjens.
Both have the experience that would seem to make them obvious candidates for the position – solid background in developing and providing economic advice, a record of service to the Coalition, a familiarity with the workings of the public service, and political judgement.
Callahan knows Treasury well. He joined the department in 1974 and has spent much of his career there. Following his stint in Costello’s office (from 1999 to 2000, during the introduction of the GST) he rose through the ranks to become head of the Revenue Group between 2005 and 2007, before moving on to be Executive Director, International, from 2008 until he left Treasury in 2012 to join the Lowy Institute, where he is Program Director of the G20 Studies Centre.
Gaetjens, who has been a career public servant at both the Federal and State level, honed his political skills and judgement as Costello’s chief of staff for a decade, before moving on to become Secretary at NSW Treasury following the defeat of the Howard Government.
But there is a third former senior Costello staffer who, oddly, has so far largely been overlooked in connection with the Treasury job, but who would seem to be better qualified than both – former Department of Employment and Workplace Relations Secretary Peter Boxall.
Few top Federal public servants have borne as many scars for the Coalition as has Boxall.
He served as an economic adviser to Andrew Peacock in the late 1980s, where he helped develop the-the Opposition’s 1990 economic action plan.
Later, in Costello’s office he helped frame the Howard Government infamous first Budget, with its swingeing cuts to the public service and Commonwealth spending.
He subsequently returned to the public service where, as Secretary of the Finance Department, he was responsible for the introduction of the system of accruals, outcomes and outputs that is now in place across the bureaucracy.
But it was perhaps as Department of Employment and Workplace Relations Secretary that Boxall really earned his stripes as far as the Coalition was concerned.
The highly-educated economist, who worked at the International Monetary Fund for many years, led the Department through the introduction of Work Choices, and although the policy was eventually repudiated politically (and is still seen to have the whiff of political death about it), the quality of its implementation has never been seriously challenged.
His reputation as a fiscal conservative won’t harm his chances, either.
In an interview he gave to the Canberra Times in March 2006, Boxall detailed his outlook on the job of the public service, and its stewardship of public monies.
“It’s really our job to look at what is efficient, which is more measurable, and effective and ethical,” he said. “And that’s why in the FMA Act [Financial Management and Accountability Act under which Commonwealth departments operate] they have this section … which says that one of the duties of CEOs such as myself is the three Es: efficient, effective and ethical use of taxpayers money. Fairness is an issue for the politicians.”
It is an outlook in synchronicity with that of the Abbott Government.
As the Canberra Times put it: “He considers himself a classic liberal and thinks there is scope to continue to look at government expenditure in a lot of areas to see whether programs are really necessary. This applies even when there is a significant surplus because then there can be lower taxes.”
Little wonder, then, that when the National Commission of Audit was being formed, Boxall was an early inclusion.
Treasury Secretary is one of the top jobs in the Federal public service, requiring a combination of economic smarts, political nous, a strategic outlook, high order administrative skills and well-earned authority.
It is not a position that would treat an outsider parachuted in kindly.
It is a not a job for heroic ‘Captain’s picks’ (ala Fred Hilmer and Fairfax, or Sol Trujillo and Telstra).
Both Ken Henry and Martin Parkinson had the qualities needed to make a success of the position in generous helpings.
Whoever gets the post, it is not going to be an easy ride.


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