The Federal Government has ousted Patricia Scott from her role leading Stephen Conroy's broadband department, installing former Bob Hawke senior staff and Victorian public servant Peter Harris in her place.
As part of a wide-ranging senior bureaucratic reshuffle announced this afternoon by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's office, Scott, who has led the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) as secretary for the past several years, will take a role as a full-time commissioner in the Productivity Commission.
Harris will take her place, leaving his current role as secretary of Victoria's Department of Sustainability and Environment, which he has held since December 2006. Prior to that role, Harris was secretary of the Victorian Department of Primary Industries from August 2004, a role he reportedly resigned from in mid-2006.
The last annual report of the Department of Sustainability and the Environment, for the 2007/2008 year, appeared to show that Harris was paid between $370,000 and $379,999 for that period, as the only accountable public servant at the department, apart from ministers.
According to biographical data available on the Foodbowl Unlimited Forum website, Harris commenced his public service career in 1976 in the Department of Overseas Trade, holding a number of senior positions, before taking up the role of senior private secretary to the Prime Minister from 1989 to 1991; a period during which Bob Hawke was in power.
Conversely, Scott was appointed to lead DBCDE when it was the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, under then-Communications Minister Helen Coonan, a member of then-Prime Minister John Howard's leadership team.
After 1991, Harris then led the Industries Branch of the Prime Minister's Department, before spending two years on exchange in Canada in the Office of the Privy Council, and then returning to the then Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science and Technology as assistant secretary, Communications and Aviation in 1994.
After taking several roles in the transport area in the Federal Government, he switched to the private sector, being appointed to the role of vice president, Government and International Affairs with the Air New Zealand/Ansett Group in 2001.
Shortly after he joined the Victorian Department of Infrastructure as director of Public Transport in November 2002.
"Mr Harris has the requisite experience and skills to lead his new department in its dealings with complex policy issues, such as telecommunications reform, vital to Australia's long-term national interest," said Kevin Rudd in a statement this afternoon.
"In line with our election commitment, all appointments will be for a period of five years."
In an email to DBCDE staff, Scott said it had been an exciting time to work as secretary of the department. "I want to thank you all for your support and your hard work, your ideas and enthusiasm over the time that I have been here," she wrote. "We have achieved a lot together."
"I am certainly proud of what we have accomplished, both in terms of developing and implementing government policy and also within the department itself."
In a separate statement, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy thanked Scott for her efforts, saying she had worked tirelessly to assist the government to deliver its policy agenda and election commitments.
"Establishing the company to roll-out and operate the National Broadband Network has been a major feat and Patricia has played a strong part in its creation," he said.
"She has also made a strong contribution to important policy achievements including the review and funding contributions for SBS and the ABC — the largest increase in history, the roll-out of the digital television switch-over strategy, the delivery of important cyber-safety and e-security programs and our responses to inadequate communications facilities in regional, rural and remote Australia."