The departure of Alex Smith from the NSW Premier’s Department last Friday made no news whatsoever. Not even a footnote.
It was overshadowed by the big story: NSW Health Minister “Grim” Reba Meagher and her latest partner, Adam Walters, the Channel Nine press gallery reporter who has just joined the dark side to become Premier Morris Iemma’s media wizard, and how they left the minister’s driver waiting in the basement of parliament house all night without telling him they were taking a taxi home.
Meagher had been attending Walters’s birthday party and his farewell from Channel Nine at Justin Hemmes’s upmarket watering hole on George Street.
Smith’s exit the following evening was a quieter affair providing no scandal and no headlines. Starting in the NSW public service in 1968 at the age of 16, Smith rose doggedly through the ranks and retired last week from the critical post of Deputy Director General — State Administration Services.
Along the way he was manager of administration and licensing in the Division of Fisheries and then manager of executive support, moved sideways in 1986 to become secretary to the Special Commission of Inquiry into the police investigation of the murder of Griffiths anti-Mafia campaigner Donald MacKay, before re-joining the bureaucracy to hold senior positions in the Department of Industrial Relations and Employment, the Department of Land and Water Conservation, Premier’s Department and finally the amalgamated Department of Premier and Cabinet.
His experience was so vast, his knowledge so broad, his memory so exact and his network so loyal, that Smith knew what was going on in NSW, where the stuff-ups were occurring and why.
He is one of the last of the team of senior civil servants assembled by former Premier’s Department boss Col Gellatly who left within weeks of Iemma’s victory in the March 2007 state election. Paul Clark, another survivor who runs the special project unit, will leave next year.
Gellatly was replaced by Robyn Kruk who has now established her own hands-on team, most of them female. Kruk originally came from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service and served as director-general of the Health Department when Iemma was Health Minister.
He was so impressed that he made her director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet. In turn, Kruk’s replacement at health was the former nurses’ union president, Deb Picone, and the whole network slotted together when Iemma picked Meagher, his old colleague from Young Labor, to be health minister.
So there we have it — Iemma, Kruk, Picone, Meagher. Smith deserves to enjoy his retirement.