Canberra has a new mandarin, with the Prime Minister last night announcing that Mike Mrdak, Deputy Secretary and PM&C and “Infrastructure Coordinator-General”, was succeeding Mike Taylor as Secretary of the unacronymable Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government at the end of June.

Mrdak is a veteran of that Department, having started there as a graduate and rapidly ascended to its senior ranks, mainly on the aviation side, including a stint in Laurie Brereton’s office in the Keating Government.

He joined PM&C shortly before the arrival there of Terry Moran last year, and formed part of Moran’s overhaul of PM&C’s senior SES, which amounted to a quiet but thorough purging of Howard-era senior bureaucrats and a reshaping of the Department to better fit Kevin Rudd’s ideas of program delivery, coordination and policy advice.

Mrdak was the obvious candidate for the job once Taylor announced his retirement, although former Transport dep sec Peter Harris, who wasn’t a Coalition favourite and is head of Victoria’s Department of Sustainability and Environment, was also said to be in the running.

Critically, Mrdak takes his Infrastructure Coordinator-General role with him, meaning he retains oversight of the rapid-fire State and Territory roll-out of the Government’s second stimulus package as well the delivery of the major rail and road expenditure announced in the Budget. This makes Infrastructure, which has suffered two adverse Auditor-General reports on its performance during the Howard era in the last two years, one of the key agencies in both the Government’s re-election strategy and its longer-term infrastructure agenda.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey