We know it’s weird to put the NSW Treasury in our Sydney Top 10. But there’s no doubt these guys have the power to stop an awful lot of things the city needs, such as a decent transport system. So we thought we’d have a look at the people who’ll be holding the government’s purse strings, starting with new Treasury Secretary, Philip Gaetjens.

Gaetjens declined to talk to The Power Index because “he is not into self promotion”, but we can tell you where he’ll be coming from. For 10 years until 2007, he served as Peter Costello’s chief of staff in Canberra, overseeing 11 budgets that ended up in a healthy surplus. In short, he’s a tightwad.

But he’s also “a brilliant brain with an incredible mastery of details”, according to Costello’s former media adviser, David Gazard.

Skinny, bald, and in his mid-50s, Gaetjens was hit by a car and nearly killed while crossing the road in Canberra in July 2007. And he says it taught him “compassion”.

But don’t expect him to be a soft touch when it comes to handing out cash. Gaetjens has told the media that his priorities at Treasury will be “managing expenses … and focusing on more efficient service delivery’.’ As recently reported in The Sydney Morning Herald, any spending on railways and the like will be “affordable” and won’t risk “the state’s AAA credit rating”.

Don’t expect him to give up easily either, because he’s tough. Most ministerial staffers burn out after three or four years, but Gaetjens lasted a decade with Australia’s third-best treasurer (after Keating and Swan). And he really liked his boss, whose abiding aim was to balance the books.

Above Gaetjens in the pecking order, in the sense that he’s in charge of NSW’s 340,000 public servants, will be another top bureaucrat from the Costello and Howard era, Peter Shergold, who took over the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet after Max Moore Wilton checked his axe.

Shergold is certainly no right-wing hatchet man: he’s an economist, fixer and one-time poet who did a fine job in Aboriginal affairs when Robert Tickner was minister. He says his primary aim is to restore pride and professionalism to the public service and strip it of its political appointees. He also wants public servants to go back to giving frank and fearless advice to ministers. Hooray for him if he can get that happening.

One rung beneath Gaetjens is the Treasury’s Deputy Secretary for Budget and Financial Management, Mark Ronsisvalle. We’ve heard varying views on him — he also declined to talk to us — but former premier Kristina Keneally, told The Power Index: “He’s smart, an economic rationalist and someone who influences how other Treasury officials think. He’s been longing for a government like this for ages.”

*Read the full profile at The Power Index

Peter Fray

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