The Prime Minister’s most senior strategist, Nick Reece, has quit his post and will move to Melbourne University as a fellow in the school of social and political sciences.

An email sent by the PM’s chief-of-staff Ben Hubbard tonight, obtained by Crikey, lauded Reece’s effort in his 18 months as director of strategy and emphasised the decision related to family, not the political position of the Gillard government.

“During his time in the PMO, Nick has shaped the strategy unit into a high-functioning political outfit, spanning caucus and party liaison, community cabinet, question time, RTWs and campaigning. He’s also been the leader and mentor to a bunch of staff who have gone onwards and upwards into other significant roles across the government,” Hubbard wrote.

Reece’s family is based in Melbourne and wife Felicity recently gave birth to a third daughter. The grind of commuting each week to Canberra and the subsequent 80-hour weeks is said to have contributed to the decision.

Hubbard acknowledged the gruelling nature of working away from home with three young kids under five and said that his colleague would have preferred to stay in the nation’s capital: “As a hard working and very committed member of our team I know Nick leaves with a heavy heart.”

In his new role, Reece will work alongside the dean of arts, Mark Considine. The progressive public policy connection runs deep in the faculty — Considine was once close to Labor in Victoria and his son works for Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews.

Reece is slated to deliver lectures in public policy, undertake academic research, run workshops and organise conferences and provide concrete advice on the real workings of government to academics who sometimes struggle to leave Parkville.

The hire is part of an organised tilt to inject some real world nous into the institution. Last year the politics school hired another former politico, former Kooyong MP Petro Georgiou, who is currently teaching a fourth-year subject on the deposing of sitting prime ministers.

Before leaving for Canberra, Reece was state secretary of Labor in Victoria and before that head of policy for John Brumby and economic policy for Steve Bracks. He was also a journalist for The Australian Financial Review and holds degrees in arts, law, economics and a masters in public policy from Monash University.

The move caps a brisk series of ins and outs in the PMO. Last year, the government hired senior Scottish spin doctor John McTernan as communications director to refine the message coming out of the office. And last week, policy director Ian Davidoff announced he will leave the inner sanctum to take up up a position at the International Monetary Fund.

Insiders are now talking of a shifting of the tectonic plates inside the PMO as McTernan — who replaced Russell Mahoney — beds down his meta vision. They are happy with the PM’s recent form, citing an uptick of energy and this week’s successful Q&A performance as evidence of a looming rebound. But anonymous claims on ABC radio (aired after this story ran), that Reece ran a “dirt unit” could cause some temporary internal consternation.

Several sources said they believed the boss can still win the next federal poll and seemed content to keep getting up at 5.30am and crawling under the doona after Lateline until the last vestiges of hope evaporate.

Reece, who has taken only limited parental leave this year, will remain stationed in Canberra until the start of the winter recess in July. He declined to comment.

Peter Fray

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