Soon after his election in 1996 Liberal prime minister John Howard sacked six departmental secretaries (the chief executives at the top of the public service). A rumour spread that one was sacked by mistake. If so, the mistake was never corrected. Occasionally beheading an admiral pour encourager les autres is a well-established way to ensure obedience. Beheading six is much more effective.
It is less likely that Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott will feel the need to do the same. After 13 years of Labor, Howard felt he had to assert the incoming government’s dominance over the public service and was highly suspicious of its senior people. It is different for Abbott. There have been only six years of opposition. The senior ranks of the public service still include many people promoted during the Howard years for demonstrating unswerving loyalty to the Coalition government. Abbott has worked closely with a number of them.