Digital Transformation Agency

Digital Transformation Agency CEO Gavin Slater

The new head of the Digital Transformation Agency is among the highest paid in Commonwealth agencies and departments.

The Digital Transformation Agency was a pet project by then-communications minister Malcolm Turnbull when it was created in 2015, and it was designed to overhaul how government departments implement tech projects and improve the way the government deals with the public.

Former NAB executive Gavin Slater was appointed to the CEO role in April this year, almost six months after the inaugural head, Paul Shetler, was shifted from the CEO job to a newly created chief digital officer role before he ultimately quit, citing disagreements with the minister responsible, Angus Taylor.

In response to questions on notice from estimates in May, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (under which DTA now sits) said that the Remuneration Tribunal set Slater’s base salary at $522,240 per year, but including “additional fixed loading” taking in Slater’s experience, and accommodation and reunion allowances, Slater’s pay was $649,240 per year.

The figure is less than those at the top of some of Australia’s largest government agencies, including DFAT, Defence, and the currently-on-leave head of Border Force, Roman Quaedvlieg, who are on more than $800,000 and $700,000, respectively, and it is less than the CEOs of both Australian Post and NBN Co, who are more than $1 million and $3.6 million, respectively.

It is, however, higher than the Prime Minister’s pay at $527,852 as of this month.

The process for recruiting Slater appears to have been more formal than it was for Shetler — who was hand-picked by Turnbull. Slater was one of 16 candidates interviewed for the role and one of three shortlisted and interviewed by a panel of top APS officials including PM&C secretary Martin Parkinson, APS Commissioner John Lloyd, Human Services secretary Kathryn Campbell, Finance secretary Rosemary Huxtable and the interim CEO of DTA, Nerida O’Loughlin.

Slater already found himself in hot water during his first appearance before a Senate estimates committee hearing because he attended a Liberal Party fundraiser on budget night in Parliament House. The department stated that Slater was only invited to attend the day before the budget, and he did not pay for the ticket, the dinner, or anything else, and attended the function in his personal capacity, rather than as a public servant.

The narrative established in other media outlets is that Shetler was sidelined after agency heads were engaged in turf wars with DTA under Shetler. However, Crikey has previously reported there were also internal disputes, and allegations of bullying during Shetler’s time as CEO.

New details have emerged about Shetler’s sidelining, however. In response to a question on notice from Labor Senator Jenny McAllister, PM&C revealed that the decision to terminate Shetler’s appointment early into his five-year term was made “in accordance with section 67 of the Public Service Act“. This means that Taylor would have been able to terminate the appointment at any time, but he must have first received a report about the termination from the relevant secretary of the department.

Shetler has now taken a role at fintech hub Stone & Chalk. Following Shetler’s departure there has been a reported exodus of staff he once employed from the Digital Transformation Agency.

Fairfax reports that DTA has opted to keep the chief digital officer role it created for Shetler, and the new chief digital officer is long-time public servant Peter Alexander, who had been in the chief operating officer role. According to a questions on notice response, Alexander commenced this role at the start of this month.

Get Crikey for $1 a week.

Lockdowns are over and BBQs are back! At last, we get to talk to people in real life. But conversation topics outside COVID are so thin on the ground.

Join Crikey and we’ll give you something to talk about. Get your first 12 weeks for $12 to get stories, analysis and BBQ stoppers you won’t see anywhere else.

Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
12 weeks for just $12.