The blithe insouciance with which the government yesterday announced that Phil Gaetjens would replace the departing John Fraser at Treasury demonstrates the extent to which what was once the powerhouse of Australian economic and fiscal policymaking has been degraded to a partisan thinktank, one that contributes little to the polity and its public life. 

Gaetjens is a Liberal warrior, a former chief of staff to Peter Costello and Morrison himself. He was, by all accounts, highly competent and well-regarded, even by his Labor opponents, in that role. The many problems of Costello's Treasurership -- the short-term and long-term fiscal indiscipline, the corruption of the retirement incomes system, Costello's inability to see anything outside the leadership prism -- were political in origin, and can't be blamed on him. And it's not unusual for both sides to place favourites as departmental secretaries (like industry, where Labor put Don Russell, or the APSC, where Tony Abbott hilariously put John Lloyd). But not in central agencies. They're too important to politicise. Or they used to be.