National COVID-19 Commission chair Nev Power (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

At a meeting held, refreshingly, at midday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled his new National Covid-19 Coordination Commission, an additional body whose job, the prime minister said, was “quite simply, to solve problems”.

“Problems that require the private sector working together with the private sector, CEOs, to talk to CEOs and to be engaged with by CEOs to ensure that the private to private effort is there solving problems in the national interest.”

It’s little surprise then, that the commission’s executive is stacked almost entirely with business leaders, with a few bureaucrats tossed in for good measure.

Neville ‘Nev’ Power (chairman)

All it took was a phone call. “Nev, I need you to serve your country,” Morrison said. And with that, Power, former CEO of Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) has been recruited to a critical leadership role fighting against COVID-19. 

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Power, who spent his career in mining and construction has no obvious medical or scientific background. He is, however, reportedly well-respected as a mining boss, helping FMG rebound through a difficult period. But Power also joined FMG from another company in tough circumstances. He had been CEO of construction company Thiess, which was in the midst of an industrial spying scandal.

By picking Power to chair the commission, Morrison continues a trend of appointing mining connections to influential positions. His chief of staff, John Kunkel, was a former chief executive at the Minerals Council of Australia and adviser at Rio Tinto. Another ex-Minerals Council CEO Brendan Pearson also holds a senior advisory role in the Prime Minister’s Office.

David Thodey (deputy chair)

Thodey is best known for his six-year stint as CEO of Telstra, a job he landed after a long career in sales and marketing. Before that he was a boss at IBM, and helped turn around the fortunes of Basketball Australia. Thodey is currently chair of the CSIRO, and most recently led a review of the Australian Public Service, which produced a report slamming the sector for its lack of “a clear unified purpose”.

Greg Combet

The token leftie on the team, Combet served as a minister under both Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard. Most notably, as minister for energy and climate change, Combet presided over the introduction of the carbon tax in 2011. Before politics, he made a name for himself as Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, where he led the fight against WorkChoices in 2007. Since leaving politics, he’s worked as a lobbyist for industry super.

Jane Halton

A career mandarin, Halton has led the departments of health and finance, after a stint as deputy secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet during the Howard years. During the children overboard affair, Halton was appointed to head the government’s people smuggling taskforce, a controversial position that put her squarely in the Senate estimate spotlight, and made her the subject of considerable scrutiny from Labor and the media.

Catherine Tanna 

Tanna was appointed managing director of Energy Australia in 2014, after a career in the oil industry. She’s also on the boards of the Reserve Bank of Australia and the Business Council. Most recently, she was in the news when Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick used parliamentary privilege to call for her resignation from the RBA board over Energy Australia’s minimal tax bill. 

Paul Little

Little in name, not in wealth, Paul is one of Australia’s richest men with a net worth of $950 million. Much of that wealth came from Toll Group, the transportation and logistics company Little ran for over two decades. After stepping down in 2012, he went into property development and made more money. Little does have experience with handling a different sort of crisis — he was president of Essendon Football Club during the height of the supplements scandal.

Mike Pezzullo and Phil Gaetjens

Filling out the executive are two of the nation’s most powerful public servants. Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo is best known for being tough as nails, the kind of temperament needed to run the country’s notoriously secretive, unsentimental offshore processing regime. You can read more about his steady rise in this Crikey profile.

Gaetjens landed the top spot at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet midway through last year. Back when the coronavirus was a distant blip on the horizon, Gaetjens was under fire for his lacklustre report into the sports rorts (remember them?). Before that, he was Treasury Secretary. And before that, he was Scott Morrison’s chief of staff. The revolving door never stops spinning.