It seems you can’t keep Jane Halton away from Canberra.
The former top public servant-turned-company director is back in the nation’s capital as a senior adviser to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C).
Halton has been everywhere during the pandemic. She was initially appointed to advise the government as part of its now defunct National COVID-19 Commission, and was later given the role of running a national review of hotel quarantine (all the while maintaining her position on the board of Crown Resorts, which was not only being investigated for money laundering but was also running a hotel quarantine program itself).
And as chair of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a Norwegian-based association focused on developing vaccines against emerging infectious diseases, she has been a go-to expert for the media on all things vaccines, with regular appearances on ABC’s Q+A.
Unlike the fanfare the government made when unveiling its star-studded National COVID-19 Commission, it has not formally announced her appointment.
Instead it was revealed through the release of her contract to the government’s AusTender website, which shows she is being paid $98,000 to advise the government from May 6 to the end of the year. The contract gives no details about what advice she will be providing, but says she was appointed under a limited tender.
The PM&C told Crikey Halton was hired to lead a multi-disciplinary team of government stakeholders to engage with vaccine experts from India, Japan and the US to “foster cooperation in support of vaccine delivery” in the Indo-Pacific region as part of the Quad Leaders’ Vaccines Experts Working Group.
Expert in crisis management
Of course, Halton is no stranger when it comes to advising prime ministers, or steering governments and boards through crises, political or otherwise. She was head of John Howard’s people smuggling taskforce as deputy secretary of the PM&C during the children overboard scandal.
She also continues to weather one of the country’s biggest corporate scandals as a senior director of James Packer’s Crown Resorts, where she was forced to give evidence last year at an inquiry into money laundering and links to organised crime at the casino. (She’ll be required to front up to inquiries into Crown in WA and Victoria.)
Halton was already stalking the halls of parliament on Thursday during Anthony Albanese’s budget reply speech. (She was responsible for supporting the delivery of the budget as the former finance secretary after all).
Crikey asked the PM&C whether she would be required to publicly release any conflicts of interest as they arose. (Among her many hats, Halton is also a board member of ANZ, Clayton Utz, and a council member of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI).) We understand she has fully declared her private interests and is not required to disclose these publicly.
Regardless of any declarations she is required to make, her appointment should make one thing clear: Halton is no longer an “independent expert” on vaccines, but rather a paid-up member of the government’s advisory team, and should be introduced as such by the ABC or any other media outlet choosing to quote her.
*The story was updated to include a response from the government