The federal Department of Education is preparing for a shakeup at the top, with not only the extended term of its secretary ending but also a deputy secretary leaving the Australian Public Service for the non-government sector.
The exits come at a time of renewal for the department, which is embarking on several initiatives at the direction of the Labor government, including the next national school reform agreement and the national teacher workforce plan.
It also follows an extensive period of staff being locked out of the department’s headquarters at 50 Marcus Clarke Street, Canberra, due to sprinkler flooding and damage caused by an air conditioner unit crashing through floors.
Secretary Michele Bruniges was first appointed to the department’s top job by Malcolm Turnbull in April 2016 for a period of five years. Scott Morrison extended that term for another two years from April 2021.
The two-year extension was a period reportedly specified by Dr Bruniges to allow her to complete internal reforms and also her tenure as the chair of the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment Governing Board, the first Australian to be appointed to the role.
Following Labor’s election last May, Anthony Albanese removed several departmental secretaries, but Dr Bruniges was not one of them.
However, her department (then the Department of Education, Skills and Employment) was split in machinery of government changes, leaving Dr Bruniges in charge of the new stand-alone Education Department.
She has retained the confidence of the government in that role, but with her term expiring before April, the announcement of her replacement, or another short-term extension, is expected shortly.
Ros Baxter, the department’s Deputy Secretary, Schools and Youth Group, starts a new role in March as the chief executive officer for Goodstart Early Learning.
The not-for-profit social enterprise hailed the appointment of Dr Baxter, who also writes romance novels in her spare time, as a coup for the organisation.
Chair Paul Robertson said Dr Baxter’s appointment followed an extensive search.
“Ros is a senior executive with 25 years’ experience as a public sector leader, policy analyst, academic, tribunal member and consultant,” he said.
“She started her career as a child protection social worker and senior practitioner. Ros has led large teams of people and had oversight on multi-billion dollar budgets.
“Ros has also previously undertaken a range of roles focused on children and families, including as head of Families Group Commonwealth Department of Social Services and as Deputy Secretary responsible for early childhood and child care.
“As a result, she brings a strong understanding of issues affecting children, families and the sector. In addition, her vocal advocacy for reconciliation and support for Indigenous education made her the perfect fit for the role.
“I know the teachers and educators who work to improve the learning and life outcomes of the children who attend our centres will be very excited to welcome Dr Baxter.”
Dr Baxter said she was thrilled to be joining the Goodstart team and admired its purpose and reach.
“I believe in partnering closely with the families, educators and services who know and understand children best,” she said.
“With four children of my own, I believe that every person is different and differently capable, and that everyone has the right to a great start in life.”