Housing shakeup as new broom sweeps the public sector

A senior bureaucrat found guilty of maladministration over the infamous Gillman land deal has been promoted by the Marshall Government to oversee a new state Housing Authority as part of a broader shakeup of the public sector.

Jun 28, 2018, updated Jun 28, 2018
Premier Steven Marshall is shaking up the public service. Photo: AAP/Morgan Sette

Premier Steven Marshall is shaking up the public service. Photo: AAP/Morgan Sette

The bureaucrat, Renewal SA’s former chief operating officer Michael Buchan, has been appointed interim chief executive of the SA Housing Authority – a new agency amalgamating the functions of Housing SA and Renewal SA – among a raft of senior appointments announced by Premier Steven Marshall today.

The changes will also see longtime public sector heavyweight Paul Heithersay head up the Department for Energy and Mining.

The Liberals had pledged to “establish the parameters for a new housing authority” within its first 100 days in office – a deadline that falls this week.

Buchan’s appointment has coincided with a broader public service restructure as Machinery Of Government changes kick in from next month, along with upheaval on various government boards.

In line with the new broom on the state’s Housing Authority, the Housing Trust board will have a makeover, with presiding member Mary Patetsos – the wife of former federal Labor minister Nick Bolkus – being replaced by Gary Storkey, former chief executive of Homestart Finance.

Former state Labor minister Greg Crafter, columnist and former broadcaster Amanda Blair and current Playford council CEO Mal Hemmerling – the onetime boss of the Adelaide grand prix – have also not been reappointed.

Blair told InDaily she expected the changes signalled a new policy direction, but said: “I haven’t been told anything about Michael’s vision or the new vision for the department”.

“I’m sure that’s why they’re doing it,” she said.

“I’m sure they’ll go for a new approach, and that’s fine – provided it gets better outcomes in the housing sector for SA’s most vulnerable people, I’m fully supportive.”

Blair said she was “not surprised at all” that her tenure wasn’t renewed, saying: “That always happens with a change of government.”

“People like me who have worked for the cause for 16 years will always be tainted with the Labor brush, because we’ve worked with the government for that long – and that’s the way it is,” she said.

The ambassador for the Hutt Street Centre and Catherine House said she had “worked tirelessly behind the scenes in the homelessness sector for 20 years” and would “continue to be involved in the sector – but just not at board level”.

Buchan is one of four senior appointments to State Government agencies confirmed today, with Heithersay, currently a deputy chief executive at the Department of Premier and Cabinet, shifting to head up Energy and Mining.

Heithersay has been a deputy at the now-defunct State Development Department, overseeing the Minerals, Resources and Energy divisions while also heading the Resources Infrastructure and Investment Task Force and the Olympic Dam Task Force.

Senior Premier and Cabinet department bureaucrat Paul Heithersay is one of several public sector appointments announced today. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

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Mike Hnyda, headhunted from Wales by former minister Martin Hamilton-Smith to helm Labor’s Investment Attraction SA, has been promoted to oversee the Department of Trade, Tourism and Investment, while Kylie Taylor, the General Manager of the Office for Recreation and Sport, will become Chief Executive at an expanded office of Recreation, Sport and Racing.

But Buchan’s appointment is perhaps the most noteworthy, given the Liberals in Opposition were critical of the previous government for keeping him on at Renewal SA after the former chief operating officer was one of two senior bureaucrats – along with the agency’s then-chief executive Fred Hansen – found by ICAC commissioner Bruce Lander to have engaged in maladministration over the disastrous Gillman land deal.

He was nonetheless subsequently appointed as the agency’s General Manager for Property Management, prompting Liberal deputy leader Vickie Chapman to bemoan in parliament that he was “still there, operating in a very senior role”.

Buchan had a notoriously prickly relationship with former Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis, telling the ICAC inquiry – as detailed in Lander’s report – that in his first meeting with the minister, he was told “something along the lines of ‘Oh, Christ… I did not know I got you with the agency’”.

He alleged Koutsantonis told him: “If I had known that, I would have got the fucking… brooms organised and you could go down on North Terrace and do something useful [like] sweep the leaves for me.”

“The Minister and I did not have a good relationship.” he said.

Koutsantonis disputed his recollection of the meeting.

Marshall said in a statement today that the new appointments were “part of machinery of government changes… to achieve better outcomes for South Australians and to ensure greater government accountability”.

“Chief executives will be reporting to one minister,” he said.

“Gone are the days of blurred reporting lines and absurd scenarios where chief executives reported to up to seven ministers.

“I look forward to working with the new chief executives to create more jobs, lower costs for households and businesses, and deliver better government services.”

In further changes, Peter Vaughan, a former head of Business SA who lost his position on the TAFE Board last year, won’t be reappointed to the SACE Board.

He told InDaily he did not seek reappointment after six years on the board, saying “I believed that was the appropriate [period of] time to make a contribution, and I informed my chairman accordingly some time ago”.

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