Martin Parkinson doesn’t sound like someone who wants to leave his job voluntarily, even after more than 30 years as a public servant.
As Treasury secretary, he has one of the highest-profile jobs in the commonwealth public service.
This week, Parkinson told a conference he had stayed in the public service for 34 years because of the “challenge and excitement” of helping shape the domestic economic landscape and improving the wellbeing of all Australians.
Neither motivation had lessened over time.
“In fact, they have expanded to include improving the quality of our outputs and outcomes by affording the organisation a much greater focus,” he said, like a true bureaucrat.
Parkinson will leave his job later in the year after helping Joe Hockey with his first budget.
Parkinson’s intention was announced by Tony Abbott shortly after the coalition won government in September.
The prime minister insisted it was Parkinson’s decision to leave the role early, notwithstanding speculation he was pushed, like three other heads of department terminated at the time.
His previous role as head of the Department of Climate Change, overseeing introduction of the carbon tax, was never going to sit well with the new government.
Parkinson told a Senate hearing in November that the only person in government he spoke to about his position was Hockey.
By the time he goes he will be 56, having been a departmental head for seven years.
While he admits there are lots of other things in life he could do, being head of Treasury is “probably the best job one could have, without a doubt, in government, and pretty broadly beyond that”.
Ken Henry is not impressed with the way his successor has been treated.
“No government has ever thought it appropriate to remove the head of the Treasury and put somebody who they think is … of a more comfortable political character,” Henry said in an unusually frank interview last week.
Abbott left journalists none the wiser when they quizzed him about Henry’s comments.
Parkinson was doing a fine job, he told them, and he looked forward to working with him for “some time”.
“But you have got to understand, incoming governments do very much want to place their stamp on the economic policy of the country, and that’s exactly what we are doing.”
Parkinson used his speech this week to put the record straight on a number of other issues, categorically rejecting the view that Treasury did not understand business.
A fifth of his senior and executive staff have private sector experience.
He also reeled off several former top Treasury people who went on to be highly successful in business – Ted Evans, Tony Cole, David Morgan and John Fraser.
“There are many others, suggesting that the claim we’re naive about business is hard to justify.”
Parkinson also disputed the charge that Treasury did not listen, probably an “occupational hazard” for all public servants.
“None of us can publicise what advice we have given, so what can appear to be our not listening may, at times, be that the advice was provided … but was not accepted by the ultimate decision-maker,” he said.
Since its beginnings in 1901 with just five bookkeepers, Treasury staff peaked in March 2011 with more than 1000 staff.
It now has to shrink by shedding about a third of positions by 2016/17 as the government reins in spending – a task Parkinson says his department is halfway through.
Change of this magnitude means delivering similar outcomes in a very different manner, he says.
In the past, the response to increased demands was to work harder and longer.
“Needless to say, this is not sustainable,” Parkinson said.
And, just perhaps, his enthusiasm as a public servant is not sustainable either.