Dry resolve in the face of crisis
ANDREW CLENNELLFebruary 27, 2010
Robyn Kruk ... experienced bureaucrat. Photo: Edwina Pickles
ROBYN KRUK, the bureaucrat at the centre of the federal government's insulation scandal, is no stranger to trouble or political crisis - including to crises which involve deaths under a government's watch.
In fact, some might say trouble seems to follow Ms Kruk. But she also has proven an expert at digging herself - and governments - out of it.
The now federal secretary of the environment department was the director-general of NSW Health during the Camden-Campbelltown hospital crisis.
She was also the head of the Department of Premier and Cabinet during Morris Iemma's administration before resigning under Mr Iemma's successor, Nathan Rees. Her resignation came after Mr Rees announced, without consulting Ms Kruk, plans to axe 20 per cent of the most senior bureaucrats in the public service.
Ms Kruk is known as an excellent bureaucratic backside-coverer for governments, and for being almost robotic in the way she deals with crises.
She covered for Peter Garrett before a Senate committee this week, just as she used to do for many a state politician.
Ms Kruk cut through the opposition argument that the government was responsible for deaths with a rather blunt: ''There is only one way of ensuring a risk-free environment [and that is] not to go into ceilings.''
She had been director-general of the health department for less than six months, when trouble hit: accusations from whistleblower nurses that 19 deaths at Camden and Campbelltown hospitals could have been avoided. The allegations were later dismissed by ICAC.
Morris Iemma inherited Ms Kruk as his No. 1 bureaucrat at health in 2003, when he had to deal with those crises. He says Ms Kruk is the best bureaucrat he has come across in 20 years in politics, and was a professional public servant who hated the Sussex Street bovver boys.
''She's very loyal,'' Mr Iemma says. ''By the same token she was always fond of saying, 'I'm not a member of the boys' club.' '' Mr Iemma is sure Ms Kruk would have informed Mr Garrett of problems with the scheme.
''If she was getting advice [about problems] she'd be telling them. Whether they took that advice, that's up to them.''
A senior bureaucrat says: ''With Robyn, you do have someone with a lot of operational experience. She has always been good whenever there were problems of getting the relevant people in the room and making it clear there needed to be a fix.''
But there are others less effusive in their praise. One government source says: ''She [can be] better at talking the talk than walking the walk.''
Another former senior government source said: ''I always felt she was overrated.''
Yesterday the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was hardly effusive about the performance of Ms Kruk's department. He said his responsibility was to have ''the best departmental systems possible to deal with energy efficient programs in the future''.
''We need different departmental arrangements in the future to deal with compliance when it comes to energy efficient policies and regulatory regimes associated with that.''
Asked about Ms Kruk's future in administering the program, he said ''future departmental arrangements'' would be determined with the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
with Louise Hall