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Oct 14, 2011

Some things you mightn’t have known about Mick Reid (on the occasion of the Sidney Sax medal)

Mick Reid, who was awarded the Sidney Sax Medal today, is well known as one of the country's

Mick Reid, who was awarded the Sidney Sax Medal today, is well known as one of the country’s most experienced health administrators.

But perhaps there are some things you don’t know about him…

I thought Croakey readers might be interested in the full citation, below, which was given by the president of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association, Dr David Panter.

Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association: Sidney Sax Medal

The Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association awards the annual Sidney Sax Medal to an individual, active in the health services field, who has made an outstanding contribution in the field of health services policy, organisation, delivery and research.

Our nomination each year is kept a closely guarded secret.  This year has been no exception and we made the usual clandestine arrangements to make sure the winner was at the Conference – and it worked!

I have great pleasure in announcing one of Australia’s most experienced health administrators, Mick Reid, as the recipient of the 2011 Sidney Sax Medal.

Mick Reid will be well known to all of you here today as an outstanding leader in our health system for over three decades.

He has spent most of his working life in the health and human services industry and has made a rich and varied contribution to it.  He has a national and international reputation as a public sector manager, as a reviewer of health systems, as a reformer of health agencies and as a planner of health services.

Mick understands well the complexities of the Australian health system with its competing demands between high-tech specialist medical care on one hand and primary and preventive health care on the other.  He also knows that resources are needed to ensure equitable distribution of services while also focusing on disadvantaged groups such as Indigenous Australians and those with mental illness.

The early years

Mick was born in Sydney in April 1948.    His formative years were spent at St. Edmund’s College in Canberra.

Unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, at the tender age of 16, Mick’s father decided he needed to “bulk up a bit” and so, got him a job on a road crew in Canberra.  He lasted one day.  The veteran crew, out of the kindness of their hearts, decided that the rookie should be put to work on the pneumatic drill for the day – and one day was one too many.  It occurred to him that maybe he ought to be setting his sights a bit higher.

Never afraid of work, however, Mick’s next job was as the odd job man in the Commonwealth Club in Canberra, followed by a rapid move up the capitalist ladder when he became an owner-operator of a milk run in Canberra.  No doubt too, this was the beginning of his legendary long distance running career.  More to say about that later.

Mick graduated with a Bachelor of Economics from the Australian National University in 1974 and for the next seven years held various public sector positions at Commonwealth Government levels at the Bureau of Statistics. It was during this time, Mick was seconded to work with Sidney Sax at the Health and Hospitals Commission as a policy officer.

In 1976 Mick moved to NSW and worked in the Health Department. He was awarded the inaugural Neville Wran Public service scholarship. That scholarship allowed Mick to move to  London and work at the prestigious St Thomas’ Hospital for eighteen months focusing on UK mechanisms for resource allocation. Mick subsequently returned to NSW Health and introduced the notion of equity in budget allocations in NSW and subsequently other States..

In 1981 his career took a different turn when he became involved in the world of Aboriginal art and craft.  Mick had a keen interest in the area and so when a job for a craft adviser on Bathurst Island in the Northern Territory came up, he was very interested.  There was a small problem however.  The successful candidate needed to have extensive screen printing experience – and Mick had none.  Not to be put off by such a minor detail he enrolled in an “intensive” course at Sydney University over one weekend, and of course, he nailed the interview and got the job.  Mick still credits his time at Bathurst and Melville Islands working with the Tiwi people on pottery and traditional arts and crafts, as one of the most satisfying of his career and one that has been influential in learning the skills of management.

For a total of five years, including the two years at Bathurst and Melville Islands, he was employed by the Australia Council as Craft Adviser in Aboriginal Communities and as a consultant to the Aboriginal Arts Board of the Australia Council.

His commitment to Indigenous peoples has remained undiminished and later in his career he held important positions as Chair of the NSW Reconciliation Committee, Chair of the National Advisory Group on Indigenous Health Information and Data and much more recently was appointed as a mentor by the Australia Council to Aboriginal Theatre organisations.  In the area of health he undertook the first comprehensive study of the morbidity and mortality of Aboriginal communities in Australia.

He once said that one of his two best days in government was on 13 February 2008, when working for Nicola Roxon, he was present in Parliament House for Kevin Rudd’s Sorry speech – although being at the Keating ‘Redfern’ speech was also pretty good.

Mid Career

Mick’s career in health consulting took off during the eight years between 1987 and 1995 when as a Principal of Reid, Harris and Associates, he worked on numerous contracts that covered all aspects of health planning  – hospital services, community health, early childhood services, rural health, rehabilitation, public health and health promotion.

During this time he gained international experience when working as a consultant for the World Health Organization and for national governments on numerous projects.  This included a stint living in Geneva and advising on the development of district health services and workforce requirements for Cambodia and reporting on public sector reform strategies in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.  At home he acted as a consultant to the National Health Strategy, reporting on methods to improve the organisational and financial arrangements for provisions of rural health services in Australia and hospital funding mechanisms.

During the late 1980s he undertook important work in the HIV/AIDS domain both in Australia and internationally.  He was engaged by the WHO’s Global Program on AIDS to develop the Global Blood Safety Initiative and organise and facilitate several international consultations, including examination of the neuropsychiatric aspects of AIDs and impacts on Health Care Workers.  Several of these consultations were organised conjointly with the International Labour Office.

Public sector career

Mick re-entered public sector employment as Chief General Manager of the NSW Health Department in 1995, and was subsequently appointed as Director General of NSW Health in 1997 where he remained until 2002.  As Director General, he was responsible for a budget of $8.5 billion and 80,000 staff.

In the public domain Mick is known as a reformer.  At a University of Sydney seminar in 2007, entitled Private health for the rich and Medicare for the poor? Mick made it clear he thought the time had passed for incremental change.  He argued the need for genuine reform, and declared himself “somewhat supportive of the big bang model”.

Among his numerous achievements during that seven year period with the NSW Government were the management of a major health reform agenda that led to a new budget process and framework for health funding; implementation of a state-wide quality framework; and implementation of financial equity in resource allocation throughout the State.

During this period and in his ‘spare time’ he was appointed Chair of the Olympics Health and Medical Committee, a job that involved the coordination of Australia’s health planning for the Sydney Olympic and Para Olympic Games.  He describes the opening of the 2000 Olympic Games as a highlight of his career.

Between 2002 and 2004 Mick took a ‘sabbatical’ from the public service when he was appointed as Director, Policy and Practice Program, The George Institute, at the University of Sydney.  He couldn’t stay away for long however, and was appointed the NSW Director-General of the Ministry for Science and Medical Research in 2004.  He established the Department and had oversight of the development of a major strategy for sectoral reform of NSW’s science and medical research – involving private sector, universities and State and Commonwealth Governments.

System and agency reviews

In addition to his work as reformer of systems Mick has undertaken numerous major system and agency reviews both in Australia and overseas.  Before joining the Queensland Department of Health he advised the Queensland Government on the development of a State-wide Health Strategy.  In 2004, he penned “The Reid Report” for the West Australian Government on a comprehensive review of its Health Department, and was a consultant to the ACT Government on appropriate organisational, governance and financial arrangements for the provision of health and community services.  For a number of years he worked with the Ministry of Health in China to assist and develop the capacity of Central Government and Provincial Director Generals and Vice Ministers in aspects of health and welfare systems reform.  He was an advisor to the WHO on public sector reform in East Timor.

Mick at the Big House

In January 2008, with expectations of the new Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, and the Rudd Government huge, many breathed a sigh of relief after learning that Mick Reid, at the age of 59, had been appointed as Chief of Staff to Nicola Roxon.  Mick was a good choice, knowing the system’s problems better than most, not just from his years running the NSW Health Department but from the consultancy work that he had done right across the country and abroad.

Mike Daube, Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University of Technology in Perth, called it “an outstanding appointment”, and said that of Mick “Reid is exceptionally smart…knows health backwards… understands government, (is) tough when needed, and knows how to make things happen.”

Stephen Leeder, Professor of Public Health at the University of Sydney, said it was “an inspired choice”, and added that “Reid has also shown himself as an exceptional teacher during his stints teaching health policy because of his non-pompous sharing of knowledge”. While only staying a relatively limited time with Minister Roxon, he helped initiate the reform process which is playing out in Australia at the moment.

At the request of the Queensland government, Mick’s next role was Director-General of Queensland Health – another hugely challenging role.  In the words of the Queensland Minister for Health, Geoff Wilson, he spent three years building the “biggest hospital building program in the country, an extra 4,700 clinical staff and greater involvement of our doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and other staff in the decisions that have improved health care for Queenslanders.”

This role preserved Mick’s reputation nationally as a leader in health reform.  When he resigned from the job he had left a much strengthened performance and accountability framework; he had revitalised the information technology, had maintained the shortest elective surgery waiting times in Australia and further improved ED waiting times.

At present Mick has reentered the consulting world, working part time with McKinsey & Company in the roll out of PCEHR and diabetes coordinated care and assisting in China and developing nations. Outside McKinsey’s he is also involved in a number of other AHMAC, Work force and NETHA projects.

Other interests

Mick is a father to 3 children and 3 step children and a grandfather to 9.  His wife Judy joins him today and we thank her for providing the “dirt” for this citation.

Mick, however, is not all sweetness and light – there is a dark side to his character, as the following evidence reveals.  In an interview shortly after taking up his job as DG in Queensland he was asked about his interests and predilections.  Ponder upon these insights:

On the subject of music he said:   I like listening to …… Tina Arena.  Oh no!! not Tina Arena.  We were hoping you’d say Luciano Pavarotti or Joan Sutherland, Mick. (He is actually an acknowledged Bob Dylan tragic!)

Film:  My favourite movie isLove Actually.  OMG could Mick be a closet fan of Hugh Grant?

TV:   My favourite television show is…. The Wire – isn’t that a particularly nasty and violent series?

Biography:  If a movie was made about me, the actor I would cast as Mick Reid is … Geoffrey Rush. I think he’s ditched Hugh Grant already.

I unwind by … running, not only for the health benefit, but also for peace of mind.

Peace of mind???  Reflect for a moment on the immortal words of Samuel Johnson, who as far back as 1775 said that “marathon running is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”  And an inveterate scoundrel he is.  Among his dubious achievements was competing in the New York City marathon in late 2007.

His dark side was even discussed in the NSW Parliament.

The following discourse comes from the NSW Legislative Council Hansard records.  At the time the Council was discussing the Area Health Service Performance Agreements.  The main protagonists are Liberal MLC Dr Brian Pezzutti and the NSW Treasurer Michael Egan. It goes like this:

Dr Pezzutti: I heard that you were going to retire with ill health.

Michael Egan: Who told you that?

Pezzutti: I heard a rumour from someone in the Labor Party who is not your friend.

Egan: I cannot conceive of anybody who would not be my friend.

Pezzutti: I cast the rumour aside.

Egan: I assure the Hon. Dr Pezzutti I am superbly fit, if, unfortunately, a little overweight.

Pezzutti: You could not run 100 yards.

Egan: I certainly could run 100 yards.  Indeed, I can run 5,000 metres.  I am a bit puffed at the end of it. I am slow over 100 metres.

Reverend Fred Nile:  You could run faster than Dr Pezzutti.

Egan:  I could run faster than Dr Pezzutti.  What is more, I will have the honourable member know that my departmental head, Secretary of Treasury, John Pierce, on Tuesday of this week won the Chief Executive Officer 5,000 metre race.  That race was not merely for CEOs of government departments, but for CEOs of all sorts of private and public sector organisations.

Pezzutti: He would not have beaten Mick Reid.

Egan:  He would thrash Mick Reid.

Pezzutti:  Mick Reid ran the marathon.

Egan:  Mick Reid should not run the marathon.

Pezzutti:  He is a very good CEO.

Egan:  Mick Reid is a very fine CEO.  I am glad that the Hon. Dr Pezzutti acknowledges that.  I would suggest that Mick Reid should not be running a marathon. Anyone over the age of 40 would need rocks in his head to be running a marathon unless he is a Kenyan or someone who has run marathons all his life.

Mr Egan went on to say “I assure the House that I am a superb physical specimen, but there is more of me than I would wish there to be.”


Mick’s career has, and continues to take, fascinating tacks into some of the most important and influential roles in our health system.  He has achieved much in these roles with intelligence, vision and good humour and compassion.

Mick has been described as an effective, well-connected change agent.  Colleagues call him a tough negotiator, a thinker and a doer, a straight shooter, and a political animal.

His own CV claims “a demonstrated sense of purpose with flexibility, persuasiveness, facilitation, diplomacy and sensitivity”.

AHHA agrees with this self-assessment.  In undertaking his successful career, he has achieved much and has been a friend to many, including the AHHA.

I have great pleasure in awarding the 2011 Sidney Sax medal to Mick Reid.

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4 thoughts on “Some things you mightn’t have known about Mick Reid (on the occasion of the Sidney Sax medal)

  1. William


    ‘…he had revitalised the information technology,…’