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Department secretary

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Peter Shergold (right) in his capacity as Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; with then Prime Minister John Howard at a 2005 meeting in the United States.
Peter Shergold (right) in his capacity as Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; with then Prime Minister John Howard at a 2005 meeting in the United States.

In Australia, a departmental secretary is the most senior public servant of an Australian Government or state government department. They are typically responsible for the day-to-day actions of a department.


A departmental secretary is a non-political, non-elected public servant head (and "responsible officer") of government departments, who generally holds their position for a number of years.[1] A departmental secretary works closely with the elected government minister that oversees the Commonwealth department or state government department in order to bring about policy and program initiatives that the government of day was elected to achieve. A departmental secretary works with other departments and agencies to ensure the delivery of services and programs within the nominated area of responsibility.

The secretary is also known as the chief executive of the department; the position is equivalent to the Permanent Secretary of a government department in the United Kingdom and is similar to Director General in some non-Commonwealth countries, or Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in a private company.

In the Australian government, Secretaries are the responsible officers for departments. They are answerable to the Australian Parliament for ensuring that the department performs all the functions assigned to it and spends money appropriately, as granted by the Parliament. Secretaries are frequently called for questioning by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit, the House of Representatives committees and the Senate committees.

Appointment and termination

The Public Service Act 1999 requires the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to provide a report to the Prime Minister of the day about the suitability of potential candidates as departmental secretary. The report is prepared in conjunction with the Public Service Commissioner. Appointments and terminations as departmental secretary are made by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister under Sections 58 and 59 respectively of the Act.[2][3]

Since removal of tenure under Prime Minister Paul Keating, departmental secretaries are generally aware that while dismissals are not common, following a change of government, failure to re-appoint a secretary is certainly a frequent occurrence.[4] In the first Rudd government, secretaries were appointed for a five-year term; prior to this a term of three years was common.[5] In 1999, the Howard government sought to remove Paul Barratt AO as Secretary of the Department of Defence after Barratt fell out of favour with his Minister.[6] Despite being offered a diplomatic post, Barratt refused to vacate the role and commenced legal action,[7] claiming unfair dismissal and that the government had failed to follow due process.[8] Barratt had a temporary stay,[9] but was dismissed within 14 days,[10] and subsequently lost, on appeal in the Federal Court.[11]

The most senior Commonwealth public servant is the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, currently Phil Gaetjens.[12]

Current Australian Government secretaries

There are currently 14 secretaries within the Australian Government.

Department Title holder Effective date References
Australian Government department
Agriculture, Water and the Environment Andrew Metcalf[13] 1 February 2020
Attorney-General's Chris Moraitis[14] 15 September 2014
Defence Greg Moriarty 4 September 2017
Education, Skills and Employment Michele Bruniges 1 February 2020
Finance Rosemary Huxtable 22 December 2016
Foreign Affairs and Trade Frances Adamson 22 July 2016
Health Brendan Murphy 13 July 2020
Home Affairs Michael Pezzullo 20 December 2017
Industry, Science, Energy and Resources David Fredericks 1 February 2020
Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications Simon Atkinson 1 February 2020
Prime Minister and Cabinet Phil Gaetjens 2 September 2019
Social Services Kathryn Campbell 18 September 2017
Treasury Steven Kennedy 2 September 2019
Veterans' Affairs Elizabeth Cosson 19 May 2018

See also


  1. ^ Rudd, Kevin (13 August 2009). "Departmental secretaries and statutory office-holders, Canberra". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Press release). Commonwealth of Australia. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  2. ^ Public Service Act, 1999 (Cth) s 58
  3. ^ Public Service Act, 1999 (Cth) s 59
  4. ^ Podger, Andrew (20 September 2013). "Abbott and the public service: where now on department heads?". The Conversation. The Conversation Media Group. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  5. ^ Howard, John (18 January 2002). "Senior appointments: Departmental secretaries". Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (Press release). Commonwealth of Australia. Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  6. ^ Waterford, Jack (September 1999). "Defence losing its moorings" (PDF). Eureka Street. 9 (7): 7. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  7. ^ Colvin, Mark; Epstein, Rafael (6 August 1999). "Defence dismissal goes to court" (transcript). PM (ABC Radio). Australia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  8. ^ Barratt, Paul (19 August 1999). "Paul Barratt returns to work". 730 (Interview: transcript). Interviewed by Kerry O'Brien. ABC TV. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  9. ^ Reynolds, Fiona (28 July 1999). "Defence head gains injunction" (transcript). AM (ABC Radio). Australia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  10. ^ Colvin, Mark; Reynolds, Fiona (31 August 1999). "Barratt sacked" (transcript). PM (ABC Radio). Australia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  11. ^ Colvin, Mark; Reynolds, Fiona (10 March 2000). "Barrett loses appeal against dismissal" (transcript). PM (ABC Radio). Australia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  12. ^ . Commonwealth of Australia. September 2019 Retrieved 4 October 2019. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "Organisation chart" (PDF). Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment. 4 September 2020. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  14. ^ "Secretary". Attorney-General's Department. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
This page was last edited on 8 April 2021, at 13:11
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