Department secretary

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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.

Departmental secretary
Occupation type
Public servant
Activity sectors
Australian Government and state and territory governments
Related jobs
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.


A departmental secretary is in theory,[1] a non-political, non-elected public servant head (and "responsible officer") of government departments, who generally holds their position for a number of years.[2] 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 terminationEdit

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.[3][4]

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.[5] In the first Rudd government, secretaries were appointed for a five-year term; prior to this a term of three years was common.[6] 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.[7] Despite being offered a diplomatic post, Barratt refused to vacate the role and commenced legal action,[8] claiming unfair dismissal and that the government had failed to follow due process.[9] Barratt had a temporary stay,[10] but was dismissed within 14 days,[11] and subsequently lost, on appeal in the Federal Court.[12]

The most senior Commonwealth public servant is the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, currently Glyn Davis.[13]

Current Australian Government secretariesEdit

There are currently 16 secretaries within the Australian Government.

Department Title holder Effective date References
Australian Government department
Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Andrew Metcalfe AO[14] 1 July 2022
Attorney-General's Katherine Jones PSM[15] 16 August 2021
Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water David Fredericks PSM 1 July 2022
Defence Greg Moriarty 4 September 2017
Education Michele Bruniges AM 1 July 2022
Employment and Workplace Relations Natalie James 11 July 2022
Finance Jenny Wilkinson PSM 9 August 2022
Foreign Affairs and Trade Jan Adams AO PSM 1 July 2022
Health and Aged Care Brendan Murphy AC 13 July 2020
Home Affairs Michael Pezzullo AO 20 December 2017
Industry, Science and Resources Meghan Quinn PSM 22 August 2022
Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts Jim Betts 11 July 2022
Prime Minister and Cabinet Glyn Davis AC 6 June 2022
Social Services Ray Griggs AO CSC 22 July 2021
Treasury Steven Kennedy PSM 2 September 2019
Veterans' Affairs Elizabeth Cosson AM CSC 19 May 2018

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ corporateName=Commonwealth Parliament; address=Parliament House, Canberra. "Patrick Weller "The Australian Public Service: Still Anonymous, Neutral and a Career Service?*"". Retrieved 9 March 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ Public Service Act, 1999 (Cth) s 58
  4. ^ Public Service Act, 1999 (Cth) s 59
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ Waterford, Jack (September 1999). "Defence losing its moorings" (PDF). Eureka Street. 9 (7): 7. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  8. ^ Colvin, Mark; Epstein, Rafael (6 August 1999). "Defence dismissal goes to court" (transcript). PM (ABC Radio). Australia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  9. ^ Barratt, Paul (19 August 1999). "Paul Barratt returns to work". 730 (Interview: transcript). Interviewed by Kerry O'Brien. ABC TV. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  10. ^ Reynolds, Fiona (28 July 1999). "Defence head gains injunction" (transcript). AM (ABC Radio). Australia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  11. ^ Colvin, Mark; Reynolds, Fiona (31 August 1999). "Barratt sacked" (transcript). PM (ABC Radio). Australia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  12. ^ Colvin, Mark; Reynolds, Fiona (10 March 2000). "Barrett loses appeal against dismissal" (transcript). PM (ABC Radio). Australia. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  13. ^ Retrieved 9 October 2022. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  14. ^ "Organisation chart" (PDF). Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. 22 August 2022. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  15. ^ "Secretary". Attorney-General's Department. Retrieved 21 March 2022.