In Australia, a Federal Departmental Secretary is the most senior public servant of an Australian Government Department. They work closely with the elected Government Minister(s) overseeing their Departments.

The Australian Public Service Code of Conduct requires that Secretaries conduct themselves in an apolitical manner to implement policy and program initiatives that the government of the day was elected to achieve.

There are currently 16 Secretaries within the Australian Government. Only two Secretaries were appointed before 2020, with five new appointments in 2023.

This Nexus APAC Insights Article provides a brief snapshot of each current Secretary and their background.

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

Professor Glyn Davis AC

The role of Secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet has three functions: chief bureaucratic adviser to Prime Minister the Hon Anthony Albanese; head of the lead central agency of the Australian government; and leader of the Australian Public Service. Prior to his appointment, Professor Davis was Chief Executive Officer of the Ramsay Foundation, the largest philanthropic fund in the nation. He is one of Australia’s pre-eminent academics, specialising in public policy.

Department of Treasury

Dr Steven Kennedy, PSM

Dr Kennedy has held the role of Secretary to the Federal Treasury since September 2019, under both the Federal Coalition and Labor governments. Before that, Dr Kennedy was Secretary of the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development for two years. Additionally, he has been Deputy Secretary at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. He was awarded a Public Service Medal in 2016 for outstanding public service in climate change policy.

Department of Finance

Ms Jenny Wilkinson, PSM

Treasurer the Hon Jim Chalmers MP called Ms Wilkinson ‘the best of the best’ in a speech introducing her as Secretary in 2022. In 2021, she was awarded a Public Service Medal for outstanding public service in fiscal policy, particularly in relation to the federal government’s economic response to COVID-19 and its JobKeeper policy. Wilkinson began as a cadet at the RBA in 1988 and spent more than a decade with the Bank.

Attorney-General’s Department

Ms Katherine Jones, PSM

Ms Jones began her career in the publishing industry as a sponsoring editor. Ms Jones was previously a deputy secretary at the Department of Defence, responsible for national security, criminal justice, and emergency management. She also led the international crime cooperation division and the social inclusion division, which oversaw policy and programs concerning Indigenous justice, native title, legal assistance, and human rights.

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Ms Jan Adams AO

Ms Adams was the Australian Ambassador to Japan (2020-22) and China (2016-19), two of Australia’s most significant international relationships. She first joined DFAT in 1999. In 2016, Ms Adams was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for distinguished service to international relations through advancing Australia’s diplomatic and free trade relationships, particularly with the United States of America, South Korea, Japan and China.

Department of Defence

Mr Gregory Moriarty AO

The longest-serving Departmental Secretary, Mr Moriarty, was appointed in 2017. He was previously Chief of Staff to former Prime Minister the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull, Ambassador to Iran and Ambassador to Indonesia. He also served in the Headquarters of the United States Central Command in the Persian Gulf during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

Ms Alison Frame

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide will hand down its final report and recommendations in September 2024. As such, supporting the work of the Royal Commission has been a significant focus for Ms Frame in the first year of her tenure as DVA Secretary. Ms Frame was previously Deputy Secretary, Social Policy in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and has led social policy initiatives and reform across both the Federal and NSW Governments.

Department of Home Affairs

Ms Stephanie Foster, PSM

Ms Foster is the most recent addition to the Federal Department Secretaries, appointed in late November 2023. She initially joined the Department of Home Affairs as Associate Secretary of Immigration – however, her APS career spans back to 1987. She was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2008 for her policy support to Australian Defence Force deployments overseas and the French Officier de l’Ordre National du Merite in 2010 for her work to develop defence relations between France and Australia.

Department of Health and Aged Care

Mr Blair Comley, PSM

Mr Comley was Secretary of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency between 2011 and 2013. Additionally, he was Secretary of the New South Wales Department of Premier and Cabinet between 2014 and 2017. Before these positions, he held senior leadership positions in the Treasury.

Mr Comley also has significant private sector experience as a strategy consultant. He has been the Secretary of DoHAC since July 2023.

Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water

Mr David Fredericks PSM

Mr Fredericks’ experience within the public sector is diverse. Before his current role, Mr Fredericks was the Secretary of the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. He previously held numerous Deputy Secretary positions from 2011, including as Deputy Secretary at the Department of Finance with responsibility for the Budget, the Deputy Secretary of Business Enabling Services, and the Deputy Secretary of Civil Justice and Legal Services in the Attorney-General’s Department. He also practised as a barrister in Sydney for five years and was a senior Labor Ministerial adviser.

Department of Employment and Workplace Relations

Ms Natalie James

Before commencing her role as Secretary, Natalie was a Partner at Deloitte Australia, where she established the firm’s Workplace Integrity practice. She was the Fair Work Ombudsman for five years between 2013 and 2018 and has been credited with playing a critical role in the development of workplace relations laws in Australia, including the Fair Work Act.

Department of Social Services

Vice Admiral Raymond Griggs AO CSC

Vice Admiral Griggs spent four decades in the Royal Australian Navy before joining the Public Service, including as Chief of the Australian Navy before being appointed Vice Chief of the Australian Defence Force. He is a tireless advocate for Indigenous Australians, having served as the inaugural CEO of the National Indigenous Australians Agency. He is also the Chair of the Australian Public Service Indigenous Champions Network.

Department of Education

Mr Tony Cooke PSM

From primary school teacher to Department Secretary, Mr Cooke has devoted his career to education. He was previously Deputy Secretary of the Higher Education, Research and International Group. In January 2014, he was awarded the Public Service Medal for outstanding public service in driving school policy and funding reform in Australia.

Department of Industry, Science and Resources

Ms Meghan Quinn PSM

Ms Quinn was awarded a Public Service Medal in 2009 for outstanding public service in climate change policy development. Prime Minister the Hon. Anthony Albanese MP stated she was “central to the preparation of the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper in 2012.”

Before her secretarial appointment, she spent over 30 years at the Commonwealth Treasury. She also held roles at BHP and the Bank of England. Ms Quinn has been the Secretary of DISR since August 2022.

Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Mr Adam Fennessy, PSM

Mr Fennessy has over 25 years of public sector experience at state and federal levels, most recently as the Victorian Public Sector Commissioner. He has served as the Secretary of the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning and the Victorian Department of Environment and Primary Industries.

Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts

Mr Jim Betts

Mr Betts oversees a department with a broad portfolio, but his specialty lies in Transport and Infrastructure. Mr Betts was Chief Executive Officer of Infrastructure NSW for six years, where he led the development of two State Infrastructure Strategies, oversaw the state’s infrastructure program, delivered significant state infrastructure projects and developed a state plan for the construction sector. He also spent five years as Secretary for the Victorian Department of Transport and four years as the Director of Public Transport.