Changes to the public service under the Abbott government continue, with the head of the Attorney-General’s Department Roger Wilkins set to stand down when his tenure finishes at the end of this month.
Wilkins was reportedly a surprise survivor of “the night of the short knives” last year that saw the incoming Abbott government dispose of several department heads perceived as being too close to Labor — or who worked in policy areas on which the Coalition has differing views to Labor: Andrew Metcalfe of Agriculture, Don Russell from Industry, Blair Comley at Energy, as well as slow-bleeding Treasury’s Martin Parkinson.
He becomes the sixth department chief to leave or be sacked since the Abbott government came to power, following David Tune’s departure from Finance.
Though seen as an apolitical, “old-style” public servant, Wilkins was known to have had long working relationships with both Kevin Rudd and Bob Carr, helping Rudd set up the Council of Australian Governments.
This, along with his experience leading a strategic review into national climate change policy, may have made him a marked man for a government that seems to view the public service in highly politicised terms.
Wilkins served as head of Citi’s government relations section for two years, leading its climate change program, before going to Attorney-General’s in September 2008.
From 1992–2006, he was the director-general of the Cabinet Office in New South Wales where he played a leading role in areas of reform in administration and law, corporatisation and microeconomic reform.
Wilkins has chaired a number of national taskforces and committees dealing with public sector reform, including the Council of Australian Government Committee on Regulatory Reform, the National Health Taskforce on Mental Health and the National Emissions Trading Taskforce, and was vice-president of the Financial Action Taskforce for 2013–14 and is president for 2014–15.
Tony Abbott said in a statement Wilkins “has had a distinguished public service career”:
“I thank him for his contribution to public life in Australia and wish him well for the future.
“I will announce arrangements for the position of the Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department in the near future.”