Dennis Richardson formally bows out; Sargeant steps into top Defence APS role

By Harley Dennett

Wednesday April 19, 2017

The least surprising retirement of a top mandarin so far this year has been made official. Dennis Richardson will step down as secretary of the Department of Defence next month.

Richardson’s final day will be May 12 — two days before his 70th birthday — capping a 48-year career that began in the diplomatic service and spanned numerous national security, intelligence, immigration roles, along with a stint as principal adviser to Prime Minister Bob Hawke, before finally ending in Defence.

In an email to staff at the department, Richardson thanked them all for their professionalism, commitment and achievements: “I am delighted to have had the opportunity to work in the Department of Defence and, in particular, to have met many of you personally around the country and overseas.”

In a statement Wednesday morning, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed associate secretary Brendan Sargeant will be acting secretary pending the appointment of Richardson’s successor.

“In this near half century of service, Mr Richardson has served twelve Prime Ministers with consistent professionalism,” Turnbull said.

“His commitment to public service, his strategic insight, his candour and integrity have made him a trusted adviser to Governments from both sides of Australian politics.”

Musing on his career and the lessons for leaders of government organisations to a forum run by the Institute of Public Administration Australia (ACT branch) late last year, Dennis Richardson looked back to three mentors who helped him shape his toolkit as a leader. Watch the video below:

What’s next for Dennis?

For a man who used to read Time and Newsweek magazines from a tender age in primary school, was watching ABC News three times a day from age 11, and would write to embassies seeking inside information about global events even before he was out of high school, Richardson won’t find it easy to let go.

Richardson officially took on a new gig late last year: patron of the RSPCA ACT. He’s keeping his role as a director of the Canberra Raiders. Beyond that, he’s as tight lipped as one might expect from Australia’s former top spy, simply declaring that there are “many things” still to do.

“On behalf of the Government and the Australian people, I thank Mr Richardson for his leadership and service and I wish him and his wife, Betty, all the very best for the future,” the Prime Minister said.

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