Environment secretary Gordon de Brouwer to resign in September

By Stephen Easton

July 26, 2017

Gordon de Brouwer meeting then US president Barack Obama

Gordon de Brouwer will step down as secretary of the Department of the Environment and Energy in September.

Late yesterday, Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull relayed the news that de Brouwer would leave the Australian Public Service to “pursue other interests” on Friday, September 8.

According to the Australian Financial Review, de Brouwer said those other interests would have “social value and purpose” and that he felt three to five years was about the right about length of time for a departmental secretary to stick around, in his final email to staff.

Having taken up the role in September 2013, he will step down one year short of the normal five-year initial term of appointment for secretaries, avoiding the fate of his predecessor Paul Grimes, who went on to lead the Department of Agriculture but was forced to resign in 2015 after upsetting the minister.

On the contrary, the current Minister for the Environment and Energy Josh Frydenberg and the immediate past minister Greg Hunt paid tribute to de Brouwer, who has had a varied career in the public service, academia and the private sector. He has worked for Treasury, the Reserve Bank and Westpac’s Tokyo office.

Between 2000 and 2004, he was an economics professor with the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy and retains an adjunct professorial position with the ANU. His academic qualitifactions include a doctorate, a masters and a bachelor degree with first-class honours, all in economics. He was awarded Monbusho and Japan Foundation scholarships for study in Japan in 1987-89 and 1994 and has published work on macroeconomics, international finance, Asian regionalism and international institutions.

Turnbull noted some of the accolades de Brouwer has earned over the years, including being made a Knight in the Legion of Honour by the French president in 2015.

That was partly on the strength of his work representing Australia at eight G20 summits as sherpa, an important role that is currently held by David Gruen, a deputy secretary in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Like Gruen, the outgoing Environment secretary was also a deputy secretary in PM&C with strong expertise in economics when he was awarded the Public Service Medal in 2011 (he was later promoted to associate secretary for domestic policy).

The PSM citation noted his support to the PM during “a period of considerable international economic turbulence” and adds:

“Of particular note is his significant contribution to the development of the Australian Government’s agenda to establish the G20 as the pre-eminent global economic forum and Australia’s international economic engagement, including through APEC.

“Dr de Brouwer’s considerable macroeconomic expertise, knowledge of the international economic environment and capacity to harness the contributions of other departments and agencies were instrumental in positioning Australia as a progressive and leading contributor within the G20. …

“He also provided intensive briefing and policy advice to the Prime Minister and senior ministers at the peak of the global financial crisis, and his outstanding intellectual leadership and drive were central to the Government’s response.”

“As Secretary of the Department of the Environment and Energy, Dr de Brouwer oversaw the release of the Australian Antarctic Strategy and 20 Year Action Plan as well as the Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan which was unanimously welcomed by the World Heritage Committee,” the Prime Minister added.

“Also during Dr de Brouwer’s time as Secretary, Australia signed and ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change.

“I thank Dr de Brouwer for his advice and leadership in a number of roles and his commitment to the Australian Public Service. I wish him all the very best for the future. A new Secretary will be announced in due course.”

New IPAA ACT branch president

Not only will the department need a new leader, the Institute of Public Administration Australia’s ACT branch might also need a new president, as it conventionally gives the role to a currently serving federal agency head.

The professional body elected de Brouwer as president just over a year ago to take over from his colleague Glenys Beauchamp, the secretary of the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science. He enthusiastically supports it as a place for discussion of important issues in public administration.

“It’s a serious and mature adult conversation, which means sometimes it will have a little bit of controversy,” he told The Mandarin at the time.

“The purpose isn’t to be controversial — the purpose is to have people think and reflect on what really is good public administration and what they can do better and how they can learn — but you can’t have conversations completely in code, and you can’t have conversations always in private.”

In his view, strong policy advice and effective implementation requires drawing on the skills and experience of public servants with the most diverse range of academic, professional and personal backgrounds possible.

“We’re at our best, frankly, if we don’t work in isolation from each other, in terms of our advice, and we really bring the benefits of insights from different disciplines together,” said de Brouwer.

He also stood up for evidence-based policy, including evaluation during and after implementation, the part of the policy cycle that is most often underdone.

“I don’t see how we can do our job if we’re not evaluating either programs, the nature of our systems or the policy approaches — or even the ideas and the analytics underpinning some of the policy approaches — across government. It’s just part and parcel, frankly, of our job and it always should be.”

Top image: Gordon de Brouwer meets Barack Obama as G20 sherpa. Source: PM&C.

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