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Watt walks: Prime Minister’s top public servant resigns

The highest ranking member of the Australian Public Service, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Dr Ian Watt, has resigned.

The governor-general has appointed Australia’s former ambassador to the United States, Michael Thawley, to take over the role from December 1.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott issued a brief statement today, which paid tribute to Watt but did not offer any explanation of his abrupt departure:

“Dr Watt has had a long and distinguished career at the highest levels of the Australian Public Service including appointments as the Secretary of the Departments of Communications, Finance, Defence and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. He has served successive governments with distinction and his contribution to public administration in Australia has been wide ranging. On behalf of the Government, I thank him for his years of dedication to the Australian Public Service and I look forward to his future contributions to our community.”

Thawley comes into the top job from the private sector. He resides in the Washington DC region and is senior vice-president of two members of the Capital Group of investment management companies, the Capital Research and Management Company and Capital Strategy Research Inc, and sits on the board of the Lowy Institute for International Policy. He is well connected with both sides of US politics.

The highly regarded diplomat held the coveted role of ambassador to the US between 2000 and 2005, during which time Australia successfully concluded the Australia-US Free Trade Agreement. He has held senior APS positions in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the Office of National Assessments.

He also advised former prime minister John Howard on international relations.

Read more:

‘A wonderful experience’: Watt’s goodbye letter to colleagues

Thawley returning to PM&C to ‘get things done’

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.