The secretary of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Simon Lewis, has handed in his resignation and Elizabeth Cosson has been chosen to step into the role.
“With Ms Cosson’s appointment, we have now achieved gender parity at the most senior level of the APS, with nine women and nine men serving as Commonwealth Secretaries,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a statement.
The PM said he was “delighted” to give the department another milestone to celebrate — its first female boss — along with the centenary of its establishment in September, 1917, as the Repatriation Department.
Lewis’ resignation takes effect from May 18, after over 40 years in the APS, culminating in his appointment as DVA secretary in 2013 following senior positions in Defence and Finance.
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs Darren Chester wished him well in his retirement. “Mr Lewis has made an outstanding contribution to reforming the department and placing the needs of the veterans at the forefront of everything we do,” Chester said.
Turnbull said Lewis had many achievements to be proud of, thanked him for his “dedication and service to the Australian people” and also wished him well.
“Thanks to his stewardship, services to veterans and their families are being significantly modernised and improved, and the transformation programme he initiated is driving real change to culture and processes.
“His leadership of the commemoration of Australian Defence Force service and sacrifice over the ANZAC Centenary period was exemplary. It enabled Australians to celebrate and remember the proud history of veterans past and present.”
Cosson has been the deputy secretary at DVA — unusually, it only has one — since May 2016, also known as the chief operating officer. She was a deputy secretary at the former Department of Immigration and Citizenship and moved across to Health along with several of her colleagues, following her former secretary Martin Bowles, before the amalgamation that created the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
“In my short time in the role as Minister, Ms Cosson has impressed me with her professionalism, dedication and determination to care for our veterans and their families,” Chester said in his statement.
“As chief operating officer she has been instrumental in the reform process currently underway and I’m confident that we can continue to deliver an improved level of service.
“The focus of our efforts over the next 12 months will be engaging with younger veterans and working to ensure the transition from military service to civilian life is made easier for all concerned.
“We have made great progress but there is still work to be done and I’m confident Ms Cosson will continue to make a huge contribution to the veteran community.”
Cosson served in the Army for over 30 years and reached the rank of Major General, the first woman to do so, and was honoured with a Member of the Order of Australia for exceptional service to the military and the broader Defence organisation.
Cosson has also earned the Conspicuous Service Cross, like her colleague Kathryn Campbell, secretary of the Department of Social Services. This recognised her outstanding achievement as the chief of staff to the Peace Monitoring Group, Bougainville, and in logistic planning and management of the Combat Force of Land Headquarters.
In 2014, she gave a speech at the launch of the Women in Defence and Security Network, an initiative of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute supported by Lockheed Martin.