The next Australian Public Service Commissioner will be Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s current chief of staff, Peter Woolcott.
The appointment means he will not return to his post as High Commissioner to New Zealand.
Woolcott, who has spent most of his career as a diplomat, took over as head of the PM’s office last September from Greg Moriarty, who was appointed secretary of the Department of Defence amid a large field of strong contenders.
While running the PMO, the new APS commissioner has been on leave without pay from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, where he is classified as a deputy secretary in his capacity as High Commissioner.
He will take over as head of the government’s workforce agency when the current commissioner John Lloyd’s resignation takes effect on August 9.
“Mr Woolcott is an experienced public servant with a distinguished three decade career in the Australian Public Service,” said the Prime Minister in a statement this afternoon.
“He is highly regarded and respected, having served in senior diplomatic positions around the world. He has served as Australia’s High Commissioner to New Zealand (2016-2017), Ambassador for the Environment (2014-16), Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva and Ambassador for Disarmament (2010-2014), Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues (2009), and Ambassador to Italy (2004 -2007).”
He has very much followed in the footsteps of his father, Richard Woolcott, who was also an ambassador and a high commissioner before serving as secretary of DFAT between 1988 and 1992.
The younger Woolcott was born in West Berlin as a result of his father’s profession and has worked in foreign affairs for most of his own career. He earned an Officer in the Order of Australia appointment last year for “distinguished service to public administration” in his chosen field, especially in his recent former role as lead negotiator for Australia in talks about arms control and limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.
He has sat on the board of the World Food Programme, and worked as a barrister in Sydney before joining DFAT.
Turnbull said Woolcott was “well qualified to help ensure the APS is fit-for-purpose in the years and decades ahead” given the sweeping APS Review will deliver its recommendations early in his term.
“He will work closely with David Thodey on the review and with the Secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Martin Parkinson, to help drive reform,” said Turnbull.
“I thank John Lloyd for his significant contribution to the Australian Public Service — and the Australian people — over a number of decades.”
It has been widely reported that Turnbull’s current deputy chief of staff, Clive Mathieson, will take over from Woolcott as chief of staff in the PMO, although this was not mentioned in the PM’s announcement.
A former editor of News Corporation’s conservative broadsheet The Australian, who went on to hold senior roles in the New South Wales Premier’s office, Mathieson’s appointment marks a return to having a chief of staff who is strongly aligned with the government in terms of political ideology.
Turnbull appears to have given up on picking career public servants, starting with former Department of Communications secretary Drew Clarke, before Moriarty and Woolcott, for the key role played by the extremely high-profile Peta Credlin under his predecessor, Tony Abbott.