Australia achieves gender parity among federal secretaries

By on 18/04/2018
Elizabeth Cosson has been appointed as secretary of the Department of Veterans' Affairs in the Australian Government.

The Australian Government has achieved gender parity at the most senior level of the public service, with nine of its 18 departmental secretaries’ roles now occupied by women. Also known as commonwealth secretaries, these officials lead the 18 key government departments.

The equality landmark was announced by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull with the appointment of Elizabeth Cosson as the first-ever female secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA).

Cosson, who is currently deputy secretary and chief operating officer at the DVA, was also the first woman promoted to the rank of major general in the Australian Army, where she served for more than three decades.

Veteran to lead veteran’s department

Cosson’s public service career includes senior appointments in the Department of Health and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. For her distinguished military service, she was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross in 2001 and made a Member of the Order of Australia in 2011.

“As the Department of Veterans’ Affairs marks the centenary of its establishment as the Repatriation Department, I am delighted that it can also celebrate the appointment of its first female secretary,” Turnbull said in a statement last week.

“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.”

Ministerial welcome

Darren Chester, minister for veterans’ affairs, welcomed the appointment. “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,” he said.

“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.”

Simon Lewis PSM, who has served as secretary of the DVA since 2013, is retiring from the post on 18 May, following a career in the Australian public service (APS) that spans more than four decades.  He previously held senior positions in the Department of Defence and Department of Finance.

Gold watch

Turnbull said Lewis has “performed with distinction” as secretary of veterans’ affairs and thanked him for his dedication and service to the Australian people.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

The Australian Government committed to achieving gender equality in the APS leadership in the Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016-19, published in April 2016. According to the report, women made up 41.8% of the Senior Executive Service at the end of 2015.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London, who specialises in international news. She worked on daily newspapers for 16 years, reporting extensively on both general news and education. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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