Australia’s top home affairs official sacked for breaching code of conduct

By on 27/11/2023 | Updated on 27/11/2023
Mike Pezzullo
Photo: United States government work

Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese sacked the country’s top home affairs official Mike Pezzullo today after an independent inquiry found him guilty on 14 counts of breaching the code of conduct for public servants.

Pezzullo’s breaches of the Australian Public Service (APS) code covered five overarching allegations, according to the probe, including text messages sent by Pezzullo to a powerbroker within Australia’s Liberal party urging them to appoint a rightwing minister to his department.

“Earlier today the governor general in council terminated the appointment of Michael Pezzullo as Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs,” Albanese said in a statement.

He added that Pezzullo had “fully cooperated with the inquiry.”

A statement released to the press by the Australian Public Service Commission meanwhile said that its commissioner Dr Gordon de Brouwer received a referral from Clare O’Neil, minister for home affairs, on 24 September after “concerns” emerged in the media about Pezzullo.

De Brouwer then appointed ex-senior bureaucrat Lynelle Briggs to lead the independent inquiry. The five broad allegations Briggs established in the investigation were:

  • Pezzullo’s attempt to use “his duty, power, status or authority to seek to gain a benefit or advantage for himself”
  • Engagement in “gossip and disrespectful critique of ministers and public servants”
  • Breaching “confidentiality of sensitive government information”
  • Breaching the duty to act “apolitically in his employment”
  • Breaching the duty to “disclose a conflict of interest”

Read more: New phase of reform for Australian Public Service underway, says minister

An ‘appropriate and necessary step’

Pezzullo was an ex-deputy chief of staff to former Labor leader Kim Beazley in the early 2000s who became one of the country’s top officials. In 2014, he was made the secretary of the then immigration department before leading a newly created home affairs department.

The Community and Public Sector Union called the decision to sack Pezzullo “an appropriate and necessary step”.

National secretary of the union Melissa Donnelly added: “Far too often we have seen everyday public servants being held to a higher standard than their bosses.”

On 24 November, the government pushed through a decision via the remuneration tribunal (an independent statutory body that deals with the remuneration of key Australian government offices) to reduce the entitlements of secretaries who breach the APS code to no more than a year’s salary if they are sacked with more than 12 months to serve on their contracts.

If secretaries found in breach have less than 12 months remaining, they will also be expected to forgo six months of termination pay.

The prime minister’s office has confirmed that Stephanie Foster, who has been acting as secretary of the department while the investigation was ongoing from her role as associate secretary immigration, would continue to act as department secretary.

Foster is a former guest on Global Government Forum’s Leading Questions podcast, where she discussed her career, including the challenge of delivering the Foster Report in response to an alleged sexual assault in Parliament House, against a politically-charged backdrop and under intense media scrutiny.

She also spoke about her leadership style, and the qualities she admired in her mentors. Listen below, and subscribe to Leading Questions wherever you get your podcasts.

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About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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