Anthony Albanese became Australia’s 31st Prime Minister at 9am on Monday. By noon, he was already making brutal changes.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed that he is already moving to fire the nation’s top civil servant, Phil Gaetjens, hours after taking the top job.
Scott Morrison tasked the top public servant with investigating what his office knew about allegations by liberal employee Brittany Higgins that she was raped at Parliament House in 2019.
The matter is set for trial in June and one man has pleaded not guilty.
After leaving the Treasury Department to head Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s department, Phil Gaetjen’s salary rose from $879,978 to $914,460 a year.
Mr. Albanese has previously signaled that he would fire the nation’s top bureaucrat if he won the job, even though he also said today that he “respects” public service and suggested he would not fire people.
News.com.au understands, however, that Mr. Gaetjens preempted the movement and offered to step aside.
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A spokesman for the prime minister has claimed the civil servant is “on leave”, but Liberal sources insist he has already offered to resign to reflect Albanese’s public warning that he would be sacked if Labor won.
“Stephanie Foster is the acting head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, as of yesterday. I will make an announcement at an appropriate time after we go through the formal procedures, which are in place, for the appointment of a secretary to the Prime Minister’s Department,” Mr. Albanese said.
After arriving at a press conference in Canberra with his gang of four sworn in ministers – Deputy Leader Richard Marles, Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher – the new Prime Minister confirmed that it was already calling the changes.
Mr. Albanese has previously said that Mr. Gaetjens, who has been secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet since 2019, made his current post “very difficult” by conducting an investigation into what the Prime Minister’s staff knew about the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins. at Parliament House in 2019.
“It would be reasonable to assume that the position of the head of PM&C has been politicized,” Albanese said earlier this year.
“He has allowed that to happen. That he allowed himself to be appointed for a review of what the Prime Minister’s office knew about alleged criminal charges is, I think, inexplicable to a senior public official.”
Gaetjens was chief of staff to Peter Costello and Scott Morrison when they were treasurers, and has been a regular target of Labor criticism since his appointment.
Last year, Independent Senator Rex Patrick accused the Morrison administration of politicizing public service.
In an unusual move, Gaetjens responded by writing, along with Utilities Commissioner Peter Woolcott, a letter of complaint to Senate President Slade Brockman.
He also used an annual year-end speech to call for “personal attacks” on public servants and deny accusations of politicization.
“I have always tried to put systems in place or institutionalize things to strengthen public service, support PHC values and empower us as public servants to give candid advice within a respectful workplace,” said Mr. Gaetjens.
“Collectively and individually, we must always speak out against behaviors that undermine these values.
“More recently, comments have been made with the intention of undermining public trust in PHC, through personal attacks on public servants and accusations of politicization.
“I will always point out the inaccuracies in these types of comments and reiterate the importance of our unbiased public service.”
News.com.au has contacted Mr Gaetjens and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet for comment.
Mr. Albanese confirmed at today’s press conference that he had met yesterday with officials from the Prime Minister’s Department and the Cabinet.
“I appreciate your professionalism. It was a reminder, as a former deputy prime minister and minister, of how valuable our public servants are. We will not be firing public servants either, we will value and respect them,” he said.