14 June 2023

Consultant appointed to health department top job

| Chris Johnson
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Blair Comley

Incoming Health Department secretary Blair Comley. Photo: EY website.

Consultant economist Blair Comley is the next secretary of the federal Department of Health and Aged Care, replacing the retiring Brendan Murphy.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced on Tuesday (13 June) he was recommending Mr Comley’s appointment to Governor-General David Hurley.

Mr Comley is currently a director and partner at EY Port Jackson Partners, a management consulting firm that describes itself as “boutique” in providing advice to executives and boards to help “set corporate direction, define business strategies and develop their organisations”.

The incoming secretary also has extensive public sector leadership experience at state and Commonwealth levels, and across both sides of the political spectrum.

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From 2011 to 2013, Mr Comley was secretary of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism and the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, under federal Labor governments.

He was one of three departmental secretaries sacked by prime minister Tony Abbott following the Coalition’s win at the 2013 federal election.

He then served as a special adviser to giant consultancy firm PwC, before being appointed in 2014 as secretary of the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet by then Liberal premier Mike Baird, continuing under Gladys Berejiklian until the end of 2017.

“With his strong economic qualifications and proven leadership navigating complex issues, Mr Comley will bring innovation and policy rigour to addressing the challenges and opportunities within our health system,” the Prime Minister said.

“On behalf of my government, I thank Professor Brendan Murphy AC for his service to Australia’s health sector, as Chief Medical Officer since 2016 and as Secretary of the Department of Health since 2020.

“Professor Murphy’s service during the COVID-19 global pandemic kept Australians safe. I wish him well as he embarks on his well-deserved retirement.”

Professor Murphy leaves the Australian Public Service early next month, with Mr Comley taking up the departmental secretary position on 17 July for a five-year term.

The incoming secretary was the chief architect of Kevin Rudd’s ill-fated carbon pollution reduction scheme and Julia Gillard’s subsequent carbon tax.

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Mr Comley was awarded a Public Service Medal in January 2012 for “outstanding public service in the development of public policy, particularly in the areas of carbon pricing and emissions trading, tax policy design and debt management”.

Speculation of Mr Comley’s appointment has been rife in recent days, with Health Minister Mark Butler struggling to keep a lid on it.

It is believed Mr Comley beat Victoria’s trade commissioner to the Americas Caroline Edwards to the role. Ms Edwards is also a former associate secretary of the federal health department.

He also outlasted fellow EY partner Graeme Head in the application process.

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