28 November 2023

Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo sacked by PM after breaching APS code of conduct

| Genevieve Jacobs
Join the conversation
Michael pezzullo

Michael Pezzullo has been removed from one of the most powerful roles in the APS. Photo: IPAA ACT.

Controversial – and long-serving – Home Affairs Department Secretary Mike Pezzullo has been sacked by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on the recommendation of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Public Service Commissioner.

A statement posted on the Prime Minister’s website this morning says, “Earlier today, the Governor-General in Council terminated the appointment of Michael Pezzullo as Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs.

“This action was based on a recommendation to me by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Public Service Commissioner, following an independent inquiry by Lynelle Briggs. That inquiry found breaches of the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct by Mr Pezzullo. Mr Pezzullo fully cooperated with the inquiry.

“I thank Ms Briggs for conducting the inquiry. Stephanie Foster will continue to act as Secretary of the Department until a permanent appointment is made.”

READ ALSO ACT Integrity Commission closer to revealing first findings from CIT investigation

It was revealed in September that Mr Pezzullo used his close relationship with Liberal Party powerbroker Scott Briggs to influence appointments and policy under former Coalition governments, allegedly sending more than 1000 encrypted messages to the influential NSW Liberal figure.

The leaked texts often urged Mr Briggs to use his close relationships with former prime ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison to ensure conservative ministers were appointed to key portfolios, including in Mr Pezzullo’s own areas of responsibility.

The texts praise Peter Dutton during the 2018 Liberal leadership spill, telling Mr Briggs that if he lost the leadership contest, he would like to see “Dutton come back to HA [Home Affairs]” and there was no reason for him to “stay on the backbench that I can see”.

“You need a right winger in there – people smugglers will be watching … please feed that in.”

The text messages were legally obtained by Nine News through a third party.

Mr Pezzullo was immediately stood aside and an investigation was launched by Australian Public Service Commissioner Dr Gordon de Brouwer. He continued to collect a salary package worth more than $900,000 while the investigation was carried out.

READ ALSO Dave Sharma wins NSW Senate pre-selection, beating Seselja and Constance

Often described as “the hardest nut” in the APS, Mr Pezzullo was closely aligned with Mr Dutton, with whom he collaborated on forming the Home Affairs super-department.

His career in the upper echelons of the APS began when he was appointed Deputy Secretary of Defence, following stints as a political adviser to both Gareth Evans and Kim Beazley.

Under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Mr Pezzullo became secretary of the Immigration and Border Protection Department, creating the Australian Border Force.

In 2017, he became secretary of Home Affairs. The move was widely seen at the time as an attempt by then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to ward off a challenge from Mr Dutton, who became minister of the powerful department.

It was a surprise Mr Pezzullo was retained after the Morrison government lost the last federal election. The allegations suggest he may have spent years attempting to influence and undermine senior ministers, contrary to the Australian Public Service code of conduct. It requires public servants to “maintain appropriate confidentiality” and “avoid any conflict of interest” in their work, as well as not improperly sharing inside information.

CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly has called Mr Pezzullo’s termination “an appropriate and necessary step” in a statement to media.

“Whether you’re a grad in the ATO, an APS 3 working in a Services Australia Smart Centre or the Secretary of a Department – the APS values apply, and so too should the consequences of not adhering to them.

“Far too often we have seen everyday public servants being held to a higher standard than their bosses.

“The CPSU would like to acknowledge the tens of thousands of APS employees who, despite the failures of senior APS leadership, have continued to serve our country with integrity”, she said.

On Friday, the Remuneration Tribunal made a determination stripping secretaries of their entitlement to a year’s salary if their roles are terminated because they breached the APS Code of Conduct or acted corruptly, and have more than 12 months to serve on their contract.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I was relieved to see Pezzullo fired for his blatant and flagrant breaches of the APS code of conduct. Having ministers jailed when they break the law is still on my wishlist.

HiddenDragon7:48 pm 27 Nov 23

So if the current polling trajectory continues Dutton will have to find someone else to be head of PM&C – or maybe not.

The (supposed) reach for the smelling salts shock and horror at a senior official having colourful views about peers and politicians is entertaining for its audacity – the real offence in that regard was having a record of such views come to light.

In technologically simpler times, far more pungent views would have been expressed in unrecorded face to face and phone conversations.

This is good news. Given what had been released in the media his position was untenable. If there had been a finding that cleared him that would have severely undermined any confidence in the integrity of the system.

Stephen Saunders2:26 pm 27 Nov 23

The question not being asked, why did Albanese retain him in the first place? The answer, he knew better than anyone, how to deliver a half-mil in net migration.

And absolutely of course no ALP politicians state or federal have ever done the same thing without reprocussion? I am against this by the way. However Pessulo’s only crime is that he supports the right of politics and not the left. Look no further than Victoria if you want to see inappropriate political influence inside the Public Service including the police. Yet because the inappropriate influence in Victoria is from the left that’s totally OK.

That is not Pezzulo’s only crime at all, however he’s not been formally held responsible for the damage he did to the department or the staff within it.

No Rob, Pezzullo’s actions were not typical of public servants no matter what side of politics they hail from. Pezzullo has caused long-term and probably irreparable damage to the Public Service. This now reviled and pathetic little figure was one of our country’s most senior bureaucrats, heading the monolithic domestic security department of Home Affairs. A super department he championed for and responsible for Australia’s security and intelligence services. He played a significant role in the demonisation and locking up of asylum seekers.

Bizarrely, Pezzullo thought he was above the law and a political player. A bureaucratic cowboy, he used the significant power bestowed on him by the Liberal Party to insert himself into the political process. He engaged inappropriately with Liberal powerbrokers, gossiping and criticising elected officials and public servants, pressing agendas for his own department and lobbying for his own personal interests. Most alarmingly, he failed to maintain confidentiality of sensitive government information or disclose a conflict of interest. When found out he failed to resign and was stood down on full pay of $950,000 p.a. during the investigation.

Pezzullo used his power outside of his portfolio responsibilities to lobby for the destruction of media freedom and constantly talked up war and conflict in missives to his employees. The department he led rated the lowest of all federal departments in the 2022 public service staff satisfaction survey. One former Liberal prime minister questioned his very poor interpersonal skills and whether he was fit to lead Australia’s monolithic domestic security department. Another described his engagement with media and opposition members as inappropriate.

Are you serious? Actually you probably are and just have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.
“… of course no ALP politicians state or federal have ever done the same thing“ Pezzulo is not a politician – he was, until sacked, a public servant, so his politics is not only irrelevant, it must not influence the performance of his duties.
Perhaps you need to take of your blinkers and actually read the article and the rationale for the outcome – you may actually educate yourself.

So your point is that its ok for him to break the rules because “the left” does it.
Nice logic. You should be lecturing in ethics or maybe heading an Integrity Commission.

Are you saying they knew what to look for?

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.