11 April 2023

Peter Woolcott to retire following long and distinguished career

| Chris Johnson
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Peter Woolcott

APS Commissioner Peter Woolcott. Photo: APSC.

Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott AO has announced his retirement, following four decades of public sector and diplomatic service.

He held a five-year term as commissioner and was previously the chief of staff to prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and served as Australia’s high commissioner to New Zealand.

Mr Woolcott joined the Department of Foreign Affairs in 1981, following a number of years practising as a barrister in Sydney.

In the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mr Woolcott quickly rose through the ranks and served in Australian diplomatic missions in Jamaica, Argentina, the Philippines and Honolulu before serving as Australia’s representative to the United States Pacific Command.

He was deputy head of mission in Jakarta between 2001 and 2002, the chief of staff to the foreign affairs minister from 2002 to 2004, and Australia’s ambassador to Italy from 2004 to 2007.

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Between 2007 and 2009, he was the first assistant secretary of the South East Asia division in DFAT and was appointed as the people smuggling envoy in 2009.

In October 2008, Mr Woolcott was one of several senior officials involved in Australia-US political-military talks.

He was appointed as Australia’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva in 2010, and in 2014 became Australia’s ambassador for the environment.

In 2015, Mr Woolcott led Australia’s negotiating teams at UN climate talks, emphasising the serious implications of unmitigated climate change.

“Left unchecked, it will magnify existing problems and increase pressure on resources including land, water, energy, food and fish stocks,” he said at the time.

“It has the potential to erode development gains, undermine economic growth and compound human security challenges.”

Mr Woolcott was appointed as an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2017.

Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher extended the Australian Government’s thanks to the commissioner and praised his service throughout his distinguished career.

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“Mr Woolcott’s five-year term as Public Service Commissioner has seen some significant achievements, including the first APS Workforce Strategy and the launch of the APS Academy,” Senator Gallagher said.

“Under Mr Woolcott’s leadership, the APSC has played a key role in driving reforms to build a stronger APS.

“As Minister for the Public Service, I have valued his advice, contributions and support since being appointed to the role.

“Mr Woolcott’s career has spanned over 40 years. He held senior positions at the DFAT, notably as Australian high commissioner to New Zealand, Australia’s chief negotiator on the Paris Agreement on climate change and Australian permanent representative to the United Nations in Geneva.

“He was appointed as an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2017 for his outstanding work in international relations, including his role as a lead negotiator in non-proliferation and arms control.

“I would like to thank Mr Woolcott for his leadership and distinguished and dedicated service and I wish him all the best for the next stage in his life.”

A merit-based recruitment process is underway to appoint the next APS Commissioner.

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