The Turnbull government is looking for a new mandarin to head the department at the centre of the contentious environment and energy debate after the resignation of Gordon de Brouwer, who is leaving to pursue “other interests”.
The unexpected announcement comes as the government is dealing with massive internal pressures over its climate change and energy policies and must formulate a response to the Finkel Review’s recommendation that it establish a clean energy target.
Long considered as possible future secretary to the Treasury, Dr de Brouwer, 56, told his staff in an email on Tuesday that he would be retiring from the public service.
“In coming into this job, my view was that three to five years is typically the right time to be Secretary of a department,” he told staff. “I am at the four-year mark. In thinking about my future, and reflecting on 30 years’ public service, I have decided that now is the right time for me to do other, and different, things in my life, which also have social value and purpose.”
He said he treasured the “wonderfully serendipitous experience” of his career path “and all that I have learned about public policy and institutions”.
Dr de Brouwer has had a particularly varied professional career, spanning the public service, banking and academia, which has seen him at the centre of the policy questions arising from economic crisis from many different perspectives.
At Westpac in Tokyo, he watched the late 1980s property bubble in Tokyo which contributed to the decade long stagnation of the Japanese economy and the decimation of its banking system.
He was working at the Reserve Bank of Australia as the domestic economy came out of the recession of the early 1990s, and was involved in policy at the time of the Asian Financial Crisis in the 1990s, and the global financial crisis last decade, as well as working as an economics professor at the Australian National University.
He was a G20 sherpa and supported Australia’s Prime Ministers at eight G20 summits before being appointed to the Department of the Environment and Energy.
Australia signed and ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change during his time in the job. But a shockwave went through the entire Canberra bureaucracy last year when the government ruled out introducing an emissions intensity scheme as part of its climate change policy response.
“Dr de Brouwer has had an extensive and distinguished career with three decades of public service in academia and the public sector,” Mr Turnbull said in a statement.
He thanked Dr de Brouwer “for his advice and leadership in a number of roles and his commitment to the Australian Public Service”.
“I wish him all the very best for the future”.
The prime minister said a new Secretary of the department would be announced “in due course”.