Anthony Albanese confirms he’s moving to dump Phil Gaetjens

Home Politics Anthony Albanese confirms he’s moving to dump Phil Gaetjens
Anthony Albanese confirms he’s moving to dump Phil Gaetjens

Anthony Albanese became Australia’s 31st Prime Minister at 9am on Monday. By midday, he was already making brutal changes.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has confirmed he’s already moving to dump the nation’s top public servant Phil Gaetjens, hours after being sworn in to the top job.

The top public servant was controversially tasked by Scott Morrison with investigating what his office knew about Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’s allegations she was raped at Parliament House in 2019.

The matter is set down for trial in June and a man has pleaded not guilty.

After moving from Treasury to lead Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s department, Phil Gaetjens salary rose from $879,978 to $914,460 a year.

Mr Albanese has previously flagged he would dump the nation’s top bureaucrat from the job if he won office – despite also saying today he “respected” the public service and suggesting he wouldn’t be sacking people.

News.com.au understands however that Mr Gaetjens pre-empted the move and offered to stand aside.

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A spokesman for the Prime Minister has claimed the public servant is “on leave” but Liberal sources insist he’s already offered to resign to reflect Mr Albanese’s public warning he would be dumped if Labor won.

“Stephanie Foster is the acting head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, as of yesterday. I will be making an announcement at an appropriate time after we go through the formal procedures, which are in place, for the appointment of a secretary of the Department of Prime Minister,’’ Mr Albanese said.

After arriving at a press conference in Canberra with his gang of four ministers who have been sworn in – Deputy leader Richard Marles, Foreign Minister Penny Wong, Treasurer Jim Chalmers and Finance Minister Katy Gallagher, the new Prime Minister confirmed he was already ringing in the changes.

Mr Albanese has previously said that Mr Gaetjens, who has been secretary of the ­Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet since 2019, made his ongoing position “very difficult” by conducting an inquiry into what the Prime Minister’s staff knew of the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins at Parliament House in 2019.

“It would be reasonable to ­assume that the head of PM&C’s position has been politicised,” Mr Albanese said earlier this year.

“He has allowed that to happen. That he allowed himself to be appointed into a review into what the Prime Minister’s office knew about alleged criminal allegations is, I think, inexplicable for a senior public servant.”

Mr Gaetjens was a former chief of staff to Peter Costello and Scott Morrison when they were treasurers, and has been a regular target of Labor criticism since he was ­appointed.

Last year Independent Senator Rex Patrick accused the Morrison Government of politicising the public service.

In a rare move, Mr Gaetjens hit back by writing, with public service commissioner Peter Woolcott, a letter of complaint to Senate president Slade Brockman.

He also used an annual end-of-year address to call out “personal attacks” on public servants and deny claims of politicisation.

“I have always tried to put systems in place or institutionalise things to make the public service stronger, to support the values of the APS and to empower us as public servants to give frank advice within a respectful workplace,” Mr Gaetjens said.

“Collectively and individually, we should always call out behaviours which undercut these values.

“Most recently, there have been comments made with the intent to undermine the public confidence in the APS, through personal attacks on public servants and accusations of politicisation.

“I will always call out inaccuracies in these types of comments and reiterate the importance of our impartial public service.”

A spokesman for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet said Mr Gaetjens was on leave and Stephanie Foster was acting Secretary.

News.com.au has contacted Mr Gaetjens and for comment.

Mr Albanese confirmed in today’s press conference that he had met with officials from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet yesterday.

“I thank them for their professionalism. It was a reminder, as a former Deputy Prime Minister and minister, of how valued our public servants are. We won’t be sacking public servants either, we will value public servants and respect them,’’ he said.

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