Martin Parkinson earns another accolade from unpredictable career

You can't tell Martin Parkinson that careers in the Australian Public Service are predictable.

It was just two years ago that he thought he was finished forever with the Commonwealth bureaucracy.

Now he's the secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the nation's most senior public servant and as of Thursday morning, a Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia.

The award, which will sit alongside the Public Service Medal he won in 2007, was awarded for Dr Parkinson's "eminent service to the Australian community...innovative government administration....development of economic policy, and...climate change strategy."

The last bit is ironic, as it was his background in climate policy that was widely blamed for his sacking from his job as Treasury secretary by the climate-sceptic Abbott government in 2013.

But Dr Parkinson, known in bureaucratic and government circles as a very cool head, took the whole thing in his stride.


After all, former Treasury secretaries do not stay unemployed for long.

"I fully understand and respect the right of the Prime Minister to decide who he wants to be secretary of departments," Dr Parkinson said this week.

"Unlike the rest of the APS, all secretaries work for the Prime Minister of the day; we're appointed by the Prime Minister and we can be removed.

"So I didn't have any personal concern, I took it as: 'OK, time for me to go in a different direction'."

"So when I left Treasury in December 2014, I didn't anticipate coming back to government in any way shape or form."

Dr Parkinson was getting on with the next phase of his life and career almost a year after his departure when a "surprise" call from Malcolm Turnbull, who had wrested power from Abbott, tapping the former Treasury man for a return to the public service; this time at the top of the pile.

"Basically, if you believe in the importance of public policy and the Prime Minister of the day asks you to do something, you better have a very good reason not to do it," Dr Parkinson said.

"Prime ministers are very persuasive men."

Individual honours are nice, Dr Parkinson says, but public service is a team effort and he believes he could not do much without the men and women around him.

"In the public sector, everything you do is joint effort," he said.

"Anything I've achieved has been built on the contribution of others and reflects the contribution of others."