Senior DFAT officials have admitted a hiring arrangement under former US ambassador Joe Hockey was not typical for the department.
In an estimates committee hearing on Thursday morning, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) secretary Frances Adamson said she was not familiar with a role undertaken by someone in Joe Hockey's office while he was the Australian Ambassador to the US.
Labor senator Tim Ayres asked Ms Adamson whether the department would usually hire people as "senior advisors" and "thought partners".
"That is not a position title that we would normally use [with] our locally engaged staff," Ms Adamson said.
"There's variation in the way though it's styled across the globe but that is not, that doesn't strike me as a normal way of us recruiting."
Mr Hockey finished his term as ambassador in January 2020 but during his four-year stint, he hired Alex Tureman as a senior advisor, who he now runs a private advisory firm called Bondi Partners with.
On the firm's website, Mr Tureman's biography outlines he worked as a "senior advisor" and "thought partner" to Mr Hockey while he was ambassador, providing "intelligence, advice and recommendations to the Ambassador on corporate and political landscapes, and their potential impacts on the US-Australian alliance".
When asked by Senator Ayres if Ms Adamson was aware of the role Mr Tureman undertook, she responded she did not know.
"I do know that Ambassador Hockey pursued quite an innovative public diplomacy campaign when he was ambassador and an innovative and successful campaign, including around 100 years of mateship," Ms Adamson said.
"So, if I was asked to hazard a guess, and that's not the way to normally answer these questions, it may have something to do with that."
Ms Adamson said she would like to check to confirm what it was that Mr Tureman was hired to do during the time.
DFAT chief people officer Daniel Sloper confirmed he was in the political liaison section of Australia's Washington embassy but would take on notice what level of seniority he was employed under. Mr Tureman finished up in the role in January 2020 shortly before Mr Hockey's term as ambassador expired.
Mr Hockey and Mr Tureman have been contacted for comment.