Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry secretary Andrew Metcalfe will retire in August, after telling staff on Tuesday "now is the right time".
Mr Metcalfe has served in the role since February 2020, and has led three departments since commencing his career in the federal public service in 1980 as an administrative trainee.
Former prime minister John Howard first appointed him as secretary of the then-Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs in July 2005. He was reappointed to that role by former prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2009.
Mr Metcalfe was appointed to lead the agriculture department in 2013 by former prime minister Julia Gillard, a job he lost later that year when the Abbott government was elected.
He then worked in the private sector, as a partner at Big Four firm Ernst & Young, for six years until he was reappointed agriculture secretary by former prime minister Scott Morrison in 2020.
'An extraordinary job, but it is relentless'
He will retire on August 4, 18 months before his term was due to end in January 2025, telling staff he was making the announcement now so that steps could begin to choose his successor.
"I've thought long and hard about when I should retire from full-time work, and quite simply, now is the right time," the department secretary wrote to staff.
"This is an extraordinary job, but it is relentless, particularly so in recent years as we've collectively worked to support our industries through COVID, and in progressing so many issues.
"The ever-present weight of protecting our borders from threats of biosecurity incursions, and of ensuring the wellbeing and safety of all of our staff, has been with me every day and every night over the last three-and-a-half years."
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Mr Metcalfe has led the department through a period of cuts to contractors, travel and training in recent months as a funding shortfall threatened stability.
Department officials told a joint parliamentary inquiry in April that the funding issues were caused by fees and charges which hadn't been adjusted in line with the cost of services, as well as biosecurity threats and trade disruptions.
Mr Metcalfe said he was "very pleased" with a $127 million funding package allocated to the department in the federal budget, adding it would be "for the first time, long-term predictable and sustainable funding for biosecurity".
Metcalfe thanks public servants for 'tireless efforts'
He expressed his "deepest appreciation" to staff for their work.
"Your dedication, expertise and commitment are truly remarkable," he said.
"I have had the privilege of witnessing firsthand your tireless efforts to support Australia's biosecurity and advance the sustainable future of our agricultural, forestry and fishing industries - which in turn ensure our food security and the success of vital parts of our economy, particularly in regional and rural Australia."
He wrote he had enjoyed working with 15 different ministers during his time in senior public service roles and said Agriculture Minister Murray Watt was "a very strong and capable leader and advocate for the interests of our agriculture, fishing and forestry industries, and for the public service".
He also highlighted his time as a chief of staff for then-Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Philip Ruddock in 1996 and 1997.
"That was part of the long-standing Australian tradition of senior public servants working directly for a minister, and then being able to return to the public service without being seen by either side of politics as partisan."
Mr Metcalfe said he would be busy in coming weeks, but would then enjoy a long-overdue holiday with his family upon stepping down.
"And I'll be thinking about how I can best serve, in different ways, in the future."
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