New Agriculture secretary Adam Fennessy has overhauled the senior leadership ranks in his department, appointing four new deputy secretaries in his five months in the role.
The Agriculture boss cited a focus on "efficiency, capability and sustainability" for the new look team of senior public servants, in response to questions from Liberal senator Jonathon Duniam in an estimates hearing on Tuesday.
Mr Fennessy commenced in the role in September 2023, replacing retiring secretary Andrew Metcalfe, in a tumultuous year for the department.
Financial woes forced the government to throw it a funding lifeline of $127 million in the May 2023 budget, after resourcing issues tied primarily to fees and charges failing to rise in line with the cost of service delivery, in addition to strain caused by biosecurity threats and trade disruptions.
A capability review last year also found the department was perceived as "very transactional, reactive and not actively engaged in whole-of-government priorities".
Mr Fennessy told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday, "In response to the capability review and the financial sustainability review, I did review my deputy secretaries and put in place thorough processes to confirm all the people in those roles, including recruitment."
Agriculture's deputy secretaries include Matthew Lowe, Matthew Koval, Tina Hutchison and Tess Bishop.
But in September 2023, that team comprised Rosemary Deininger, Nicola Hinder, Chris Locke and Cindy Briscoe.
Mr Fennessy told the committee Ms Deininger and Ms Briscoe had opted to take early retirement packages, while Ms Hinder - who had been acting in the role - was not selected for it, but continued on in the department.
Dr Locke is on extended leave.
Senator Duniam raised concerns about the representation of women in the department's Senior Executive Service roles, noting the deputy secretary positions had shrunk from including three women, to just one in a permanent role, one acting.
"That is a high and clear priority for me, and for my four deputy secretaries who are currently reporting to me, it is two women, two men," Mr Fennessy said.
Senator Duniam noted Ms Hutchison was acting while Dr Locke was on leave. The secretary responded that every deputy secretary position, bar Ms Bishop's, was an acting one.
The Liberal senator said in a statement the department had "gone backwards on gender diversity in its senior ranks".
"There are murky reasons for senior departures and absentees," Senator Duniam said.
"The government has a big job on its hands to make sure that all employees, including leaders within the department, get appropriate support and opportunities."
Addressing questions to the Public Service Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer later in the day, Senator Duniam asked: "That's unusual, isn't it ... within a six-month period have all [deputy secretaries] replaced?"
Dr de Brouwer responded, "It's not usual, but it does happen."