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This account of the practice in the Australian Public Service (APS) for appointing department secretaries, using contracts and rewarding for performance, is based on my own experience in being appointed, reappointed and not reappointed, and in receiving and not receiving performance pay. It also draws on my experience as Public Service Commissioner in assisting with appointments and performance pay of secretaries. I also discuss weaknesses in the current system, and the drift to ‘politicisation’.

I was first appointed as a department secretary at the end of 1993 after 25 years in the APS including 15 years in the Senior Executive Service (SES) in three different portfolios (Social Security, Finance and Defence). I was secretary of three different departments (Administrative Services, Housing, and Health, some of which went through changes in name and responsibilities during my tenure) before being appointed as Public Service Commissioner from the beginning of 2002. I retired from the APS in June 2005.