UPDATED: ANDREW Metcalfe has been sacked as Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) in a shock move by the new Coalition government.
The decision to sack the highly regarded DAFF boss was announced today as Tony Abbott was sworn in as Prime Minister.
In a statement, Mr Abbott announced Governor-General Quentin Bryce had made several secretary appointments along with the swearing in of ministerial posts.
Mr Metcalfe was replaced by Dr Paul Grimes who was formerly Secretary of the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Mr Abbott’s statement said Dr Grimes has had “a distinguished career at the State and Commonwealth levels in a number of Departments”.
Mr Metcalfe was Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship from 2005 until his appointment as head of DAFF in January this year.
It’s understood the Abbott government’s decision may have been based on differences of opinion, stemming from Mr Metcalfe’s time in the Immigration Department and asylum seeker policy, rather than his work at DAFF.
Several industry sources expressed shock and disappointment at Mr Metcalfe’s removal from the top agricultural post, where he’d expressed a genuine interest in strengthening the portfolio.
National Farmers' Federation president Duncan Fraser said he only learnt about Mr Metcalfe’s axing today through the media and had no “inkling” of the new government’s move to change DAFF leaders.
Mr Fraser said the NFF had developed a “very good working relationship” with Mr Metcalfe in a short space of time.
“For me personally, Andrew Metcalfe went out of his way to make contact and keep the NFF briefed on what was happening and did a good job,” he said.
“But it’s the right of an incoming government to make this kind of decision and we look forward to working with his successor.”
Mr Metcalfe’s bio remained posted on the DAFF website hours after the announcement, showing he was appointed DAFF Secretary, with effect from January 29 this year.
“Mr Metcalfe has had an extensive career in the Australian Public Service since 1980, working in Brisbane, Melbourne, Hong Kong and Canberra,” the website says.
In a personal message issued to DAFF staff today, Mr Metcalfe expressed disappointment at losing the DAFF role.
“As you may have heard by now, the government has terminated my appointment as Secretary of DAFF and today is my last day as a member of the Australian Public Service,” he wrote.
“While I am naturally disappointed that I will no longer be working with you, I of course accept and respect the government’s decision.
“I have greatly enjoyed my period as your secretary throughout the course of this year.
“This is a fine department undertaking a key role and it is made up of many dedicated and talented people.”
Mr Metcalfe said he’d been an Australian public servant for just under 34 years and it had been “an honour to work in and occupy top leadership roles in three great departments”.
He also worked for Prime Minister and Cabinet and served a departmental secretary for over eight years, under Prime Ministers John Howard, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and portfolio Ministers Amanda Vanstone, Kevin Andrews, Chris Evans, Chris Bowen, Joe Ludwig, and Joel Fitzgibbon.
“It has been a privilege to work with them,” he said.
“I warmly welcome your new Secretary, Dr Paul Grimes, and wish him all success in his new role.”
It remains unclear whether Mr Metcalfe will take another post in the public service under the Coalition government but he won’t continue with DAFF.
A DAFF spokesperson said Mr Metcalfe and Dr Grimes were both unavailable for interview.
New Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce was contacted for comment but has not yet responded.
It’s understood Mr Joyce held a briefing with the new DAFF Secretary, Dr Grimes today.
Mr Abbott made other similar moves designed to assert early authority over the public service.
Lisa Paul was appointed as the Secretary of the Department of Education; Glenys Beauchamp was appointed Secretary of the Department of Industry; Dr Gordon de Brouwer was appointed Secretary of the Department of the Environment; and Renée Leon was appointed Secretary of the Department of Employment.
Mr Abbott said Mr Metcalfe had made a substantial contribution to public life in Australia wished him well for the future.
Mr Metcalfe replaced Conall O'Connell, who served more than five years as DAFF Secretary.
Immediately after starting the new role, Mr Metcalfe personally introduced himself to all DAFF staff at the Canberra office, taking two and a half days to shake about 3500 thousand hands.
He was born in Toowoomba, Queensland and said his extended family have been involved in agriculture and pastoral industries in that state for well over a century.
Speaking to Fairfax Agricultural Media in late February, Mr Metcalfe spoke of initiating a new strategic policy committee to improve DAFF’s alignment with long-term industry and government thinking.
He said the new committee would be “small, smart and forward thinking”, with 10 members from various segments of DAFF’s organisational structure.
Mr Metcalfe said the committee’s goal would be to ensure DAFF understood current government and industry trends in areas of critical importance like future food security concerns.