4 April 2024

Will Pezzullo's AO be gone before the new G-G takes up office?

| Chris Johnson
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Michael Pezzullo at estimates.

Former Home Affairs boss Mike Pezzullo will likely be stripped of his AO. Photo: Screenshot.

Incoming governor-general Samantha Mostyn will be hoping one bit of vice-regal business will be taken care of before she steps into the job on 1 July – and that’s what to do about Mike Pezzullo.

The former Home Affairs boss looks set to be stripped of his Order of Australia after falling spectacularly from grace last year.

Mr Pezzullo’s job became untenable the moment it was revealed he had used his close relationship with Liberal Party powerbroker Scott Briggs to influence appointments and policy under former Coalition governments.

In what was reported to be more than 1000 encrypted text messages between the Liberal and the department secretary over five years, Mr Pezzullo appeared to be acting outside of both the Westminster system and his remit as a senior public servant.

The story broke in September 2023, resulting in the secretary being immediately stood aside and Australian Public Service Commissioner Gordon de Brouwer launching an investigation.

While the investigation was underway, Mr Pezzullo continued to collect a salary package worth more than $900,000, but he was permanently sacked by the end of November.

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“This action was based on a recommendation to me by the Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Public Service Commissioner, following an independent inquiry by Lynelle Briggs,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said when making the announcement.

“That inquiry found breaches of the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct by Mr Pezzullo.

“Mr Pezzullo fully cooperated with the inquiry.”

But now, the once-high-flying and powerful bureaucrat is on track to be further punished when his 2020 appointment as an officer of the Order of Australia is withdrawn.

He was appointed an AO for “Distinguished service to public administration through leadership roles in the areas of national security, border control and immigration.”

According to media reports and government sources, the termination process is already underway.

How long that process will take must be something the new G-G is keeping an eye on.

Order of Australia terminations are carried out by the Governor-General of the day on recommendation from the council for the Order of Australia.

The Council for the Order of Australia is an independent body that considers nominations for appointments and awards in the General Division of the Order and makes recommendations to the Governor-General.

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According to its own general statement: “The council’s responsibilities include considering whether an appointment or award should be terminated or cancelled in accordance with the Constitution of the Order of Australia and the Terminations and Cancellations Ordinance.

“The council is not an investigative body and is unable to make a determination of guilt or innocence.”

The whole honours process is coordinated by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and while the G-G has the power to strip awards, it is only ever done with the sanction of the government following advice from the council.

A Governor-General can, on recommendation, terminate such appointments if a court or other legal body subsequently makes adverse rulings against recipients.

Bringing the order into ‘disrepute’ is another factor the government and the Governor-General will consider in terminating the honour.

The Briggs investigation found that Mr Pezzullo had breached the APS Code of Conduct 14 times and failed to act apolitically as is required of a public servant.

Reports of the move against Mr Pezzullo’s AO appointment have also given rise to new speculation about that of another former departmental secretary, Kathryn Campbell, who was removed from office during the Robodebt fallout.

Ms Campbell was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia 2019 for “Distinguished service to public administration through senior roles with government departments and the Australian Army Reserve.”

Her role in the illegal automated debt recovery scheme was highlighted and condemned in the Royal Commission into the scheme.

Ms Mostyn will surely be hoping it is all sorted before she takes up office and that she isn’t left with one of her first tasks being the unenviable duty of stripping people of their honours.

Original Article published by Chris Johnson on Riotact.

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