A new national role combining wildlife conservation, animal welfare and environmental advocacy is shaping as the next high-profile career move for outgoing federal Treasury Secretary Ken Henry.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard revealed the 53-year-old’s surprising decision to step down yesterday, describing Dr Henry as “one of the greatest of all Treasury secretaries”.
He will be replaced by Climate Change Department Secretary Dr Martin Parkinson.
Ms Gillard said Dr Henry made a “major contribution to the wellbeing of Australians” in his decade at the helm of Treasury.
“He has been instrumental to the development of taxation policy over a long period of time, not least with his work on the review of Australia’s Future Tax System arid to the public service iu general.” Dr Henry, whose Treasury career spans more than 25 years, has been the federal bureaucracy’s most public leader in recent years.
He led the Rudd government’s tax review, which reported to then prime minister a year ago, was a member of the advisory board overseeing APS reform, arid often spoke publicly on economic arid other policy areas.
Dr Henry declined interviews yesterday, but sources suggested a role in conservation was on his radar. He has repeatedly spoken out against kangaroo culling, describing it as symptomatic of Australia’s poor record of conservation management.
Recently, Dr Henry has met key environmental figures, including members of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists.
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From Page 1 He has also established links with one of Australia’s wealthiest environmental philanthropists, Carwoola pastoralist and businessman, Robert Purves.
Mr Purves, a member of the Wentworth Group and chairman of Environment Business Australia, recently joined forces with former Kathmandu founder Jan Cameron to broker a $23 million conservation deal to buy 27,000ha of Tasmania bush from timber giant Gunns.
Australian Greens leader Bob Brown has welcomed the possibility of a “powerfully articulate new voice” entering the environmental debate.
Senator Bob Brown said Dr Henry had already demonstrated “a solid track record as an environmentalist” and would bring “immense authority and invaluable economic expertise” to environmental issues.
“It will be a wonderful to have an economist of his repute being able to articulate the importance of environmental issues from an economic perspective,” Senator Brown said.
Treasurer Wayne Swan said yesterday his departmental secretary was among the greatest public servants in living memory.
“On a personal level I thank him for his advice and integrity and especially for his composure and professionalism during the biggest synchronised downturn in the global economy in living memory,” Mr Swan said.
Ironically or perhaps fortunately, given Dr Henry’s muchpublicised interest in wombat conservation his retirement will coincide with a national wombat conference in Albury in March.
Dr Henry made world headlines two years ago when he took five weeks’ leave from Treasury to work as a conservation volunteer, looking after a colony of 115 endangered hairy-nosed wombats in Epping Forest National Park in Queensland.
In 2007, Dr Henry was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for his service to national economic and taxation policy, but the award also recognised his long-standing contribution to animal welfare and native wildlife.
A former president of Queanbeyan Wildcare, he and his wife Naomi are volunteer wildlife carers, looking after injured and orphaned native wildlife at their country property near Bungendore.
Dr Henry also sparked controversy when he co-wrote a report for Queanbeyan Wildcare, arguing the case for a mob of 400 kangaroos to be moved from the former Belconnen naval transmission site in Canberra to new habitat. The department of Defence initially postponed culling the kangaroos, and agreed to consider the Wildcare proposal.
But the cull on Defence land went ahead.
Last December, during an address to business leaders in Queensland, Dr Henry questioned the long-term sustainability of culling native wildlife. He said, “In the last decade, permits have been issued to allow the commercial slaughter of 49.6 million kangaroos . .. primarily to give household pets a bit of variety in their diet.”