The Mandarin salary guide: Canberra’s highest paid civil servants


Coffers Cafe is the aptly named Treasury Tuckshop, keeping the nation’s beancounters on edge. But how much is taken from Australia’s ‘coffers’ to pay our powerful departmental secretaries?

Mandarin released a special ‘platinum edition’ of Movers & Shakers revealing how much Australia’s highest-paid civil servants earned in the 2021-22 financial year, based on departmental annual reports.

There are two versions of our top 16 – one ranked on total compensation (including severance pay) and the other on base salary. It only includes those in secretarial positions for the full fiscal year, which is why new PM&C boss Glyn Davis is bottom of both lists.

Of course, the generous compensation of the country’s top civil servants sitting in a comfortable office in the parliamentary triangle is only one aspect of a more complex narrative.

The upper ranks of the APS are increasingly dominated by executives with business and consulting experience, which means that the bureaucracy is competing to pay for the talents their private cousins would be happy to spend the money.

And the politicization of the subject on which modern mandarins must advise is growing by the day, dispensed at a time when public trust in government is unstable and multilevel crises are hitting the community where it hurts. .

As we dive into the functions of the creme de la creme of Australian bureaucracy, we’ve curated mini-profiles of former and current department secretaries to give you a sampling of the professional hurdles they had to overcome to reach the pinnacle of public service.

Some secretaries have combined mandates as ministerial advisers; others have cut their teeth at the head of SES by working in Defence. Some are familiar with the tumult of a Senate estimates session thanks, in part, to a solid legal background.

As part of our platinum secretary series, we take a look at how the salaries of top brass are set by the Compensation Tribunal and the part-timers who make the decisions. Bernard Keane says that money matters for many reasons, especially when it comes from the public purse.

We also feature comments from expert associate professor in human resource management Sue Williamson and ANZSOG CEO Adam Fennessey.

Whatever you think about how our hard-working APS bosses get paid fairly (and we’d love to know, tell us here – and please include your name) is an important conversation to have.

By the way, how many coffees – at Canberra’s going rate of $4.70 a cup – would former ITRDC secretary Simon Atkinson’s net salary pay for last year? Click here to find out.

Good reading.

Click here for all the stories in The Mandarin’s Movers & Shakers: Platinum Edition.


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