Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 5 2011 Contents 19
As Duncan Lewis walks
into the foyer of a
Russell building he is quickly
approached and warmly
welcomed by an Army officer.
Behind the officer, a public
servant says hello. Meeting
Duncan Lewis for the first
time, it is easy to appreciate
why he draws such warmth
and respect. Relaxed, open
and affable, coupled with
and focus, Duncan Lewis is
ready for the challenges that
The Prime Minister announced
the appointment of Duncan Lewis
as Secretary of Defence and he
commenced in the role on September 5.
It was an easy decision for Mr Lewis to
accept the position offered, describing it
as something akin to a homecoming.
“The first thing I thought about was
the challenge of the job,” Mr Lewis says.
“The second thing I thought about
was how pleased I would be to return
to what I regard as my home. I’ve
spent most of my working life in this
organisation. I love it dearly and it’s
great to be back.
“I thought also about all of those people
whom I have had contact with over the
years. Many of the senior APS staff here
I’ve known for 20 years and I would say
that about half of those men and women I
worked with when I was a young officer,
I’ve kept in touch with.”
Duncan Lewis was in the Australian
Army for more than three decades, rising
to the level of Major General.
“I spent 33 years in this organisation; I
graduated from Duntroon in 1975 in the
same class as CDF [General Hurley, Chief
of the Defence Force]; we have essentially
grown up together in a military sense,”
Mr Lewis says.
In November 2004, Mr Lewis left the
Army after being head hunted by the
Prime Minister’s Department for a new
civilian national security role.
“I left Defence and the Army with the
suppor t of the then Prime Minister, John
Howard, to take over the National Security
Division,” Mr Lewis says.
Mr Lewis spent seven years in the
Department of Prime Minister and
Cabinet, where he played a leading role
on all matters relating to the security of
He served as the inaugural National
Security Adviser, holding this position for
nearly three years. He developed it from
the ground up and was the principal source
of security advice for the Prime Minister.
He was responsible for the strategic
leadership of the national security
community and the coordination of
national security policy development and
When Mr Lewis was announced as
Secretary of Defence, the media was
quick to label him an Army man. It
was also touted that he may lack the
necessary economic credentials to lead a
“I read those comments with wry
amusement,” Mr Lewis says. “It did
occur to me that perhaps all of my fellow
secretaries in this town who don’t have
an economics background (of which
there are many) might have taken some
umbrage at that observation by the media.
“I think that the skill set that is required
for senior corporate management is one
of leadership. It’s one of being able to
manage large volumes of information,
large numbers of people and reports;
being able to drive forward on change and
to manage change; to work cooperatively
with those organisations that support you
or are around you; and to establish a good
relationship with government, with the
Minister and with regional partners.
“They’re the sorts of qualities that
are impor tant for leaders of any
organisation, whether it be the Secretary
of this department or the CEO of a major
commercial enterprise. Not, in my view,
whether you are an economist or somebody
with fine arts or science qualifications,” Mr
Despite spending the majority of his
working career in the Army, the transition
from military officer to public servant
was a relatively easy process for Mr
Lewis, who noted that public servants are
professional and impartial.
“People are people; it doesn’t matter if
they’re in uniform or not,” Mr Lewis says.
“They laugh together, they cry together;
they have all the same sort of emotional
reactions in and out of the workplace.
“I think the public ser vice is a very
professional, very trustworthy entry
point for government. The public service
represents continuity, it’s trusted. It
has a reputation for impartiality and
it’s thorough in the way it works the
necessary processes and the machinery
“I believe that five minds are better than one.
I like to hear from people that are working for me.”
“People are people; it doesn’t matter if they’re
in uniform or not. They laugh together, they cry
together; they have all the same sort of emotional
reactions in and out of the workplace.”
By Bronwyn Madge
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