Bureaucrat defends 'drums of war' speech

·2-min read

One of Australia's most powerful public servants has rejected claims a headline-grabbing speech about the "drums of war" was part of a government strategy.

Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo used an Anzac Day message to staff published on the department's public website to lament the prospect of conflict.

"In a world of perpetual tension and dread, the drums of war beat - sometimes faintly and distantly, and at other times more loudly and ever closer," he said.

"Today, as free nations again hear the beating drums and watch worryingly the militarisation of issues that we had, until recent years, thought unlikely to be catalysts for war."

Defence Minister Peter Dutton, who was in charge of Home Affairs from December 2017 until March this year, on the same day gave an interview saying conflict involving China over Taiwan could not be discounted.

Mr Pezzullo said he sent the speech to Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews but did not seek approval.

"I have no involvement in government communications planning and nor would I ever seek to be involved," he told a Senate estimates hearing on Monday.

He said the speech was not canvassed with Mr Dutton or discussed with ministerial staff.

The address warned Australia needed to again brace for the "curse of war".

But the Home Affairs boss said his view about the prospect of conflict had not changed since a separate speech he gave in March 2019.

"There's no point being panicked or alarmed but you always have to be vigilant and prepared," Mr Pezzullo told the committee.

His remarks garnered national attention after being splashed on the front page of The Australian two days after being published online.

Mr Pezzullo joked the department should bill the newspaper for using the speech on its opinion pages without notifying him.

"I didn't realise they could just lift stuff for free."

Greens senator Nick McKim asked the secretary if his speech was referring to China but Mr Pezzullo refused to say where he believed the drums of war were coming from.

Liberal senator David Van lavished praise on Mr Pezzullo's work, describing his writing as some of the best he'd seen and telling him his speeches were even better.

Mr Pezzullo thanked the first-term Victorian but later ribbed him for being the only person in the country reading all his speeches.

"You need to get a life Senator Van, you really do."

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