John Lloyd, the public service commissioner, has announced his resignation just days after a Senate estimates grilling that questioned his independence.
Lloyd told the governor general of his intention to stand down on Monday. His final day in the job will be 8 August.
The Labor party had questioned whether Lloyd, a longtime member and former director of the Institute of Public Affairs before his appointment by the Abbott government in 2014, could be independent in his role as head of the agency charged with ensuring the public service works properly.
The IPA is a longstanding critic of the public service and has called for thousands of jobs to be cut.
As one of Australia’s most senior public servants, Lloyd came under scrutiny over his contact with the IPA, including an email in which he attached the public service enterprise agreements, which he described as “generous”.
That email was the subject of estimates hearings in October. Lloyd later wrote to the head of the IPA, John Roskam, about that hearing, which he referred to as “more publicity for the IPA including page 1 of the Canberra Times thanks to ALP questioning”.
Labor senator Penny Wong accused Lloyd of acting in a biased manner.
“I think you are unfit to hold this office because you are partisan,” she told him during last month’s hearing.
“I reject that,” Lloyd responded.
Lloyd spent almost two hours of last month’s hearing refusing to answer whether he was under investigation for his contact with the IPA, at one stage attempting to see if he could claim public interest immunity over the queries.
He later took the question on notice and said he was not the subject of any current inquiries.
The department of the prime minister and cabinet had rejected freedom-of-information requests asking for emails between Lloyd and the IPA, on the grounds that releasing the emails “could reasonably be expected to prejudice the conduct of an investigation of a breach, or possible breach, of the law”.
The ABC reported the prime minister’s department referred allegations Lloyd had breached the public service code of conduct to the merit protection commissioner for consideration.
A delay in the appointment of a permanent merit protection commissioner reportedly delayed a decision over whether an investigation was necessary.
The union which represents public servants welcomed Lloyd’s departure, with CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood accusing Lloyd of “repeatedly and deliberately attacking and undermining the public service”.
“And he has brought his office into disrepute by using a public service position to help his friends at the IPA attack workers in a Senate inquiry into bargaining.”
Kelly O’Dwyer, in her role as the minister assisting the prime minister for the public service, thanked Lloyd for his “many years of public service”.