Blair Comley (EY) appointed incoming national health secretary

14 June 2023 3 min. read
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After the past five years with EY Port Jackson Partners, public service stalwart Blair Comley is set to make his return to the top level, appointed secretary of the Department of Health and Aged Care.

Blair Comley, the head of Ernst & Young’s Net Zero Centre sustainability hub, has a rather busy schedule ahead, due to appear as a speaker at the upcoming Australian Energy Week conference in Melbourne. He will also soon be required in Canberra, appointed by the prime minister this week as the next secretary of the Department of Health and Aged Care – marking his return to the public sector after first joining Port Jackson Partners at the start of 2018.

Prior to his five and a half years with the strategy consultancy (which was acquired by EY in mid-2020), Comely had built a distinguished public sector career at both the NSW and federal levels, including as deputy and then secretary of the Climate Change and Energy Efficiency department over five years to 2013.

Comely also briefly served as the secretary of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism, before spending six months as a specialist advisor with PwC.

From there, Comley spent a further three years as secretary of the NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet (his successor, Tim Reardon, last year joined PwC), notably under a state Liberal government after being controversially sacked by the party at the Commonwealth level as the chief architect behind Labor’s failed carbon policies. A masters graduate in economics from Monash University, Comley also previously served as Australia’s economic representative to the OECD.

“With his strong economic qualifications and proven leadership navigating complex issues, Blair will bring innovation and policy rigour to addressing the challenges and opportunities within our health system,” the prime minister stated, while thanking outgoing secretary Brendan Murphy, Australia’s chief medical officer who shot to significant public prominence during the early days of Covid-19 as a regular feature of the government’s televised daily briefings.

Since joining EY Port Jackson Partners, Comley has led projects across various industries including energy, government, transport, water and human services, and was appointed as head of EY’s Net Zero Centre decarbonisation hub upon its launch at the beginning of last year. He will commence his new role from the middle of next month, reportedly beating out fellow Sydney-based EY Port Jackson partner and former NSW public service commissioner Graeme Head.

Comley’s appointment comes at a time when certain, recent misdemeanors have brought the spotlight back onto the consulting-politics merry-go-round. He is set to follow in the footsteps of Jim Betts, who was last year tapped as secretary of the sprawling Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development, Communications and the Arts after briefly joining EY from the senior ranks of the NSW public sector, while Betts’ earlier predecessor Mike Mrdak has since moved onto L.E.K. Consulting.