The head of one of Australia's most powerful departments has been forced to explain his intention behind a controversial Anzac Day message sent to department staff, warning of the threat of imminent war.
Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo admitted the message was intended to remind staff of the looming possibility but said it was intended to be read in conjunction with a previous speech he delivered in 2019, titled the Seven Gathering Storms.
He told a Senate estimates committee on Monday morning his staff had sent the message to Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews shortly before its publication on the department's intranet and public-facing website.
Mr Pezzullo said it was sent to the minister for awareness, not approval, and no other ministers or ministerial staff had been canvassed in writing it. He denied its release being tied to any government communication strategy.
"I have no involvement in government communications planning and nor would I ever seek to be involved," he told senators on Monday.
The morning after Anzac Day he sent Ms Andrews a personal note about the speech as a courtesy but was unable to recall her response.
Ms Andrews had previously said she supported his speech and had seen it "well in advance" to its publication.
The secretary's annual message sparked controversy in April after it was criticised for warmongering and further stirring up tensions between Australia and China.
"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," Mr Pezzullo wrote to staff last month.
"We must search always for the chance for peace amidst the curse of war, until we are faced with the only prudent, if sorrowful, course - to send off, yet again, our warriors to fight the nation's wars."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison distanced his government from the senior bureaucrat's comments, adding it was published independent of the minister.
It was published as an op-ed on The Australian around five minutes after going live on the department's website but department officials denied sending it to the newspaper ahead of time in Monday's hearing.
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