Secretary Richard Bolt recognised in Queen’s Birthday Honours List

For more than 22 years, Richard Bolt - the Secretary for the Department of Economic Development, Jobs, Transport and Resources (DEDJTR) since 2015 - has dedicated his life to public service.

In recognition of this contribution, Richard received the highly-respected Public Service Medal in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours List for his outstanding public service leadership and innovation in energy, agriculture, education, transport, economic development and carbon policy in Victoria and nationally.

Q&A with Richard Bolt

What was your reaction when you found out you were a Public Service Medal recipient?

I was slightly embarrassed to be singled out, yet thrilled for the recognition. But it’s a product of so many people’s work.

What does the award mean for the department?

It’s a recognition of the huge effort the public service, both in DEDJTR and other departments, has made for the betterment of the Victorian public.

How does the win amplify your work?

It adds credibility, and shows that the department is made up of trusted and skilled policy advisors and program deliverers. But you can’t rest on your laurels after receiving something like this, there’s always the next challenge to meet.

Rewind to the start of your career when you were a South Australian engineering graduate. Was there a lightbulb moment when you thought you could transition from engineering to the public service?

Yes, I was an engineer with the then State Electricity Commission. I was also a nuclear disarmament campaigner which was strong in the 1980s, and one day I simply decided that I had to make a choice to pursue the public interest. I decided then and there that I was interested in the public good, and that’s why I’m here now.

What are you passionate about in your current role?

Our ability to get the Victorian economy moving through transport and investment. Also, being in the centre of an organisation with so many moving parts, helping them work more effectively together, and realising the public value that results. Plus, the sense of contributing to something big.

What are Victoria’s particular strengths in the public service?

Our public service has a very strong capacity for providing good, innovative policy advice and we are becoming better at engaging with the public in delivering that advice via programs. It’s a pretty open public service and it does take feedback, it does engage with the public. Also, I’d claim that it’s among the most collegiate public service in the country in its ability to work across the various departments and agencies, which I think is a product of many departments having their headquarters close by enabling them to meet freely. That said, there’s no space for complacency.

The award acknowledges your efforts across many portfolios. What are your career highlights?

If I was answering that question ten years ago, I’d have said "energy is my gig”. I’m proud to have been involved in the energy markets and contributed to some very advanced thinking about carbon policy. But now, after being involved in so many areas, the sense of achievement is more about getting large groups of people and large systems to move in the right direction: becoming more efficient and providing a better service to the public.

Richard’s top public service highlights

  • Securing funding for AgriBio (the Centre for AgriBioscience at La Trobe University) with an emphasis on cutting-edge research to improve productivity, enhance the biosecurity of agriculture, and reduce its environmental impacts.
  • Advising government to establish nine Regional Partnerships across the state to give regional communities a greater say about what matters to them and ensure their voices reach the heart of government.
  • Playing a key role in designing and delivering government’s response to the millennium drought, that ensured government assistance to farmers was better aligned to the welfare needs of farming families.
  • Leading the establishment of Victoria’s transport security function following the 2005 London bombings.
  • Supporting the greater inclusion of women and LGBTQI people as employees, and increasing awareness of and support for staff experiencing family violence.
  • Designing the first Victorian Renewable Energy Target scheme, securing funding for energy technology innovation and carbon capture and storage, serving on national committees on energy innovation, and securing the Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain project.
  • Playing a lead role in reforming national energy institutions to improve their governance and impact.
  • Being deputy chair of the State-Territory National Emissions Trading Task Force (NETT) which produced the first comprehensive blueprint for carbon pricing of energy in 2008. Though the subsequent national ETS was later repealed, the NETT laid foundations for later emissions policies and gained a near ­consensus of business and environment groups.
  • Publicly reporting the performance of the newly-corporatised water industry in unprecedented detail (while working for the Essential Service Commission). The system was later adapted to my design of the first financial incentive on electricity distributors to improve supply reliability, which was adapted nationally.
  • Leading re-integration of the transport portfolio, establishing a long-term and multi-modal transport planning and policy function, and supporting the mobilisation of the largest capital expenditure program for transport in the state’s history.
  • Prioritising the development of national economic and innovation precincts based on stronger collaboration between universities and technology businesses.
  • Leading improvements in integrity by combating corruption and conflicts of interest in the education portfolio and strengthening integrity systems.
  • Leading successful negotiations for Victoria’s first six-year ‘Gonski’ agreement for school funding.

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Discover more about Richard on the department’s corporate site.