Ian Watt AC

Honorary Doctor of Letters

Citation delivered by Professor Jennifer Martin AC Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation) University of Wollongong on the occasion of the admission of Ian James Watt as a Doctor of Letters (honoris causa) on 24 July 2019. 

Deputy Chancellor, I present Ian Watt. 

Dr Watt is recognised nationally as the man who steered the Australian public service through one of the most turbulent political times in recent history. He has served successive governments with distinction and his contribution to public administration in Australia has been wide-ranging. Today we acknowledge his intelligent leadership and his dedication to the delivery of quality service for our nation and for our University. 

After completing his Bachelor of Commerce with Honours, in 1972, at the University of Melbourne, Ian commenced a cadetship with Treasury in 1973. Ian went on to further study at La Trobe University, completing a Master of Economics in 1979 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1987. In 1999 Dr Watt studied at Harvard University, completing the Advanced Management Program. 

With nearly 20 years’ experience at the highest levels of the public service, Dr Watt has demonstrated dedication to the proper and efficient functioning of the nation. Most recently he served as Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and Head of the Australian Public Service, where he led four Commonwealth Departments, a position he held from 2011 until the end of 2014. Prior to that, he was Secretary of the Departments of Defence; Finance; and Communications, Information Technology and the Arts between 2001 and 2011. Before that, he was Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. 

In 2015 Dr Watt was appointed to conduct a review into research policy and funding in order to strengthen Australia's research system and encourage greater collaboration between universities, businesses and other research end users. This ultimately led to the creation of a stronger, fitter university research system that translates high quality university research into economic and social benefits for the country. 

In recent years, Dr Watt served as Chair of the SMART Infrastructure Facility's Advisory Council here at the University of Wollongong. Under Dr Watt's stewardship, the SMART Advisory Council has attracted quality professionals and has expanded its membership base to include stronger female representation and relevant domain expertise. Due to Dr Watt's contributions, SMART and UOW have received national and international recognition as Australia's leading applied research institution focusing on infrastructure delivery. Dr Watt has provided a crucial link between government, industry and the University, ensuring that the research direction of SMART is relevant to these stakeholders. 

Dr Watt has served on a number of boards including that of Citigroup Pty Ltd, Smartgroup Corporation, and the Grattan Institute. He is a Member of the Male Champions of Change, a group which aims to elevate the social and economic importance of gender equality to affect real change in society and business. He is also Chair of the National Innovation and Science Agenda Implementation Committee, and Chair of the International Centre for Democratic Partnerships. 

Dr Watt is noted for his commitment to cultural and transformational change and for his belief that investing in people is vital to achieving positive outcomes for government, business and society. As such, his stewardship – whether in the Australian public service or in one of his many advisory roles – has been steady, wise and invaluable. Dr Watt’s contributions were acknowledged in 2008 when he was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to the community through the development of public policy and administration in the areas of finance, governance, budget and expenditure policy and taxation reform. In 2016, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia for eminent service to the community through public sector leadership and administration, innovative and effective governance, program delivery and policy reform, and the promotion of workplace diversity. 

Over a lifetime filled with many major accomplishments both personal and professional, Dr Watt cites the opportunity to attend university as being of paramount importance. Noting the intellectual stimulus and the continuing opportunity to learn as being invaluable. His most valued mentors – his father, Gilbert James Watt, his PHD supervisor, Professor Eric Jones, and Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Mr Max Moore-Wilton – have provided inestimable guidance throughout his career. 

Deputy Chancellor, today we honour Dr Watt for his substantial and balanced leadership, his influence in advancing research for social impact and for his significant contribution to the development of the University of Wollongong. It is a privilege and a pleasure to present Ian Watt for a Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.