WILLIAMS, Helen

Born: 1945

Special Achievements:

First woman to head a Commonwealth Government Department when she was appointed Secretary of the Dept of Education in 1985

Additional Information:


1979: Early in her public service career, Williams joined the second division in the Department of Finance her employment was controversial to some at the time due to her gender.

1983: When she was promoted to Deputy Secretary in the Department of Education and Youth Affairs in, she became the first woman to hold a deputy secretary position in the Australian Government sphere. 

1984: She was Acting Secretary of the Department of Education and Youth Affairs for a short time

1985: Promoted to Secretary of the Department of Education serving in the role until 1987. Her appointment as  was the first time a woman had been appointed to head an Australian Government department of state.

1987: Williams told The Canberra Times in 2006 that in 1987 she was criticised by some women's groups and the senior public service bureaucracy when she took six months maternity leave after having her baby.

Williams returned to work from maternity leave in 1987 on the day that a reorganisation of the public service was complete, with 28 departments cut down to just 18. Williams was not one of the previous secretaries who was given a department and was instead appointed Associate Secretary in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. While Associate Secretary, she headed the arm of the department responsible for Commonwealth-state relations during Prime Minister Bob Hawke's push for "New Federalism", which saw the break-ups of functions between different layers of government under review.

1993: Williams was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia in June 1993 for service to public administration in the areas of education and social welfare.

Williams was returned to a Secretary role, this time as head of the Department of Tourism.

Williams retired from the Australian Public Service in 2009.

She is an active member of the Institute Public Administration Australia (IPAA) and an annual Oration for Women in Leadership is held in her honour.