Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo was stood down on Monday pending the outcome of an investigation into the messages he sent a Liberal Party powerbroker.
The messages reportedly sought to promote conservative politicians, discredit other senior public servants, revamp the national security system and introduce a media censorship regime.
Federal Cabinet was briefed later on Monday, while the Prime Minister says he will “expedite” an independent investigation into the matter.
The revelations by Nine newspapers was the first time Home Affairs minister Clare O’Neil knew of the messages, which Mr Pezzullo sent to Scott Briggs, a lobbyist, businessman, and former vice-president of the NSW Liberals.
“Immediately upon learning of this I referred this matter to the Public Service Commissioner for his consideration and advice,” Ms O’Neil said.
“This morning I spoke to the Secretary of my department I asked him to stand aside while that inquiry occurs. I believe that is appropriate and in the public interest and I’ll have more to say on this matter when the inquiry is concluded.”
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also declined to discuss the matter but backed the referral to Public Service Commissioner Dr Gordon de Brouwer as “appropriate”.
“We will await the findings of the investigation which we will expedite,” the Prime Minister said.
Mr Albanese said former Australian public service commissioner Lynelle Briggs will conduct an independent review.
As secretary of the Home Affairs portfolio Mr Pezzullo is considered one of the most powerful senior public servants, having oversight of national security, immigration, and cyber policy.
Over several years he discussed policy and politics with Mr Briggs through hundreds of encrypted messages, according to an investigation by The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald and 60 Minutes.
The report said the leaked messages show Mr Pezzullo “used” Mr Briggs to “conduct a brazen, years-long effort to influence political machinations within the highest offices of the land, including during Liberal leadership spills”.
The report does not describe the messages as corrupt or illegal but said they raise questions about whether the messages were appropriate for a senior public servant bound by the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct to be independent and apolitical.
Greens immigration spokesperson Nick McKim said Mr Pezzullo must resign or be sacked.
“Throughout his time as Secretary of the Department of Home Affairs he has overseen a litany of governance failures and shown complete contempt for the principle of accountability,” Mr McKim said in a statement.
“His brazen attempts to manipulate the political process and his failure to respect the boundaries between politics and the public service mean that his position is untenable.”
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