Monday, October 24, 2022


 To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less. 

—Andre Malraux

It's time to bring Frank and Fearless back to the APS

“If there’s one thing I’d like people to say about me as a leader it’s ‘she really meant it when she said you have to invest in and support your people"

Since ANZSOG was founded in 2002, thousands of public servants have benefited from our programs and courses. Many have gone on to senior and highly influential positions in public services across Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. To celebrate ANZSOG’s 20 years of working with our owner governments to strengthen the quality of public sector leadership in Australia, this series of profiles looks at the achievement of our alumni, why they chose the public sector as a career, their views on how to lead and the importance of having a high-quality values-driven public service. 

Jacqui Curtis didn’t initially consider a career as a public servant, but a chance encounter led to ANZSOG alumni starting a career in the Australian Public Service in 2003. Two decades later she is Chief Operating Officer at the Australian Taxation Office (ATO), and also leads efforts to raise the profile and capability of Human Resources across the public service as the inaugural head of the Australian Public Service’s Human Resources Profession. 

Her philosophy of giving things a go and taking every opportunity to be involved, as well as a focus on people-centred leadership that helps people to be the best they can be, and a fascination with managing change, has seen her rise to senior roles and be awarded a Public Service Medal earlier this year.  

Moving into a public sector career 

Working at the Canberra Institute of Technology as business development manager, her career changed after a training consultant told her she could be contributing more in the public service – and urged her to apply for a job at the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC). 

“You don’t always realise what you have to offer, or where the possibilities are, because you haven’t stopped to think about it,” Ms Curtis said.  

“I couldn’t believe it when I was offered the position. I literally had to get books, and get on the internet, and read about what the Commonwealth Public Service does. It was an opportunity I was nervous about taking up because it was such a big change for me, but I thought they must see something in me, so I’ll give it a go. I’ve never thought ‘I can’t do it’ if people believe in me. 

“I signed up for the Executive Master of Public Administration within a few months. It was a difficult thing to do with four-year-old twin daughters – but worth it. If you want to have a career in the public service, you need to know what it is, what its core functions are, what makes it different to other sectors and in particular, learn public sector craft. You need to look at the whole system, not just your role and your department’s remit.  

“One of the great things about starting at the APSC was that I had visibility of every agency, and had interactions with most agencies, so I got that broad picture. Everything I had a chance to be involved in, I got involved in. Even if it wasn’t my business I’d go and find out about it, because I was super inquisitive and passionate about what I was doing. 

“The public service underpins civil society in Australia and it is often a ‘hidden’ thing in the sense that the public generally don’t fully understand it. We have a high performing public service in Australia and that is one of the main reasons why we have a great standard of living and way of life” 

She said that some public service agencies are still using outdated recruiting processes that worked against some types of diversity, including people with different kinds of intelligence or creativity, and this would hamper them as they competed for talent. 

“We still have some conservative methods of recruitment and the result is we recruit people from a similar kinds of background, and often filter out diversity in the process of recruiting,” she said. 

“Where are the creative thinkers, the people who can bring a different perspective? Even if you do get them as soon as they join, we risk smothering them with rules, red tape and hierarchy.  

“In recent years, I think we’ve not put enough focus on building the capabilities that we need, and we are now trying to sprint to catchup. Things like digital and data, change management, diversity, and being able to innovate at pace – we’ve left it until two minutes to midnight.” 

Ms Curtis says that she has tried to lead by example and invest in staff and create a culture that supports staff. 

“I’m very proud of being a leader that builds really strong teams, I’m proud of helping people to be the best that they can be. I get a real buzz out of watching people that I’ve worked with go on and be happy in their work, and realise their potential,” she said. 

“Being able to help people with their lives – and to help people to be the best they could be – that’s something I’ve always held as a personal value.” 

“If there’s one thing I’d like people to say about me as a leader it’s ‘she really meant it when she said you have to invest in and support your people’.” 

Helping people be the best they can be – how Jacqui Curtis built her public sector career

Improving APS recruitment processes – starting with our graduate programs

Understanding Public Leadership

Political Science
Practitioner Insight: The beauty and pain of leading change By Jacqui Curtis Chief Operating Officer at the Australian Tax Office These days it is standard ..

Changing role of HR: future role of adaptive and flexible HR models leveraging technology, automation and responding to the “Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous” (VUCA) world

How the role of HR is changing and why it matters to you

Digital strangers, digital natives: Managing our workforces’ generational divide This discussion will focus on the consequences of the generational divide on the public sector workforce, in terms of the gap in digital literacy between senior executives and their workforces. Digital natives live much of their lives online; what is the carry over effect into their public sector roles, the effect on social media policies and the changing attitudes to privacy?


Jacqui Curtis Chief Operating Officer

Digital strangers, digital natives with Jacqui Curtis

Jacqui Curtis - Meet the woman trying to fix the public service people problem

ATO's chief operating officer Jacqui Curtis has been appointed as the first head of profession in the Australian Public Service

It emerged during questioning that assistant commissioner Murray Baird was on leave from the ACNC, and had been offered a temporary position at the Australian Taxation Office, after a major clash with Johns over leadership and the direction of the organisation.

Jacqui Curtis, the ATO’s acting commissioner of taxation, told the hearing Baird approached ATO officers with a number of workplace issues.

“We spoke to Mr Baird. We also spoke to Dr Johns… When we talked to them, it was quite clear that really there was a disagreement about leadership styles and probably philosophy, I guess, about how the organisation was operating,” Curtis said.

“They don’t see eye-to-eye, and we wanted to resolve this at the lowest level possible to try and resolve the conflict.

“We agreed with Mr Baird and Dr Johns, that the best thing to do was that, while we worked through that, we would offer Mr Baird an opportunity to come back into the ATO, into a legal role, which his skill sets do suit, and that is what has actually happened.”

The hearing was told Baird is currently on leave, with Willis filling his role on a temporary basis on transfer from the ATO – which is housed in the same building as the ACNC.

They Do not see eye to eye 

According to the ATO Chief Operating Officer Jacqui Curtis, the 2015-16 employment outsourcing total was AU$188.6 million, which then increased to AU$333 million during 2016-17. During that period, the ATO had to deal with "one-of-a-kind" SAN outages to mainframe reboots.

"The outages caused a lot of work to be done manually during that period -- we put on additional resources to that to catch up -- we increased our contractors in that period because we needed specialist contractors to come in, in order to make sure we had a smooth tax time," Curtis said the time.

Australian Taxation Office splitting up IT contracts

Some bosses are good. Others only seem good at first, and you can use this guide to differentiate between the two, says workplace culture expert Tom Gimbel.

Gimbel, the CEO of Chicago-based employment agency LaSalle Network, says the type of boss you have — or are — can have a huge impact on you or your employees' career success: Good bosses can help employees grow and be happy at work, while bad bosses can make the day-to-day experience a nightmare.

There are 7 types of bosses, says workplace culture expert—only 1 is worth working for, or trying to become


It is easy to fight power, when you have none, when you feel like the victim. The real battle begins when you start to have a taste of power. It takes an impossible character to stand by their principles till their last breath, rejecting the pressure of oppression, as well as the convenience of power.

I was not a hypocrite, with one real face and several false ones. I had several faces because I was young and didn't know who I was or wanted to be.
~Milan Kundera, The Joke