Author
John W.

In some shape or form, a belief in better public services has been a cornerstone for QAO over the past 160 years. In recent times, it’s been an articulated part of our vision. And I’ve been proud to be part of that for the past 40 years.

I joined QAO as a graduate auditor in 1982 after a year in the private sector. I’ve worked for eight auditors-general, audited more government entities than I can count, and met thousands of wonderful people very dedicated to improving the lives of Queenslanders. Throughout my time at QAO, there’s been a number of quotes from past auditors-general that have resonated with me.

Audit comes from the Latin word audire—to hear

The concept of auditing is about listening and hearing—it’s about finding and gathering information, evidence, and facts, and the only way to do that is by talking and listening to people, and then testing/verifying it all.

On my first day at QAO, I was given a calculator, notebook and green pen, and sent out to Northgate to the Golden Circle Cannery. I learnt on the job both by listening to my managers and other staff, and by listening to my clients. Today, our new staff and graduate auditors receive extensive formal in-house training and guidance before being thrown into such situations.

But fundamentally, we ask questions, we listen, and we ask more questions. As auditors, we have a role to play for the public sector and local governments, and there’s always going to be tough discussions with our clients, but we genuinely enjoy working collaboratively to solve issues and find solutions.

If we don’t change, we will become irrelevant

The only thing that has remained the same in Queensland’s public sector over the past forty years is the constant change.

Looking back, I split the journey into two distinct periods. The first ten years, during the 1980s, was what is often thought of as the old or traditional public service. During that first period, we audited every entity in Queensland—every police station, school, ambulance, hospital, and so on. It was very compliance and transaction focused, we did all our work manually with pen and paper, and interaction was mainly face-to-face. Our client was the parliament, and for all Queensland entities we were the auditor and they were the auditee.

Independence is the most crucial and protected element of our role, along with our professional standards as auditors. From 1990 onwards, we morphed into a modern public service and modern QAO. And as we modernised our office, we likewise changed how we framed our independence.

The period after the Fitzgerald Inquiry in the late 1980s changed the face of the Queensland public sector. Massive changes around accountability occurred including the establishment of the now Crime and Corruption Commission (CCC) and legislation around right to information and whistleblower protection, to name just a few. It was all about aiming to improve the integrity of the public sector—and the new QAO was part of that. The then introduction of technology throughout the 1990s and 2000s and move to accrual accounting also helped to shift our focus from compliance to collaboration.

And every auditor-general that I have worked for has brought in new and different ideas, transforming the office and continuing to positively shape us and ensure we remain relevant. I think perhaps in the first 130 years of government in Queensland combined there wasn’t as much change as the massive evolution the past 30 years has brought.

If I had said to my bosses, back in 1982, that in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic I performed an audit from home they’d say I was insane.

Put yourself in the clients’ shoes

This change in mindset moved us to realising and understanding that entities are our clients, and we aimed to add even more value, giving advice on an ongoing basis and working collaboratively. And this mindset continued to grow and become a part of QAO. Today, for the most part there’s a genuine trust and belief between my clients and my team; but independence and objectivity is still a mainstay of our role.

When the public sector evolved, so did QAO—we all went through the same thing. And the whole fabric of society was changing at that time. So I think, as time went on, it was important that ‘we put ourself in the clients’ shoes’, as one auditor-general put it.

Travel has always been a big part of auditing, and one of the highlights of my career. Not only did I have the opportunity to travel throughout this great state to places you’d normally never see, but I also met wonderful, dedicated people along the way. During my early years as an auditor, I’d spend 14 weeks each year on the road, and sometimes three to four weeks in a town, and became part of the local fabric. The relationships I’ve formed with people across the state are some of my fondest memories.

 

Three images collage

Pictured is John with our Senior Director Paul Christensen in the early 00s; John (middle, third from the right) from his cricket days in the mid-80s as part of the Valleys (yes that’s Allan Border, Greg Ritchie and Stuart Law in that photo as well!); John with our Executive Management Group at our farewell afternoon tea today.

 

Overall, I’ve enjoyed my time at the office and had many experiences and challenges, made lifelong friends, and travelled the state. QAO gave me a good work–life balance to be able to pursue my interests outside of work as well as a good career path. During the first ten years there appeared to be little change, but for the last thirty years change has been constant and the office has adapted well to the modern world.

I’ve been proud to be part of the journey, and most proud of where we have ended up as a modern, professional audit organisation that is now favourably compared to many other audit organisations in Australia, both public and private.   

Related article

John Hanwright tells us about his unique career journey that took him from teaching to our team, and gives us some real insight on what it’s like w