John H.
Man in dark suit jacket, wearing light checkered shirt, dark tie and glasses.

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 working in assurance auditing. 

My background

I never started out to be an auditor, I’m not even an accountant. 

My first career was teaching primary school. Teaching was a very rewarding job—feedback from students was immediate and you could see the difference you were making each day. After five years, I became a principal and worked at three different schools in Far North and Central Queensland. Then I left the chalkface for the regional office to analyse regional student performance data. This involved working with principals and teachers to identify areas where student learning was below average or not meeting expectations. 

My second career was as a public servant where I became a principal policy officer for the Queensland Department of Education. I worked on key governance projects including strategic and annual planning, quarterly business reporting and the annual report. My focus on data continued as I analysed statewide student performance and the effectiveness of statewide education programs.

‘My experience and skills in analysing education data on student and program effectiveness quickly translated to auditing effectiveness and efficiency of a range of government programs.’

My third and current career is as a senior audit manager working in assurance audit at the Queensland Audit Office (QAO).

In 2020, I was fortunate enough participate in an international exchange to the Office of the Auditor-General of Ontario, Canada. This was a great opportunity to learn and share audit methodologies and approaches.

What I’ve gained from working with QAO

I’ve been part of the QAO team for 14 years. Working here has given me amazing opportunities to delve into the huge range of services state and local governments deliver. Auditing them gives you a chance to explore the diverse systems, processes and people committed to making them work.

‘As a kid I loved taking my toys apart and seeing how they work and loved the challenge of putting them back together.’

Each audit is a new challenge to see how a government service works and if there are ways it can be improved. Our audit topics range from community grants to infrastructure projects, and social services to help disadvantaged groups in the community. Every topic is different and has to be ‘pulled apart’ to understand how it works, what it’s trying to achieve, what barriers there are to effectiveness and efficiency. And most importantly, how we can make recommendations and share insights for improvement.

My best experience so far

Auditing is a bit like asking a goldfish, how is the water? A fish has never lived outside its watery environment and accepts its natural surroundings as normal. It takes the very water it swims through for granted and struggles to explain its environment as it has known no other.

Asking our clients to reflect on their environments (legislation, processes and systems) can be challenging. We’re asking questions like ‘why do you do it that way?’ ‘What do the users think about your service?’ 'How much does it cost to do it like that?’ ‘What level of risk have you identified and are you prepared to accept?’ It may even be the first time they have been given the opportunity to stop and reflect on these sorts of questions. The urgent day-to-day issues that arise and need to be resolved make it difficult for many organisations to find the time to stop and self-evaluate their programs/projects.

‘I love the moments when you ask the client a question and the answer is as much an insight to them as it is to us. I’ve met wonderful people with great skills and knowledge trying their best to deliver public services to our communities.’

What I would tell someone considering a career with QAO

It can take some resilience to challenge government entities and call out under-performance. Understandably, people’s sense of self can be deeply intwined in their work. When we challenge the effectiveness or efficiency of an activity, project of program, people may take it personally or react defensively. Which can initially make it hard for them to listen to the actions we recommend.

But it surprises me how often clients who argued strongly that we were wrong or that we didn’t really understand change once they’ve had time to think it through. After the audit is over and they’ve digested the report, they’ll come back and say the audit was the best thing that ever happened to them.

‘There’s a huge sense of satisfaction when we table an important report where the recommendations will lead to real improvements in public services. Those days make it all worthwhile.’

One client told me, ‘It really improved our work and we’ve applied the same approaches to our other business areas and are seeing similar improvements'.

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