‘Be a proud contributor to progress’, PSM awardee tells public servants


Gemma Varley PSM has played a significant role in the development of the law over her long career, recently capping off a 37-year stint as a legislative drafter with eight years as chief parliamentary counsel for Victoria.

Gemma Varley

Her contribution towards putting together countless pieces of legislation and minimising misinterpretation was recognised in January, when she was awarded a public service medal in the Australia Day honours.

“I was very humbled by the award,” she explains. “It was a great surprise and I feel honoured that people thought well enough of my work to nominate me.

“It is one of the highest honours a public servant can achieve. To be recognised in this way has meant the world to me.”

She nominates being hired as a legal officer in the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel in 1978 as one of the highlights of her career. It’s a place she remained at until her retirement from the public service in mid-2016.

She is now in private practice and was appointed to the Victorian Law Reform Commission in 2016.

“The work of legislative drafting is hard, detailed, intellectual legal work, but very satisfying when you get it right,” she says.

Over the space of her career, Varley saw major changes and helped with the creation of many significant pieces of legislation, including the Planning and Environment Act 1987, the Residential Tenancies Act 1997 and the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005.

She welcomed the advent of plain English in her profession, making legislation more easily understood by the public.

A “great privilege” of her work has been assisting governments with their varied legislative programs and helping members of parliament of all persuasions with the preparation of amendments to bills and private member’s bills.

Varley was “fascinated” by public service work from her very first job after studying Arts/Law at Monash, when she started working on federal affairs in the Premier’s Department in 1976.

She advises younger public servants to see their career as one of service.

“To be prepared to work very hard and to get as much experience as they can. It is very important to work with absolute integrity and to the best of their ability. It is also very important to treat other public servants as true colleagues with kindness and friendly assistance.

“Do what you can to help and don’t hesitate to seek help when you need it. Be proud that you can be a contributor to public progress.”

Her colleagues have played a big part in her success, Varley says.

“A particular joy for me has been the training of new drafters. Drafting is a craft that takes a long time to learn, so it is wonderful to see the office so well served by highly intelligent, skilled professional drafters.

“My achievement owes much to my colleagues who have been unfailing in their support.”

Nominate unsung heroes

Now she hopes to see other hard workers in the public service recognised, with the deadline for public sector medal nominations coming up on August 1. She’s urging bureaucrats to nominate someone they think is doing a good job.

“We can all be very busy in our working lives, but it is good to stop and look around at our colleagues and appreciate their contribution. There are many, many unsung heroes in the public service,” Varley argues.

“It would be wonderful to see more people nominated. It is a privilege to be awarded a public service medal and many people deserve to be recognised. The award of a public service medal reflects well on the whole public service.”

The prestigious public service medal is part of the official Australian system of honours and awards, recognising outstanding public service. Government employees are encouraged to nominate colleagues, staff or managers who have demonstrated genuinely outstanding achievement in the workplace and who have inspired others to keep striving for better outcomes for our communities.

The PSM is awarded twice a year: as part of the Queen’s birthday honours list in June, as well as part of the Australia Day honours list in January. It is open to all levels of the public service and is not reserved for senior officers.

Nominations for the Australia Day 2018 PSMs close on Tuesday August 1, 2017. Nominating is easy — visit the national website for guidelines, nomination forms and your state-based contact officer.

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