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They’re everywhere! LGBTI leaders standing proud in the public sector

While the Australia community is broadly aware of out gay politicians like Andrew Barr, Dean Smith and Penny Wong — thanks to the same-sex marriage postal survey — the visibility of other LGBTI people in public sector leadership isn’t always up there. That’s especially true for trans and intersex visibility.

Below are 11 public sector leaders featured in the 2018 Outstanding 50 LGBTI leaders list, co-produced by Deloitte and Google Australia.

From the first openly gay departmental secretary in the Australian Public Service, to leaders in states and territories, local government, statutory authorities, state police and the Australian Defence Force, LGBTI people really are everywhere.


Most government and statutory organisations now have LGBTI affinity networks. In just the few years The Mandarin has been publishing, we’ve seen dozens of new networks pop up in organisations big and small. If you’re looking to find one near you, or want to start one, drop me a line and we’ll help you make contact. Pride in Diversity also has resources and contacts to help leaders, HR and employees start an LGBTI network.


Councillor Tony Briffa JP

Deputy Mayor, Hobsons Bay City Council

Tony was elected to Hobsons Bay City Council in 2008, 2012 and 2016, to Deputy Mayor in 2009, 2010 and 2017 and to Mayor in 2011. Tony initiated the Western Suburbs Councils participating in the Midsumma Carnival and celebrating LGBTI culture in local communities. Tony has been an intersex human rights activist for 19 years.

Inspiration: I have been inspired by many people throughout my life, including political leaders, human rights activists, aviators, women, composers and colleagues! Many have inspired my passion for making a positive difference and contributing as much as possible to my public life and career in aviation.

Career advice: In an Australian context the future is very bright for LGBTI people starting out in their career. People are ultimately judged on their professionalism and contribution to the workplace rather than their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

Motivations: I am most passionate about making positive contributions to my local community, to the human rights of people with intersex variations and to the aviation company I work for.

Changing perceptions: As the first publicly elected intersex person anywhere in the world, I know I have helped raise awareness of intersex people and educated many people about what intersex is. It can be very daunting being a public intersex person and I have experienced personal challenges as a result, but having been elected to office three times as a Councillor, three times as Deputy Mayor and once as Mayor, I feel comfortable knowing I have been accepted by the community despite my intersex variation. In turn I know this also helps break down barriers for intersex people that follow.

Words to describe me: Tenacious, dedicated and resilient.



Luci Ellis

Assistant Governor, Reserve Bank

Luci is the Assistant Governor (Economic) at the Reserve Bank of Australia. She is responsible for the Bank’s Economic Analysis and Economic Research departments and is the Chief Economic Advisor to the Governor and the board. She also chairs the Bank committee responsible for its data strategy, is the Executive Sponsor of the Bank’s Mathematica Users Community and is the Executive Sponsor of the LGBTI Allies Employee Resource Group.

Greatest role model: I think it’s more fruitful to think about the traits you admire in different people. No single person is going to be the right template for every aspect of your own aspirations.

Career advice: Be yourself, be a contributor and don’t worry about what others are thinking (because they’re actually not thinking about you).

Motivations: My kids and the opportunity to contribute to the Bank’s work in support of the public good.

Changing perceptions: Economics is a very male-dominated profession. Just being female is enough to challenge perceptions. I’ve always been open about being a lesbian throughout my career and over the years I have shared with colleagues some of the issues we face.

Words to describe me: Passionate, focused and open.


Manda Hatter

Head of Operations, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Manda is a television industry professional who started 30 years ago as one of the first female camera operators in NSW. Since then, Manda has worked across all facets of TV including producing, directing and various production and operational roles and has spent the past 15 years in senior leadership. She held the roles of Secretary and Ride Leader with Dykes on Bikes before becoming President for the term 2014 – 2016. Manda was also a board member of ACON in July 2016 to January 2018.

Greatest role models: The first ones I remember were my parents, who supported me in my chosen career. Then to my first job at WIN Television Wollongong, where the Head of News and the Chief Cameraman at the time, gave me the opportunity to become a Camera Operator (one of the first female Camera Operators in New South Wales (NSW) and Australia). Various senior managers from both the WIN Network and the Ten Network then continued to afford me opportunities to move through various roles in production and operations including management roles.

Career advice: I love the term ‘bring your whole self to work’. When I did come out at work, it gave me the freedom to be who I was all the time without having to hide any part of me. This was not only liberating, but allowed me to view issues through the lens of my total life experience.

Motivations: I love being part of making Quality Australian Content and the vision of the ABC Board, Leadership Team and Executive continues to inspire me to make the ABC a great place to work for everyone here. Other inspirations are riding my motorbike and writing and playing music.

Changing perceptions: We were having a staff BBQ and a young girl came up to me and said she was bi-sexual and didn’t know how to come out at work. So I worked with her to form a network of like-minded people.

Words to describe me: Passionate, driven and loyal.


Leigh Johns OAM

Commissioner, Fair Work Commission

Prior to his appointment to the Fair Work Commission in 2013, Commissioner Johns was the CEO of a Commonwealth Government Agency and the Chief Counsel of the Fair Work Ombudsman. Commissioner Johns has had a long involvement in the LGBTI community. He is a past President of the Midsumma Festival and the Victoria AIDS Council.

Greatest role model: When I started out in law there were very few ‘out’ lawyers. I worked in a very conservative field and thought that if my sexuality was known it would adversely affect my career. Around the time Michael Kirby AC CMG was appointed as President of the NSW Court of Appeal he was openly gay and it was well known when he was appointed to the High Court of Australia in 1996. I had only come out two years earlier.

Career advice: Kirby said it best: “Go on being yourself and making a contribution to … a better world. Never give up!”

Motivations: I’m passionate about my work and feel privileged to have the role of Commissioner. Alongside the Commonwealth Parliament, the Commonwealth Government and the High Court, the Fair Work Commission is one of our nation’s oldest institutions. It is also one of the most important, noting the significant role it has played in our social, economic and political history.

Changing perceptions: Because of the important role Kirby played in my life (by being out) I have tried to model the same. Whether as a Senior Associate at Mallesons, Partner at Australian Business Lawyers, Chief Counsel at the Fair Work Ombudsman, CEO of a Commonwealth Government Agency and now as a Fair Work Commissioner, I’ve been visible as a gay man, in a loving long-term relationship and a father.

Words to describe me: Loyal, persistent and flawed.


Jude Munro AO

Chair, Victorian Planning Authority, Victorian Pride Centre

Jude was formerly CEO of Brisbane City Council from 2000 to 2010. This included managing a $2.6bn budget, tunnels and bridges, and more than 10,000 employees. Jude is an experienced Non-Executive Director and board chair. As a Co-Founder of Gay Liberation in Melbourne in 1972 as a 21 year old, she then went on to more activism including publishing the Young, Gay and Proud publication. Jude participated in the 1978 Mardi Gras march.

Greatest role model: My mother who showed me the value of a life of service. The importance of hard work. That every individual matters.

Career advice: Know yourself. Be yourself. Join an organisation which has a track record of support for LGBTI people if you can.

Motivations: The Victorian Pride Centre. An Australian first to provide a welcoming and permanent home for the LGBTI community. To be based in St Kilda – we’re focused on its planning, design and finances.

Changing perceptions: My mantra when I was CEO Brisbane City Council was to lift the metabolic rate. That’s why we planned and delivered tunnels and other infrastructure the quickest in Australia.

Words to describe me: Energetic, big picture and task-oriented.


Graeme Mason

Chief Executive Officer, Screen Australia

Graeme has 25 years of global experience in film, television and multimedia content creation, distribution and business. As CEO of Screen Australia since 2013 he has steered the agency through a rapidly changing environment of how content is made and seen. In 2017 Screen Australia published a ground-breaking review of diversity both on screen and behind the camera, which led to an industry wide push for change.

Greatest role model: First, my mother who set my life aspirations and personal traits. She didn’t let knock backs and life challenges stop her from achieving big things and her goals and she (with major support from my Dad) pushed through barriers and they showed me to keep trying, while maintaining personal integrity at all costs. Second, a boss in England, Michael Kuhn, who took a chance on me and many other newish people to help him build a global film and TV business.

Career advice: Try to be aware of yourself, clear on your goals and be yourself. You might well have an extra layer of challenges to deal with compared to your friends and peers, maybe external or internal, emotional or mental or physical. You need to be clear on what you want to achieve and how to do it.

Motivations: I love new challenges and new experiences. Every day is a new day with different stories told by different people in different forms and formats all trying to find a way to reach and touch an audience. This never ceases to appeal to me.

Changing perceptions: We have moved on from a time when I was told that the film we had participated in – Priscilla Queen of the Desert – was not going to be released as there were no gay people in France so therefore no one to watch it.

Words to describe me: Determined, energetic and interested.


Luke Pellegrini

General Manager, Games Support & Operations, Australian Olympic Committee

At the start of 2017 Luke was promoted into the AOC’s lead operations and sport relationship role and is responsible for the management and operations of our Australian Olympic Teams, including at the Pyeong Chang 2018 Winter Olympics, Buenos Aires 2018 Youth Olympics and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Prior to joining the AOC, Luke was part of the executive team at the AFL’s not-for-profitpartner AFL SportsReady for four years and leveraged the incredible reach and power that sport can bring to encouraging diversity and inclusion.

Greatest role model: My father is the hardest worker and nicest man I know. At 71 years old he is still working full-time as a GP, giving excellent advice to me and my three sisters and I’m not sure I have ever heard him say a bad word about anyone. He instilled within us a determination to study hard, work hard and that will open up options to do what you want with your life.

Career advice: Find an industry that you are passionate about as it means your worst days at work will still be better than any day working for a cause you don’t care about. Listen to your colleagues, understand your product, be resilient, don’t expect to change the world immediately, but continually recognise and celebrate your successes.

Motivations: I’ve loved the Olympics since I was a little kid. Now I get to partner with the executive teams of our 45 Olympic sports to create an environment at an Olympic Games where our athletes can represent their country on the world stage, knowing they have been afforded every opportunity to perform at their best on the day.

Changing perceptions: I’m proud to lead a team which sees our role as creating an environment where our incredibly diverse Olympic Team members can feel 100% comfortable to be exactly who they want to be and represent Australia proudly.

Words to describe me: Loyal, excitable and lucky.


Lisa Paul AO PSM

Former public service leader, Co-founder, Director, Entreprise Professor, Paul & Webb, Navitas, University of Melbourne

Lisa was a Portfolio Secretary (CEO) in the Australian Public Service (APS) for 11 years, mainly in education and science, employment, and workplace relations sectors. She is now a Director of listed and private companies. Lisa was the first openly gay Portfolio Secretary in the APS, and has been a role model for LGBTI people in the APS since 2001, making it easier for other LGBTI employees.

Greatest role model: My partner Linda who taught me to be confident and optimistic and who loves me unconditionally. My friends, family and colleagues for their love and support. My wonderful bosses for their loyalty and vision.

Career advice: Be the same person at home and at work. Reflect on your values and live by them. Care for your team.

Motivations: Learning something new every day. Hearing people’s stories with compassion and respect. Making a difference to people in need. The life-changing impact of education. Being able to lead people with energy and imagination. The people in my life.

Changing perceptions: I was the first ‘out’ Secretary (CEO) in Federal Government, to my knowledge. Third female Secretary (since Federal Government started in 1901). A strong reputation for promoting diversity, e.g. up to six per cent staff indigenous. Now ‘out’ in boardrooms too.

Words to describe me: Enthusiastic, creative and kind.



Tracy Smart

Air Vice Marshall, Commander Joint Health, Department of Defence

Air Vice Marshal (Dr.) Tracy Smart AM is Commander Joint Health and Surgeon General of the ADF. AVM Smart is responsible for the provision of strategic health advice, technical oversight, health care, and operational health preparedness across the ADF.

AVM Smart has been a role model for junior personnel for many years. She also drove the development of the ADF’s first policy for medical management of gender dysphoria, which has since been shared with many other nations, and policies to modernise the ADF’s approach to the deployability of members who are HIV positive.

Greatest role model: Early role models included Katherine Hepburn and Martina Navratilova; later it was Xena: Warrior Princess. They taught me that being a women was not a barrier to doing whatever you wanted to do and also the importance of being yourself.

Career advice: The fundamentals of who we are and what we stand for should not change regardless of where we sit in an organisation. Authenticity is also one of the fundamentals of leadership – people won’t follow you if they can’t see, and believe in, the real you.

Motivations: I have been a member of the ADF for 33 years and take great pride in serving my country. I am passionate about providing the best possible health services to all ADF personnel to ensure they are fit to do their role to the best of their ability, and to help them recover if they become wounded, injured or ill.

Changing perceptions: I think my biggest influence has been as a role model – just doing my job to the best of my ability and being open and honest about my life. This not only empowers more junior LGBTI members of the ADF, but provides visibility at the senior level that sexuality is a non-issue when it comes to serving in the ADF at all levels.

Words to describe me: Passionate, committed and authentic.


Michael Tennant

Chief Executive Officer, Department of Trade, Business and Innovation, Northern Territory

Michael is the CEO of the Department of Trade, Business and Innovation in Darwin, Northern Territory. Michael leads a team of more than 250 employees with a Territory wide network of regional offices. Michael is open at work about his sexuality and puts a strong emphasis on encouraging a culture where people can bring their true and authentic selves to work.

Greatest role model: The first is my mother. I’m the eldest of four siblings. Mum was a teacher who put her teaching career on hold to be a full-time mother. My father died suddenly when I was 13 and mum had to return to teaching while raising the four of us alone. Her resilience, perseverance and determination through amazing hardship while always maintaining her passion, optimism and a sense of humour is an ongoing inspiration. My second is a former boss. I was in my mid-20s. I was not out at work then. I feared potential discrimination, it affecting my working relationships, my career prospects, etc. My boss got me to come out of my shell and to be comfortable and confident being myself in a professional context. All my fears were unfounded. And it gave me the courage to always be myself and to never hide ME ever again.

Career advice: Have courage. Do not fear. Always be yourself and be true to yourself. Be authentic and respectful to yourself and in your dealings with others.

Motivations: Making a difference – helping to make Australia a better place for current and future generations – for ALL Australians – and inspiring my teams and others around me to strive for the same.

Changing perceptions: We started a ‘Hands Up for Diversity and Inclusion’ digital campaign in early 2017 to promote and celebrate the importance of diversity in across the Northern Territory public service and how each individual has a personal role to play in contributing to inclusiveness.

Words to describe me: I am me.


Tess Walsh

Assistant Commissioner, Western Region, Victoria Police Force

Tess has been a member of Victoria Police for 30 years where she has held positions leading metropolitan and regional teams through critical incidents and emergencies as they occur. Tess created and led the Safety, People, Culture Strategy, which aims to deepen the organisation’s understanding about diversity and inclusion.

Inspiration: My parents have been my greatest role models and inspiration. My dad forged a great career in law after contracting polio as a child and not being able to farm the land as did his brothers. I’ve admired dad’s strength living with a disability as he repeatedly overcame adversity. Mum was a primary school teacher before she started our family. She has a love of life which is great to be around. They bought us up with such a sense of social justice and the importance of doing the right thing and being good to each other. I am one of nine children and my brothers and sisters and their families play a key role in my life.

Career advice: You are terrific exactly as you are. I spent years as a young leader trying to emulate those around me who were successful. It took some work and a lot of self-reflection but once I had developed the confidence to lead in my own way, with my own style, accepting my own nuances I became a better person and a better leader.

Motivations: I am passionate about so many things. Work, family, justice, Collingwood Football Club (they’re family aren’t they?), racing, sport in general, travel, growing vegetables and the list goes on.

Changing perceptions: I think about the big issues and where my voice can be the most influential and when the time is right I will respectfully proffer a differing or alternate view to most.

Words to describe me: Passionate, loyal and funny – at least I think I’m funny.

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.