An interview with Public Service Medal recipient - Mark O'Connell
Meet Mark O’Connell, Director of Investigations and Community Support for the Per- and Poly-Fluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) Contamination Investigation and Management, at the Department of Defence. Mark has been leading the engagement with communities affected by PFAS contamination.
His genuine interest and concern for the welfare of local residents has been instrumental in connecting the community and Department of Defence through government support programs. Mark was awarded the Public Service Medal as part of the 2020 Australia Day Honours, for his exceptional service to community and individuals. We briefly met Mark in Canberra and got to talk to him about his unique public service journey.
Tell us about yourself briefly and how you came to join the APS?
I joined the APS in July 2010, after working for a multinational wine and spirit company for 18 years. I was moving back to Toowoomba and applied for a job that came up in Defence. I had never worked in the public sector previously and thought it could be an excellent opportunity. Fortunately I was successful and I have been at Defence ever since.
Tell us a bit about your current role or the role for which you received the PSM? How did you react when you first heard you were receiving this honour?
My current role is the Director of Investigation and Community Engagement for the PFAS branch in Defence. I started this role in 2016 however I have been involved with PFAS contamination issues since 2012. When I learnt about this award, it was very humbling, particularly as I am part of a wider team who have all done an outstanding job in what can be quite a difficult environment. Now that the significance of the award has sunk in I am very appreciative for the work being recognised.
Looking back at your APS career so far, what would you say is THE highlight? And what has been the biggest challenge?
I would say the biggest challenge is also the highlight for me. The PFAS issues are very emotive and have caused a great deal of anxiety for community and individuals. We have been through quite challenging times over the past four years, and a few years before the branch was stood up. However we’ve been able to provide a number of solutions for both communities and Defence over that time, which is very rewarding.
I am part of a very large team. Our senior executives from the Deputy Secretary down have led the initiatives and community engagements, and the wider PFAS team has provided great support which has made my job easier. Everyone has contributed significantly to the work that has been done in addressing the PFAS issue, which has led to this award.
Looking forward, in your view, what can be improved or done differently in the APS to serve the public better? Where do you see yourself in the future APS?
I think what we can do better is continue to listen to the public and impacted communities and focus on ideas and principles as to how we can continue to support them.
With regard to the future, we still have so much to do with the PFAS investigation and remediation initiatives. I am happy to continue undertaking those tasks for however long it might take. Post that, Defence has so many different areas of work that are challenging and fulfilling, I will be looking forward to taking on other projects.