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Spotlight on the Public Service Medal recipients

Trade negotiator and counter terrorism expert acknowledged with highest honour.

International trade negotiations, economic policy and national security issues are among the important matters that Public Service Medal recipient, Allan McKinnon has lead in his public service career. 

Until just a few weeks ago Allan was working as the Deputy Secretary of National Security and International Policy Group in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, a position he was appointed to in 2012.

Prior to that, Allan worked for many years in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade both in Canberra and overseas. He was as a senior trade negotiator negotiating at the WTO and then on bilateral deals such as with the United States and sectoral deals such as on wine. He was also First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Management Division and First Assistant Secretary, Diplomatic Security.

Allan was posted twice to the Australian Embassy in Tokyo, first as a Counsellor, and then later as Deputy Head of Mission.

Receiving his public service medal, Allan was recognised for his leadership and delivery or implementation of a number of cornerstone reviews of Australia’s national security and intelligence architecture. Most recently, he was responsible for the implementation of the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review, which recommended the establishment of an Office of National Intelligence to enhance leadership and coordination of our intelligence agencies.  

Over a hectic nine month period leading up to mid-2015 he led the preparation of three key counter terrorism reports: a Review of Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Machinery; Martin Place Siege (Joint Commonwealth – New South Wales review) and, Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Strategy: Strengthening our Resilience.

From these reports came a range of recommendations on national security resourcing, leadership and community cohesion, including the establishment of the Counter-Terrorism Coordinator role and changes in the way that threats are communicated to the public through the national alert system.

One of the reviews that stands out for him is the Martin Place Siege: Joint Commonwealth – New South Wales Review in January 2015 analysing the events leading up to and surrounding the Martin Place Siege.

Commenting on this work, Allan noted, “a striking thing was the speed at which we had to work. The tragedy took place on 14 December 2014 and we were told we had to have the report completed by the end of January 2015.

“Hundreds of thousands of pieces of information were synthesised into the report with recommendations both for the NSW and Commonwealth Governments. In partnership with a senior colleague from the Attorney General’s Department every day we worked over Christmas and New Year to deliver within that demanding timeframe. All of the cooperating agencies, AFP, ASIO, AGD and others were incredibly constructive, flexible and hard working. I was proud – but not actually surprised – by what we as a public service were able to deliver when the pressure was on.”

He added, “I think when you are dealing with the security and the safety of Australians, everybody pulls in the same direction and everybody wants to cooperate”.

This work was followed by about eighteen months working on machinery of government changes following the decision to establish the Home Affairs portfolio.  

Allan is described in his Public Service Medal citation as leading such reviews and subsequent changes with unwavering integrity, good humour and a commitment to the best outcomes for Australia.

This ability to adapt to change and thrive on it has been a distinguishing feature of Allan’s career from his early days as a trade negotiator to his work with PM&C. “Leading mixed government and industry delegations to negotiate issues on behalf of the Australian wine industry in locations such as Sonoma, Mendoza, Capetown and our own Barossa Valley, was one of the most enjoyable jobs I have had.

“Trade negotiations and security and intelligence issues are worlds apart. But that’s the exciting about the public service. You can switch lanes and do something completely different if you angle for it.

“And sometimes you don’t have to angle for it, these career changes can just happen to you.”

And, just to emphasise that message of flexibility and opportunity, at the time of writing Allan has transferred to DFAT and is preparing for an assignment overseas. 

According to the accolade recited during his public service medal reception Allan’s style epitomises the sort of leadership that all public servants aspire to, but rarely achieve.

Asked what advice he would give to APS leaders of the future, he suggested, “be open minded to the possibilities that this career can throw up. As my own ‘accidental’ career shows, it can be anything in any area. So work hard, be open to opportunities and they will come to you. That is one of the fantastic things about the public service.

“I guess the other thing is never forget who we are working for. We serve the Government of the day and through them the people. I think as long as we keep that in mind and we are responsive that will be our broad guidance”.

Reflecting on what the Public Service Medal means to him, he said, “when I look back at the things that I have done in leading various teams, I am so proud of those teams. We worked hard on difficult issues and delivered outcomes that actually made a difference to the security of the average Australian.

Receiving this medal is an honour and means that others recognise the efforts of those teams. I wish that I could cut the medal into small pieces and hand it out to the different people within those teams. I don’t think that’s allowed though!”

Last reviewed: 
31 October 2018