"The fact we are undergoing major operational changes in transport means we need to leverage diversity if we are to deliver these big initiatives."
Alison Playford has over 30 years’ experience in both the Commonwealth and ACT Government public sectors. She has held a range of positions in the Department of Finance, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Attorney General’s Department. These included the areas of native title, indigenous litigation, family law, administrative law, federal courts and tribunals.
Since 2010, Alison was in the ACT Justice and Community Safety Directorate and as the Director-General since 2014. The Directorate is responsible for justice administration, protection of rights and law reform, law enforcement, business regulation and emergency services.
In May 2019 Alison commenced in the role of Director-General, Transport Canberra and City Services (TCCS), a diverse Directorate delivering essential services to Canberrans.
City Services delivers a range of services including public libraries, the collection of recycling and waste, graffiti removal, shop and playground upgrades and grass mowing. It is responsible for the management of urban trees, public open spaces and city places including maintenance of shops, domestic animal services, animal welfare and other licensing and compliance services including ranger services and permits for public land use. City Services also manages roads, footpaths, street lights and cycle paths.
Transport Canberra manages Canberra’s public transport system. It ensures that buses and light rail are integrated with each other, and with other forms of transport including taxis and active travel elements such as cycling, walking and escooters.
The Directorate manages a number of ACT Government businesses such as Capital Linen Service and Yarralumla Nursery and provides administrative oversight to the ACT Public Cemeteries Authority.
I started my career in transport in May 2019 after light rail commenced in Canberra. I came to transport from a long career in justice and my first goal was to better integrate the City Services part of my Directorate with Transport Canberra to better deliver movement, places and spaces.
I was attracted to transport and city services because I love systems and logistics and wanted new challenges. It was extremely relevant to me having lived in Canberra for 30 years. I felt I could bring my leadership skills and make a difference in my community. It is about working with solutions you can see, touch, and feel. I still drive around, looking at different things in the community and asking the ‘why’ questions.
When I came into my role, I was really impressed by the calibre of staff and the complexity of their work.
During COVID our Directorate played a key support role across government and to community services.
In my organisation, women are relatively well represented at senior levels but definitely under-represented in our operational areas. When you look at front line staff, including our bus drivers and mechanics, there are very small numbers of women. We need to improve workplace culture and value that our workforce must represent the community it serves. Cultural change takes at least five years. The challenges I am seeing in transport are the similar to those in justice and emergency services.
Going forward, we need to take a different approach to how we recruit and retain staff. This will mean we will need to provide support programs and training.
We are going through a massive workforce change with the transition to zero emissions. We need people with a whole new set of skills. We are readying to open a new depot, and this provides an opportunity to run it differently to the past and build diversity in management.
My advice to women considering a new industry or role is to go for it and don’t limit yourself in what you think you can do. Put your hand up, take more risks and don’t underestimate your ability to learn about a subject. I am a role model as a generic leader rather than a subject expert. I say - rely on your innate skills of leadership, strategic thinking and communication which are core to being good in any job.
Fifteen years ago, I would never have thought I would be doing the role I am doing now. However, working in the public service opens your eyes to the fact you can work on a whole lot of subject areas without starting as the expert. What is important is your capacity to learn.
…a diverse industry, making significant change and operating a far more climate friendly industry.