During this insight interview, long-standing public servant, Kym Bills shared insights about his career journey, challenges and lessons learned in the public service. Kym also explains what initially attracted him to working with public policy and some of the pivotal moments that shaped his career.

The Highlights

  • 🌍 Kym Bills discusses his attraction to public policy and international relations from his early career in foreign affairs.
  • 💼 Kym reflects on the challenges he faced, including ethical dilemmas and pressures from superiors, showcasing the importance of sticking to his values.
  • 👥 He emphasizes the significance of networking, building relationships of trust, and treating all roles and colleagues with respect.
  • 📚 Continuous learning is a key theme in Kym’s journey, as he immersed herself in literature and embraced opportunities to develop new expertise.
  • 🌟 Kym discusses the variety and stimulating nature of the public service sector, highlighting its importance and value in serving society.
  • 👩‍🏫 He offers advice to newcomers, underlining the importance of learning from any role, the value of mentoring, and the adaptability of public service skills beyond retirement.
  • 🎙️ Kym suggests broader mentoring programs outside of departments and emphasizes the applicability of public service skills in volunteering and serving society post-retirement.

With over 42 years of working experience to reflect on let’s get straight to Kym’s responses to our questions….

How did you begin your career in the public sector?

Kym’s career in public service started in 1977 while he was still studying at university. After passing the clerical exams Kym started his first role in the Australian Taxation Office in Adelaide. However, his passion for international relations quickly led to a period working in Foreign Affairs in Canberra and overseas. With his academic background, Kym then entered full time academia as an economics lecturer at Deakin University. His passion for hands-on-policy though, soon demanded that he get back into public service in Canberra, first at the Office of National Assessments, then in immigration and refugee policy, finance and a long period in transport. Along the way he took time out to work for several political leaders in Canberra and Adelaide.


What aspects of working in the public sector have helped you maintain your passion for public service?

Kym shares that the variety of roles, opportunities for learning and development, networking and making connections, and contributing to the public good have all helped him maintain his passion for public service over the years.

You just shouldn’t underestimate the values in the service and the importance of Public Service – I mean it’s incredibly important, it’s a huge bedrock for everyone.  And secondly whatever role you’re in I think it’s really important to try and make the most of it”. – Kym Bills


How did you handle challenging ethical dilemmas?

Kym explains that he was faced with several very challenging ethical situations in his career. There were three key ways to respond in these situations. Kym shared:

  • Maintaining integrity by staying true to values and principles.
  • Seeking to defuse issues where possible through discussion, evidence and logic.
  • Applying courage and conviction to speak out and resist pressure to take actions that he believed were unethical or even illegal.

Kym feels that it’s essential to uphold strong ethical standards and make decisions aligned with the best interests of the public.


What was one of the most exciting things you did in your public service career?

Kym reflects that one of the most exciting opportunities he had in the service came when he was 35 years old. He was appointed to head a delegation to the International Maritime Organisation in London to argue for a new regime under the UN Law of the Sea involving ‘archipelagic sealanes’. At the time this was a momentous decision to enable ships and aircraft, both commercial and defence, to transit designated lanes in archipelagos unhindered. The intense negotiation involved the US, Indonesia and a number of other countries and as Kym noted, was incredibly challenging – but the payoff for our long-term national interest was incredibly valuable. For Kym, setting up the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and leading it for the decade to 2009 was always exciting and a great privilege.


What advice do you have for newcomers in the public sector regarding career growth, networking, and adapting to changing circumstances?

Kym shares some essential advice for people new to the public service. Kym emphasises the importance of prioritising continuous learning and seeking opportunities to develop new skills. Secondly, to build a strong professional network both within and outside your department to gain diverse perspectives and support. Lastly, being adaptable to changing situations, stay open to new challenges, and demonstrate your problem-solving abilities. He reminds us that just as he saw in his own career the public sector offers a huge variety of experiences.

Leading on from this Kym also highlighted some important takeaways for more experienced public servants. He emphasised how vital it is to reach out to others for support as a manager and that giving back to the profession is something everyone should consider once they reach a certain career stage, for himthe opportunity to Mentor other people is precious”.


What would you like to share with other retired public servants or those close to retirement?

Reflecting on this Kym explains that he can see enormous benefit in putting the skills, experience and values of retired public servants into supporting volunteer roles. The skills you learn in the public service are really adaptable to other things” Kym shares, speaking from personal experience that many public servants are looking for ways to continue serving society beyond the workplace.


On behalf of the IPAA SA Divisional Council, we would like to thank Kym for sharing his insights with the IPAA SA Community and for his many positive contributions and commitment to making a difference. If you would like to be involved in a future IPAA SA Insight Article, you can nominate or suggest a topic here.






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