ASPI is delighted to welcome Leanne Close to the organisation, as head of ASPI’s Counter-terrorism Program. Most recently, Leanne was Deputy Commissioner of National Security at the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Leanne has spent much of her career with the AFP, in a variety of areas including counter-terrorism, protection, aviation operations and human resources. In 2016, Leanne was seconded to the Attorney-General’s Department to lead their Criminal Justice Group. From 2015-2019 Leanne was Co-Chair of the Asia-Pacific Group on Money Laundering, the largest Financial Action Task Force (FATF) group in the world. With a wealth of experience, we are delighted to have her onboard and to profile her for WDSN.
Leanne, welcome to ASPI and thanks for chatting with us! Can you tell us about how you first started your career in policing? What inspired you to join the AFP?
When I left school, I really didn’t know what career path I wanted to take. Immediately after Year 12, I worked for the Reserve Bank of Australia in Canberra. I had studied Legal Studies in College and my parents encouraged me to apply for the AFP. It appealed to me as a job that was challenging, I imagined every day would be different and it was about helping people in the community. We also had a family friend who worked for the AFP and encouraged me to apply.
What advice do you have for women who are interested in a career in policing or counter-terrorism?
Policing is a fantastic career choice. I was right – no day is the same as the last. If you are curious and want to get involved in what’s happening in the world – policing is all that and more. The team-work, values and opportunities available to each person are also an important part of the policing experience. Contrary to some police television shows, it isn’t about brute force. Police are trained in self-defence and use of force options for personal safety and protection of others, but the main skills required are sound judgement, strong communication skills, patience, empathy and impartiality. Having a strong value set around integrity and respect for others, as well as a passion to continually learn and adapt, are also important.
Counter-terrorism investigations, as a specialised area of policing, requires similar skills to those above. Being open-minded is important and having an enquiring mind. Some additional challenges for counter-terrorism work include:
- The legal frameworks are extremely complex;
- Every word and action is scrutinised in detail by the judiciary, parliamentary enquiries, media and some of the best defence counsel in Australia;
- The working arrangements through the Joint Counter-Terrorism Teams (a combination of State and Federal police, intel agencies and border force) requires an ability to work with Commonwealth and State legislation and legal frameworks;
- Managing cultural clashes of different organisations coming together; and,
- The perennial prioritisation of finite resources. Although that is balanced by the ability to share resources among agencies, as CT operations are always top priority.
Given your extensive leadership experience, what advice do you have for women who are keen to get into leadership?
Leadership is about putting your team and organisation above your own ego. I enjoyed every leadership role I held because of the ability to shape and influence at each level, to make the workplace a better place for my teams and to provide the best service to the community. Highly effective leadership needs to be balanced by strong management skills. Ensuring the development of your staff; prioritising effort; being accountable for your budget; and developing and tracking plans and strategies are essential ingredients for effective leadership.
My advice is - go for it. Seek out opportunities to lead teams, learn constantly, self-reflect regularly, develop your leadership style by observing others (although often they demonstrate what not to do!). You will grow through experience. Finally, choose a range of trusted mentors and reach out to them for advice, keep your sense of humour and always maintain your integrity and respect for other people.
You recently wrote a chapter on policing for ASPI’s publication ‘After Covid-19: Australia and the world rebuilds’. How can policing best adapt to the ‘new normal’ of Covid-19 and prepare for future crises?
From a policing perspective, there will be a need to broaden the way they plan, lead and collaborate with government, the community and private sector partners. That will involve improved coordinated strategies, training, exercising, as well as assessing logistical arrangements across broader government and external networks.
Rapidly changing policies and laws at the federal, state and territory levels have clearly caused confusion in the community and for police implementing responses. Social isolation and distancing requirements provide good examples. These will need to be assessed, perhaps with a suite of ‘stand-by’ laws ready for activation under certain circumstances, taking into account the lessons learnt from Covid-19.
What books are currently on your bedside table?
I’m currently reading The Lost Man by Jane Harper. I mostly read fiction. Some of my favourite authors are Matthew Reilly, Bryce Courtenay, Thomas Kenneally, Liane Moriarty, John Grisham, Tom Clancy, Wilbur Smith. I also read a lot of crime fiction and am especially enjoying reading great crime thrillers by Australian authors like Jane Harper and Chris Hammer.
My daughter loves historical novels about WWII, so I read a lot of those. My husband is trying to get me to ‘broaden my mind’ with books like the ‘Mathematical Secrets of the Simpsons’. I prefer lighter reading for relaxation, and I plough through a novel every week or two.
Finally, who inspires you?
Lots of people inspire me. I like listening to and observing the things various leaders say and do and analysing why. I’m most inspired by people who are passionate about what they do, show great curiosity, value people they work with and who leave their ego at the door!
Updated: 05 May 2020