Stewards on the Couch – International Women’s Day Event 2023


The 8th March is an important date in the international event calendar – International Women’s Day (IWD). IPAA Queensland, in collaboration with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), was delighted to present a unique event that celebrated this day by showcasing three impressive and innovative public sector leaders and stewards, building on the success of our Stewards on the Couch format.

Our stewards are known for their success as leaders and as thought leaders in their fields. This diverse panel brought together senior stewards from across different government tiers and sectors to take the couch for a candid and thought-provoking discussion about leadership, career journeys, challenges, overcoming barriers, catalysing change, and leading with courage and authenticity.

We were privileged to present our inaugural International Women’s Day Stewards:

  • Deidre Mulkerin – Director-General, Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs
  • Sonia Cooper – Chief Executive Officer, Ipswich City Council
  • Michelle Lees – Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Services Australia


We were honoured to have our Patron, Her Excellency the Honourable Dr Jeannette Young AC PSM, Governor of Queensland, officially open our inaugural International Women’s Day event.

Dr Linda Colley set the scene for the panel discussion drawing on her insights as Queensland’s first Special Commissioner, Equity and Diversity, appointed in late 2021. The panel discussion, convened by Professor Catherine Althaus delved into personal journeys and reflections and inspirations, from the panel’s combined wealth of experience in innovating and changemaking. This was followed by an audience Q&A with the panellists and Dr Colley.

IPAA Members can also view the full recording on their member portal now! Not a member? 



Deidre Mulkerin
Director-General, Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs

Deidre Mulkerin is the Director-General of the Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs (DCYJMA), a role she has held since February 2020. Prior to taking up this role she was Deputy Secretary, People and Culture, Department of Education, New South Wales, responsible for driving workforce reform, workplace safety and leadership.

Deidre has a wealth of experience in the child protection and juvenile justice sectors. Earlier in her career she worked in frontline roles in these areas and managed regional operations across human services. She also led state-wide reform initiatives for both the Queensland and New South Wales governments.

Since 2004, Deidre has held numerous senior executive roles responsible for statutory child protection, juvenile justice, housing, homelessness, and domestic and family violence prevention, including as Deputy Secretary, Commissioning, for the New South Wales human service government agency, Family and Community Services. In this role, Deidre was responsible for ensuring decisions about how services were delivered, monitored and improved and that the focus of delivery was guided by client outcomes and robust evidence and data.

In addition to her senior executive and leadership experience, Deidre has provided evidence at several Commissions of Inquiry, including the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Her strengths in policy development and delivery were demonstrated through her leadership of the New South Wales Premier’s priorities of Protecting Our Kids and Reducing Youth Homelessness.

As an inaugural participant in the New South Wales Public Service Commission’s Leadership Academy, Deidre has been recognised as an outstanding public sector leader.

Sonia Cooper
Chief Executive Officer, Ipswich City Council

Sonia Cooper is a senior executive with experience in a range of roles in public and private organisations over the past three decades.

During her career so far, Sonia has provided leadership in establishing new organisations, leading organisations through crises, providing change leadership through a merger and acquisition process and major strategy, governance, performance, corporate, people and change initiatives.

Sonia has developed key capabilities in organisational leadership, strategy, governance, strategic risk management, corporate services, ICT, procurement, stakeholder engagement and performance.

Sonia took on the role of CEO of Ipswich City Council in April 2021 and is leading the organisation to deliver on its ambitious five-year corporate plan and re-build the trust of the workforce and the Ipswich community.

Sonia holds a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Business and is currently completing a Master of Business Administration. Sonia is a graduate and member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Passionate about working with people and partners across all sectors and industry, Sonia is committed to making a positive difference to the lives and wellbeing of the people and community of Ipswich.

Michelle Lees
Deputy Chief Executive Officer, Services Australia

Michelle is currently the Deputy Chief Executive Officer for Payments and Integrity within Services Australia, where she is responsible for protecting the integrity of government outlays for social welfare and

Medicare, administering the agency’s fraud and compliance risk programs, and managing debt recovery and appeal processes. Michelle is also responsible for the Service Delivery Faculty, as well as delivering the agency’s enterprise business process, staff guidance, and quality functions.

Michelle has over 37 years’ experience in health and welfare service delivery within the Australian Public Service (APS), including working at the Senior Executive level since 2007. Michelle has undertaken a variety of roles throughout her career, primarily involved with direct customer servicing, and leading and managing service delivery operations at the regional, state and national levels. This has included having responsibility for developing national servicing strategies for citizens with particular vulnerabilities or complex personal circumstances.

Michelle’s extensive experience in project and programme management has included delivering key national service delivery improvement initiatives. Michelle also has over 20 years’ experience in leading Australian Government responses to regional, state, national and international emergencies and other critical events.

In late 2021, Michelle was the lead for the Services Australia Vaccination Certificate Delivery Taskforce, responsible for facilitating access to the Australian Government proof of vaccination and working with providers and states/territories to maintain the Australian Immunisation Register.

In early March 2022, Michelle moved into the role of Emergency Response Recovery Director, responsible for rapidly scaling the on the ground response to flood impacted locations across south-east Queensland and New South Wales after the February 2022 floods. In early April 2022, Michelle also took on the role of Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) Operational Support Coordinator, and was responsible for the operational delivery of the secure telephone voting service for COVID-19 impacted electors on behalf of the AEC during the 2022 Federal Election.

Michelle completed her Executive Master of Public Administration with the Australia and New Zealand School of Government in November 2014. In January 2023, Michelle became a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Since December 2015, Michelle has been one of the APS Indigenous Champions, and has had a particular focus on better supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS employees in regional locations.

Dr Linda Colley
Special Commissioner, Equity and Diversity, Public Service Commission

Dr. Linda Colley is Queensland’s first Special Commissioner, Equity and Diversity, appointed in late 2021.

Dr. Colley is a former Professor at Central Queensland University, former Chair of the Queensland Work Health and Safety Board and has worked in the public, tertiary,

and finance sectors. She is an accomplished qualitative researcher with skills in policy and policy analysis as well as completing extensive research across all Australian jurisdictions in gender, public sector management, and employment policy and practice.

As Special Commissioner, Dr. Colley’s first year will focus on gender-based disparities and supporting the Queensland Government’s commitment to providing equal access to rewarding careers in safe and supportive workplaces for women.



Professor Catherine Althaus

Deputy Dean (Teaching and Learning) at the Australia and New Zealand School of Government

Professor Catherine Althaus is the ANZSOG Chair of Public Service Leadership and Reform at the University of New South Wales in Canberra and Deputy Dean (Teaching and Learning) at the Australia and New Zealand School of Government. She was previously Director of the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, post-doctoral fellow at the Australian National University and held policy posts as a practitioner in the Queensland government.

Her academic training is in economics, politics and public policy and she specialises in working with First Peoples communities across Canada, Australia, Aotearoa-New Zealand and South Africa focusing on the leadership contributions of Indigenous public servants and opportunities to learn from and enact Indigenous ways of knowing and being in policymaking. Her recent co-authored book Leading from Between: Indigenous Participation and Leadership in the Public Service is the first international comparative volume centering the voices, stories and insights of Canadian and Australian Indigenous public servants.

She is co-author of the popular textbook The Australian Policy Handbook, former editor of the Australian Journal of Public Administration, an IPAA Victoria Fellow, a University Medallist, an award-winning researcher, and an Australia Day Medallion winner for service to the Queensland Treasury department. She is Co-Director of the ANZSOG Executive Fellows Program, and teaches into programs with the Australian War College, Australian Department of Defence and Government of Samoa officials, and conducts senior delegations to Aotearoa-New Zealand and publishes on reform agendas associated with Indigenous public administration. Catherine is an Adjunct Professor with the University of Victoria, Canada and Griffith University and was recently appointed an Extraordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria. She is also an Honorary Member of the South Asian Network for Public Administration (SANPA).



The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG)

The Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) is a global leader in education and government-focused research relevant to the public sector. ANZSOG was created in 2002 by government, for government, with the active collaboration of our partner universities. As a not-for-profit organisation with offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra, Brisbane and Wellington, ANZSOG is uniquely placed to support our government members.

ANZSOG has a unique role in providing education and development opportunities for people in the public sector, and a unique mission to create public value by lifting the quality of public sector leadership in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand. Developing strategic leadership skills in public sector managers requires a different educational framework to those applying to private sector managers. While business schools teach how to create shareholder value, ANZSOG’s mission is to help public sector managers learn how to create public value.