ANZSOG helps Phillip Brooks change the lives of at-risk youth

Image of ANZSOG alumni Phillip Brooks
  • Published Date: 23 November 2021

ANZSOG Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) alumni Phillip Brooks has made the journey from a teenager who grew up in social housing in Townsville, to a senior public servant in Queensland tasked with reducing youth offending and turning lives around.

He said that his life and work showed the importance of public services, and their ability to make a difference in individual lives.

Mr Brooks works in youth justice in Queensland, as the Deputy Director-General/Chief Operating Officer Service Delivery (Youth Justice Specialist), an SES4 role which sees him look after just under 1800 FTE staff, operating budget of $290 Million with 26 service centres, three youth detention centres, as well as various state-wide services in youth justice and has eight SES3s reporting to him for Youth Justice Service delivery.

“It is an absolute privilege to be working in the Queensland public service and to be making change for the most vulnerable families in the state, and to have a positive impact on their lives,” he said.

He said he was a proud Bidjara man who grew up in Townsville, and had been taught by his mother that Aboriginality was something to be proud of, and that Aboriginal people could strive for excellence and that ’the person that stops you is yourself’.

“When I grew up I had the characteristics of a young person who touches the youth justice system: I grew up with a single mother, lived in Housing Commission house in Townsville, large family and I am also Aboriginal.”

“I didn’t go that way, which was largely because I had someone – my mother – who believed in me, but also because of the government programs that were available,” he said.

“There was an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander homework and tutoring program in Townsville – I’m actually not sure if it was a state or federal government program – but it was after school, they engaged you in physical activities, gave you some healthy food, then assisted with homework and tutoring. It made a huge difference for me because it enabled me to keep up with my class and gave me some confidence.

“Everyone in my position needs someone to believe in them, for me it was my mother, but for other young people it may be a teacher or a public servant.”

“A lot of the time in the public service we can forget about the humanity, and the human side to programs. We think about the policy levers and the things we can do, but we always need to bring it back to the people whose lives we are trying to change. We need to look at the recipients not the programs.”

Changing lives to keep the community safe

Mr Brooks started his career as an officer in the Queensland Police Service and said that one of the most valuable lessons he had learned there was to ‘tell the truth – about why you’re there, what your expectations are and what is in your remit to change’.

His move to youth justice has allowed him to focus on young offenders and deliver public value by reducing reoffending and offering them new paths in life

“When I came to youth justice there was an attitude that we were there to enforce detention orders, while that is still very much part of our role, ultimately the value is in stopping people from reoffending and changing the lives of young people. The number one priority is community safety but we do that by stopping people reoffending.”

An ANZSOG EMPA has helped Mr Brooks by giving him frameworks to think issues through and also provided him with ‘the confidence to talk about policy and policy issues – even though I’m not from a policy or legislative background’.

He said that many of the frameworks offered by the EMPA had helped him to understand his own leadership style, and to focus on the value he was trying to deliver.

“The biggest one was the ability to reflect and how important it is for leaders– and that’s a skill that I’m still trying to work on. There was also the discussion about how we deal with consistent change, and how do we communicate that, how do we lead with a purpose?,” he said.

“The public value framework and the strategic triangle, gave me a framework to understand how others viewed the public service, and shows why we exist – in my area it’s not about management of orders but about reducing reoffending and changing the trajectory for young people.”

He said his leadership style was ‘definitely democratic, I make decisions by engaging and getting different advice and opinions. I’ve got no problem with making decisions but I also like to get counsel’.

He said that, as an Indigenous leader, he responded to the ‘Generic Indigenous Leadership Model’ by ANZSOG Professor Catherine Althaus and Griffith University’s Professor Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh in their book Leading From Between –– that brings together components such as traditional teachings, individual styles and traits of people, continuous learning and the ability to transfer skills onto others.

Collaborating to reduce reoffending

Mr Brooks said his proudest achievement was being part of the Department’s first ‘Action Plan’ which ran from 2019-2021 and was about ‘changing the story’ and the way the department worked with young offenders and communities and delivered services.

“The number of offenders dropped by 17 per cent, and in the last financial year 94.9 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 10-17 year olds in Queensland did not touch the youth justice system,” he said.

Youth Justice deals with at risk children who are often also involved with other government agencies and NGOs and Mr Brooks said that public sector leaders needed to be able to collaborate to make sure that services met the needs of recipients.

“It’s about relationships, relationships, relationships,” he said.

“Each year I meet with 64 stakeholders, oversight bodies, legal bodies, magistrates, peak bodies, and NGOs. The key is to have these great relationships which are based on respect and understanding so that when change happens and that policy window opens, you can all go through it on a shared journey.”

He said that he had been involved in other initiatives to bring decision-making as close as possible to the people affected, such as the Family Led Decision Making initiative which allowed families to have input into services and bring different service providers for the same family together into decision-making.

As a senior Aboriginal public sector leader Mr Brooks says he is aware of the challenges of walking in two worlds and remaining accountable to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and its expectations, but he believes that recent programs in the Queensland Public Service to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in senior leadership roles, had made this easier.

“I’m happy to be one of a growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in senior SES roles, who are not necessarily in Indigenous Affairs. This is something that is being driven by the Public Service Commissioner and means that we’ve gone from a small number Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander SES in Queensland in 2011, to a high number across all levels.

“I’ve been blessed with the opportunities that I’ve had because of people who provide me with opportunities. I have to carry the accountability and expectations of the community, and the ability of myself in this position to make things better, but I have the ability to navigate government and do things in a collaborative way.”

He said that his passion for his work remained, and that he wanted to continue to make a difference to young people at risk of reoffending.

“I want to see more young people who touch the youth justice system get to the point of readiness for change, and for our staff to provide those therapeutic interventions that I know can help them change,” he said,

Mr Brooks said the EMPA would be a great asset for any public servant who wanted to prepare themselves for a senior role or improve their leadership skills and understanding of the public sector.

“I would say if you are thinking of doing it, do it. Is it hard work? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. You get a blend of skills, academics and public-sector specific content that is all high quality. There was not a single day of the program that I couldn’t apply to my current work or relate to my current issues at work.

“It’ll help you reach your goals and provide the tools and networks to enable you to be successful.”


Find out more about ANZSOG’s Foundation Programs

Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA)

A part-time postgraduate qualification developed and delivered by ANZSOG exclusively for high-performing public sector managers.

Executive Fellows Program (EFP)

A program that challenges senior public service executives working in the public domain to develop new leadership perspectives in a contemporary and highly interactive setting. 

Towards Strategic Leadership (TSL)

A unique program that helps public service leaders develop the qualities needed to thrive in a senior executive role: a strategic outlook, political astuteness, personal resilience and the ability to reflect and learn continuously.