- The lure of shaping policy prompted Peter Koit FCA to move to the Australian Taxation Office more than 20 years ago.
- He says thinking about problems from a systems point of view is a major difference between the private and public system.
- CAs with a knack for thinking broadly about issues can thrive in the public sector, Koit says.
By Jessica Sier
“When I arrived in the public sector, working with not-for-profits was the first really dramatic eye-opener,” says Peter Koit FCA, an assistant commissioner in the Private Wealth division of the Australian Taxation Office (ATO).
It was when he realised that his decision on a tax implication for a large Australian charity would affect all their projects – and the people relying on them – that he understood the importance of his work at the ATO.
An incorrect conclusion would make it difficult for not-for-profits to attract donations, and would flow on to all their other activities as well as to any other charities in the sector.
“That sort of sums up a public organisation like the ATO. You feel responsible for big things and you can see your impact on the wider community,” he says.
“You feel responsible for big things and you can see your impact on the wider community.”
The lure of shaping policy
Picture: Peter Koit FCA.
After studying for a commerce/law degree at the University of Queensland in Brisbane (he later finished his law studies at the University of Sydney), Koit initially went to work for a professional services firm. But the lure of shaping policy prompted him to transfer his skills to the public sector, and he moved to the ATO more than 20 years ago.
“Straight away I was working on big things, and began to see the organisation as a custodian of the system,” he says.
“Straight away I was working on big things, and began to see the organisation as a custodian of the system.”
“Thinking about problems from a systems point of view is a major difference between the private and public system,” he explains.
He makes an analogy with visiting a doctor. “A doctor can either try to cure your symptoms in a one-off, or apply a systemic solution where they look at why the infection occurred and how they can prevent it happening again,” he says.
Taking a broader view is essential
While his legal background has been useful and gives young professionals a good place to start, Koit says it’s by no means necessary in getting you to the finishing line.
Instead, those accountants with a knack for thinking broadly, while still maintaining a meticulous practice, will find they can thrive in the public sector.
“By the time problems reach the ATO, they are generally really complex and their importance is significant,” he says. “But the whole organisation understands your decisions will have consequences, so it will throw all its support behind you. That’s a great environment to test your skills.”
Forget the bureaucratic stereotype
While the significance of the public sector’s influence is profound, Koit understands the bureaucratic stereotype still lingers.
“All large organisations have risk controls in place, and some decisions need to be carefully plotted out,” he says. “You’ll find that in large private sector firms as well.”
But the public sector encourages a very active decision-making process, he says, as even inaction can have profound results.
“If you’re facing a large crisis, there are consequences if you jump left or jump right. And there are consequences if you don’t jump at all. So we need to keep things moving because whole sections of society are sometimes waiting for us to act.”
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