Woman Fagan, Audrey


Police officer

Written by Susan Harwood, Susan Harwood and Associates Quality Consultancy Services; Australasian Council of Women and Policing and Helen McDermott, Australasian Council of Women and Policing

By all accounts Assistant Commissioner Audrey Fagan did not adopt masculinist models of leadership retaining her femininity and acknowledging her difference as a woman in her rise to the top of the policing hierarchy in the ACT. In so doing she demonstrated an inclusive style of leadership distinctly different from subscribers to the "men's club". How did she do this? Some clues can be garnered from the profile that follows, the details of which are gleaned from the various articles, obituaries and speeches that followed Audrey Fagan's untimely and tragic death in 2007. As will be revealed Audrey Fagan was a well-educated, motivated and thoughtful leader who spent time and energy empowering those around her (Fleming 2007, p. 4).

In 1980, at the age of eighteen, Audrey Fagan joined the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and began her policing career 'on the beat', working her way through the ranks while tackling the masculine culture of her chosen profession. She spent the first five years of her career in Canberra in the AFP's community policing function in the Australian Capital Territory, starting on the beat and spending some of this period in the areas of juvenile crime and fraud. Audrey then spent two years working on Christmas Island. By all accounts she was a committed and highly accomplished officer, working her way across the range of functions in the AFP including investigator training and investigating internal corruption; she also served as a liaison officer to government.

Over a period of 26 years Audrey Fagan embarked on career path that included a range of challenging areas including the fraud squad, juvenile justice, general crime investigation, policy development, and political liaison. While building her career path Audrey furthered her education, gaining a Bachelor of Science from the Australian National University, as well as a Graduate Certificate in Applied Management and a Graduate Diploma in Executive Leadership from the Australian Institute of Police Management. She sat on many boards and committees, making a valuable contribution to many facets of policing. During this same period she became a mother and step-mother.

Fagan had also earned a reputation for her work in helping to prosecute sexual assault cases. In the mid 1990's she was hand-picked to work with the then up-and-coming Mick Keelty on an internal investigation into sexual harassment in ACT Policing. While the outcome of that investigation was the dismissal of 13 police officers from the AFP, the two women who initiated the complaints were also victimised by the investigative process. Being part of this high profile investigation gave Audrey prominence within the AFP and probably contributed to her steady promotions afterwards; she also gained first-hand experience of how women in policing walk a difficult blue line.

By the late 1990s her skills and experience were being recognized and she was appointed to the position of Chief of Staff for Mick Keelty, now AFP Commissioner. Later she was executive director of Protection, overseeing the integration of the Australian Protective Service into the AFP. Audrey's management style was to be risk-adverse and she was as concerned with the detail as she was with the overall vision. During her rise to the top it is evident that Audrey also supported and mentored women behind her. The Australian Police Medal she received in 2004 was awarded not only for her contribution to Australia's counterterrorism effort but also for her work in enhancing and promoting the role of women in law enforcement.

In 2005, 25 years after arriving in Canberra Audrey Fagan was appointed as the national capital's chief police officer, at the same time fulfilling the role of an assistant commissioner of the Australian Federal Police (which contracts its services to the ACT). She was only the second woman (after Victoria's Chief Commissioner, Christine Nixon) to be placed in charge of a policing jurisdiction. In this role Audrey was active in the Canberra community. She was often a speaker at women's forums, breakfasts and events around Canberra and within the policing community. She took her leadership role as a senior woman in policing seriously and contributed to events for women in policing and was a guest speaker at a number of the US-based National Center for Women and Policing's annual leadership conferences.

Audrey was always supportive of organisations such as ACWAP, participating in conferences and contributing or supporting others to participate whenever possible. In the year that she was promoted to her new role Fagan delivered the keynote address to the ACWAP Women and Policing conference in Darwin; delegates recall that Audrey's presence generated palpable excitement amongst her audience. A number of women police were from surrounding Pacific Island countries and like many of their Australian counterparts had not previously experienced a woman police leader. The paper she delivered demonstrates much about her style of leadership. Stepping outside the culture she knew best, Audrey moved her audience beyond women in policing to make specific reference to a number of women leaders whom she admired. Given the dearth of women police leaders, this was both a clever and educative tactic. One of those Audrey named was the (now) recently released Aung San Suu Kyi, whom Audrey described then as epitomising 'the perseverance, self-knowledge, and inspirational qualities which define great leadership'.

Tragically - for Audrey, her family, her friends, the Canberra community and policing in Australasia - the ACT's first woman Police Chief Officer paid the ultimate price and did not survive the complex challenges of her working environment, ending her life on 20 April 2007 in the context of an attack on her professional competence by the local media. Stunned by Fagan's premature death, ACWAP members decided to honour the leadership contribution that this exceptional woman made to women and policing through the Audrey Fagan Memorial Award. The Award celebrates the life, achievements, community policing work, support of women and the importance of continuing education and qualifications to which the late Audrey Fagan was committed.

The Canberra community also recognised Audrey's contribution with the ACT establishing several scholarships in Audrey's name:(a) the Audrey Fagan Post-Graduate Scholarship, which provides $20,000 to encourage women from the ACT to further their studies and professional development in the areas of law enforcement, care and protection or professional support services for women who are victims of violence, and to encourage the retention of skills within the ACT community; (b) the ACT Government Audrey Fagan Churchill Fellowship, an annual $30,000 fellowship available to women pursing an overseas investigative project in areas related to law enforcement, care and protection, or professional support services for women who are victims of violence; and © the Audrey Fagan Young Women's Enrichment Grants which provide young women up to $2,000 with an opportunity to further their interests and to participate in a mentoring relationship (ACT Government).

These are very tangible and appropriate tributes to the memory of Audrey Fagan; however, the impact of her unexpected and untimely death still resonates today among women in policing and particularly women in the AFP. There is still a great deal of sadness and sense of loss amongst all those who knew and loved her; at the same time ACWAP recognizes that it is crucial that we continue to acknowledge, celebrate and record the achievements of this outstanding leader who worked tirelessly for her community. The inclusion of Audrey Fagan's biography amongst a group of other remarkable Australian women will ensure a further and long-lasting record of her great contribution as a woman leader in twentieth-century Australia.

Published Resources

Book Sections

  • Harwood, Susan and McDermott, Helen, 'Audrey Ann Fagan (1962-2007): The High Cost for Women Leaders in Policing', in Davis, Fiona, Musgrove, Nell and Smart, Judith (eds), Founders, Firsts and Feminists: Women Leaders in Twentieth-Century Australia, The University of Melbourne: eScholarship Research Centre, Melbourne, Victoria, 2011, pp. 188-204. http://www.womenaustralia.info/leaders/fff/pdfs/fagan.pdf. Details

Journal Articles

  • Fleming, Jenny, 'Obituary', The Journal for Women and Policing, no. 20, 2007, p. 4. Details

Online Resources