After more than three decades in public service, John Isaac is about to retire – but he’s not about to give up serving the public.
John works in the Environment Division in environmental policy and legislation development on a range of issues including climate change, and also on marine pollution incident response.
He is set to retire from his role as Manager of Greenhouse and Ship-sourced pollution on Tuesday 29 January.
He has national and international accreditation in the field of chemical engineering and has spent more than 30 years experience working as a State and Commonwealth public servant.
Among his many hats, John is a qualified chartered chemist, chartered environmentalist, chartered scientist and a chartered engineer.
John completed a degree in Chemistry with Honours at the University of Tasmania in 1970. He was keen to apply his knowledge in industry rather than in the lab and completed a Batchelor in Chemical Engineering with Honours before starting his work with the Queensland State Service in Water Pollution Control.
The Department of Environment was established in Tasmania in 1975 and John was quick to obtain a role within the new division.
"The Environment Department was quite small and had several sections – water, air, and noise, solid waste and environmental impact. Head Office was in a small sandstone cottage in Davey Street and my desk was at Magnet Court in Sandy Bay," he says.
John initiated the first ever prosecution under the then Tasmanian Environment Protection Act 1973 – which resulted in a finding of guilty to the charges laid.
"It was a successful outcome and it showed a positive message – that the legislation was important and would be enforced," he says.
He has subsequently initiated many successful prosecutions under that legislation.
Over the past three decades, John has seen the department’s name change several times and his role has also undergone a lot of variation.
Highlights include work in the early '90s on legislation to encourage industry and state government agencies, as well as the public, to phase out the use of ozone depleting substances. Tasmania was the first state in Australia to introduce ozone protection legislation.
"These substances were found in many different applications including fire protection, air conditioning in buildings like hospitals and office buildings and in an array of other applications, such as the production of foam for furniture manufacture," John says.
"We endeavoured to encourage greater community awareness about the need to replace these chemicals, and in consultation with other agencies we prepared a submission to government to phase out these chemicals in various government buildings."
"Tasmania really led the way in this area, compared to the other states," he says.
Another highlight was his work on the London Dumping Convention which, among several amendments, dealt with the delicate issue of people who wanted to be buried at sea.
He cites the Iron Baron oil spill in the mid-nineties as the most significant incident in Tasmania during his time.
"We learnt a lot from that experience and from the regular training exercises simulating responses to major incidents – such as the national Exercise Van Diemen, which was held in Tasmania in 2006," he says.
John’s roles also include the title of EEO/Workplace harassment contact officer in the Department.
Looking back, he says he has enjoyed his time in public service.
"The public has a legitimate expectation that we will ensure that the environment is protected," he says.
Retirement from the Environment Division does not mean an end to John’s working life.
He is registered with the European Federation of National Engineering Associations in Brussels as a European Engineer and has applied to the Institution of Chemical Engineers to work in terms of assessing university undergraduates training in chemical engineering both nationally and internationally.
He hopes to find out in March this year if he has been successful and then all going well, will be going across to Melbourne for some training himself. John expects a role in assessment could start sometime toward the end of 2008.
"Personally, it is really pleasing to be recognised as an accredited European Engineer. In order to get that recognition, you need to have 20 years experience and all up it has taken 30 years to achieve this goal," he says.