Speech by RIRDC Chair, Prof. Daniela Stehlik - 2015 RIRDC Rural Women's Award 11 Sep 2015

Speech given by RIRDC Chair, Prof. Daniela Stehlik

2015 Rural Women's Award Dinner

Wednesday, September 9th, 2015

Parliament House, Canberra

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Good evening.

I would like to formally welcome:

- The Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce
- The Assistant Minister for Health, Fiona Nash – representing the Prime Minister
- The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Agriculture, Richard Colbeck
- The Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon
- and all their Parliamentary Colleagues to tonight’s celebration.

Welcome Everyone.

Thank you all for joining us on this important and exciting occasion – I know that many of you have come long distances to be here – and can I extend a particularly warm welcome to our Award Alumni. 

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Minister, in your message to us this evening, you touch on the fact that for a long time in rural Australia’s history, women were referred to as ‘silent partners’.

I am a great believer in the way in which our past continues to shape our present, and this evening, as we celebrate the leadership of our rural women, I want to take up this theme a little further.

‘Why does a rural R&D Corporation support a Women’s Award?’ I was once asked by one of our stakeholders. I took this to be a genuine question. It is one that I am sure that many of you here tonight have perhaps also considered. 

Apart from the more obvious point that RIRDC has as its mandate the development of human capital within our rural industries, the Rural Women’s Award is something unique.

To my knowledge, there is no similar Award internationally which is based within an R&D Corporation, sponsored by federal and state governments, and by private industry, including one of our ‘big four’ banks, and our national broadcaster.

What a unique partnership the Rural Women’s Award is – and one that has held together for over two decades. 

But within a R&D Corporation?

This is where the ‘silent majority’ idea needs to be explored a little further.

Tonight you will hear from our state winners about their projects – their vision and plans for their industries and their communities – and they will truly excite you.

Multiply these by the number of our Alumni over the past two decades and you will get a sense of the energy and innovation that lies at the heart of the Award. 

However, these are only those that are visible – there are many, many rural women across this country that are working hard for their industries and communities and that are not here this evening. 

They remain the ‘silent majority’ and all of us here tonight have a responsibility to ensure that their work is not invisible, and that their contribution to the nation is recognised and supported.

Recently, I had occasion to return to a book written over a 100 years ago by an American woman who visited and lived in Australia over the 20 years when the colonies became Federated. 

Her name was Jessie Ackermann and in 1913, in celebration of the silent majority, she wrote as follows:

No words can express the part that [rural] women have taken in the settlement of Australia. They should have place in the new Hall of Fame. Their names should be written large in the history of their country [but] they never will be. It is not the custom. 

100 years later, we can say – our Rural Women’s Award is doing  its part to ensure that such names are written large. 

My reflection this evening to you all is this: we all need to celebrate and recognise the role that all women play in continuing to support and innovate in rural Australia, not just this evening, but wherever we gather: to plan policy, to propose programs, to invest in our industries, to recruit our leaders, to build capacity. 

And in conserving our Award within RIRDC, and within its unique partnership, we send a powerful message about the value and importance of women’s contribution to the nation’s knowledge, to its industries and to the health and wellbeing of its communities. 

* * *

This year celebrates the 21st anniversary of the Rural Women’s Award. Being 21 is a terrific achievement. Being 21 means you have survived adolescence and all the trials and tribulations of ‘growing up’ and now…the future beckons! 

The strength of our Award lies in its recognition of the leadership of rural women and in continuing to support and encourage rural industries to better value and utilise the contribution of women to these industries and the communities they rely on. 

Over the past years, this has been achieved with the continued support and encouragement of our valued Sponsors, and the State Government agencies that support their state winners. 

As part of our continuous improvement planning for all our investments, this year we have undertaken a refresh of the Award and from 2016, we propose to focus strongly on leadership by undertaking a dedicated three day leadership and networking workshop in Canberra, during which State winners will develop their individual leadership plans, which will also include the further development of their project concepts. 

We will provide the necessary support and mentoring essential for project success.

To achieve this, we are calling on our agriculture sector partners to become involved in the nominations process, and to more proactively share the women’s profiles with industry leaders. 

In our current consultations around our next Corporate Plan, we will be inviting all our stakeholders, and indeed, all of you here tonight, to become more involved in the Award process. 

Together, we can all work to ensure that the Award continues for at least another 21 years! 

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Ladies and Gentlemen. This is the fifth year that I have had the privilege of hosting this Award evening. This is also my final dinner as Chair of RIRDC as my term expires in July next year. 

With your indulgence I want to use this opportunity to extend my warm thanks to the many people, here tonight and elsewhere, that have made this experience truly memorable. 

I particularly want to recognise all the Directors of the three RIRDC Boards that I have chaired – many of you are here this evening – thank you all so much for your enthusiasm, your support and your commitment to RIRDC and to rural Australia.

I want to publically thank our dedicated staff at RIRDC. Many of you will be aware that the Minister has advised us of his interest that we move the Corporation to a regional centre. This has been the subject of much discussion at the Board level, and has meant some uncertainty for our staff. Their continued professionalism and loyalty to the Corporation during this period has been exemplary. Thank you all very much.

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The relationship between the Chair of a Board and its Managing Director should be one of partnership and mutual trust. Tonight I want to recognise that partnership and RIRDC’s Managing Director: Craig Burns.

Craig Burns joined RIRDC from the Department of Agriculture a few months after I became Chair. 

Craig’s leadership of the Corporation and his dedication to rural Australia and to public service for the nation, to this point, has been remarkable. He is a leader who encourages, supports, guides and makes a difficult task look easy. 

I personally value his quiet common sense and his wicked sense of humour. You may not know that since I returned to Canberra in 2012, Craig and I have met, pretty much every week, to have a cup of coffee and talk over things. As Chair, I value his advice, and his professionalism. For him, tonight’s dinner is also his last in his current role, but it will be very exciting to follow his future ventures. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, please join me in thanking Craig for his service to RIRDC and to wish him every success in his new ventures.

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In conclusion, I thank the Award’s Platinum Sponsor, Westpac Agribusiness: the Award’s media partners, ABC Radio, Fairfax Agricultural Media, and RM Williams Outback magazine – and our national partner, the Federal Department of Agriculture.

Your financial and in-kind assistance of this Award is critical, and on behalf of us all, I thank you for your support.

I would also like to again acknowledge the continued support of the state government departments who do such a great job in coordinating the state-based Awards. I had much pleasure in joining many of you in this year’s selection process, and it was a terrific experience.

Finally, on behalf of the Board and staff of RIRDC, congratulations to each of our finalists. You are truly inspirational and your achievements to this point cannot be understated. 

I have no doubt that you all have very bright futures ahead … full of new experiences and opportunities … of building skills, confidence and capacity that will contribute to stronger primary industries and a flourishing rural Australia.

Please enjoy the evening everyone. Thank you.