Reflections on Canberra: the voices of young Ballarat leaders

Leaders Forum is Leadership Ballarat & Western Region’s year-long experiential learning and development program. This year’s 27 participants recently spent three days in Canberra to immerse themselves in democracy and our federal political system.  here they reflect on a range of leaders and places they encountered.  

Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House: Angela Daraxoglou (Transport For Victoria )

 “To walk the corridors where 23 Australian Prime Ministers had walked before us, to reflect on the important events that occurred there and to appreciate the architecture of the ‘temporary’ Parliament House was an experience. We sat at the Cabinet table and imagined what it would have been like in 1977 as a member of the federal ministry during the refugee crisis, when anti-refugee feelings were being widely expressed. Now, 40 years on, we are still debating whether or not to accept refugees from war-torn countries. As I sat at the Cabinet table, I wondered if we have progressed at all in that time?”

Cabinet in Confidence: Dylan Lesock (Clarke Clean )

"Cabinet in Confidence at Old Parliament House was an interactive experience re-enacting the refugee debate that occurred through the 1970s and 80s. Re-enacting the old debate brought to the surface the same emotions that occur in today’s ongoing refugee debate with one major difference – Fraser maintained his stance on an open refugee policy for 10 years, even when the boats arriving started to occur daily. Could this sort of steadfast leadership occur today? Or has social media created a toxic environment where unpopular decisions cut short a leader’s term?”

Left: Leaders Forum participants visited the Australian War Memorial. “There cannot be many places in Australia capable of causing so powerful an effect..." Matthew Dent, City of Ballarat

Left: Leaders Forum participants visited the Australian War Memorial. “There cannot be many places in Australia capable of causing so powerful an effect..." Matthew Dent, City of Ballarat

Australian War Memorial: Matthew Dent (City of Ballarat )

“There cannot be many places in Australia capable of causing so powerful an effect, or such deep reflection, as the Australian War Memorial. Even as our world is ever more saturated with information, the very simple message enshrined in this place remains poignant and penetrating - we will remember them, lest we forget. There are 102,700 names on these walls, 102,700 men and women who died while in the service of their country. Whatever one may think of the right and wrong of the situations of these deaths, there is no question in my mind that, overwhelmingly, these individuals put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of others - to protect, defend, rescue or perhaps face danger so that someone else doesn't have to. Every day, one life's story is read out at the Last Post ceremony, a short story of a life cut short, a life that could have been so much more.”

Australian War Memorial:  Helen Swadling (Pyrenees Shire Council )

“We are privileged – that’s how I felt. Privileged to be among so many that sacrificed so much. The Australian War Memorial is a place to celebrate a nation and its people. People who gave so we can lead the lives we do. The walls listing the dead and the bright red poppies took my breath away. The Last Post brought tears to my eyes and to many others. Laying the wreath with (fellow participants ) Lachlan and Matthew on behalf of the group was extremely moving. To hear Private Percy George from Bathurst’s story brought a personal touch to the Last Post.”

Australian War Memorial: Lachlan Stephen (Powercor )

“The Last Post and Australian War Memorial is a powerful commemorative to all the Australians who sacrificed their lives for this magnificent country. A very moving and humbling experience to learn about the contributions made by young Australian servicemen through a sequence of descriptive exhibitions and an enlightening guided tour. It was a privilege and an honour to be involved in the wreath-laying ceremony.”

City of Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh and CEO Justine Linley: Rebekah Desirah (RSM Australia )

“After an emotional tour of the Australian War Memorial, it was pleasing for the Leaders Forum group to be greeted by some familiar faces in City of Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh and CEO Justine Linley. They took some time out from attending the National General Assembly (NGA) of Local Government at Canberra’s National Convention Centre to discuss the growing need for local councils like ours to be pushing through all barriers of government in order to secure muchneeded changes for our region. We learned how persistent and coordinated lobbying of big ticket projects is just one of the proactive approaches our council is undertaking to champion our region to some of the most influential people in the country. “

Lobbyist Jo Stevens: Damian Hetherington (The Courier )

“Making things happen is exactly what Ballarat’s Jo Stevens (Premier Strategy) knows how to do. Speaking about strategies on building high-level relationships on behalf of our region, Jo’s message to us was twofold – get people around you that have a passion for the project you are working on, and deliver value early. When you only have 10 to 15 minutes to make an impression in Canberra, you have to make it count. Jo instilled in us the importance of using data (mainly around job creation potential) to back up a compelling story on how the Ballarat region is ready to grow.”

Parliament House: Leanne Shea (Ballarat Health Services )

“Our Leaders Forum group was afforded a unique opportunity to spend the day in the Committee Rooms of Parliament House meeting with journalists, independent members of parliament, ministers and leaders. Architecturally and aesthetically, Parliament House is an impressive building with an outstanding display of art. Ticking clocks and flashing red and green lights are central to the workplace, with advisors ensuring Members of Parliament are where they should be when debates and votes are held. The group gained valuable insight into the machinations of politics which will further enhance our leadership journey.”

Federal Member for Ballarat Catherine King: Jennie Courtney (Leadership Ballarat & Western Region )

“We are extremely privileged to be able to expose the inner workings of our federal political system each year to our Leaders Forum participants. Once again, we were hosted by Federal Member for Ballarat Catherine King who – along with her staff – always goes above and beyond to ensure our day in Parliament is extensive and enlightening. Catherine is a fierce defender of all things Ballarat and it’s great to see how she champions us and our region within the walls of Parliament House.”

Senior Adviser Andrew Garrett: Kathryn Carter (C.E. Bartlett )

“I was taken aback by Andrew Garrett’s run through of a typical day as chief of staff and senior advisor to Federal Member for Ballarat Catherine King. Andrew’s job is quite often described as ‘the gatekeeper’. The term gives reference to the work done behind the scenes, ensuring issues passing through are adequately dealt with by providing advice that is reflective of the party’s policies, ideals and image. Andrew’s job is to be 100 per cent satisfied that the gate is secure, maintained and functioning properly. This man thrives on all of the things that scare me to death. He’s obviously driven by the constant and evolving challenges that the role brings and is clearly comfortable as keeper of the gate.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten: Will Munro (Ray White Ballarat )

“When thinking back on our session with Bill Shorten, it was very clear that his core beliefs and values of having strong and reliable healthcare, jobs and education for Australians is unwaived.”

Independent Member for Indi Cathy McGowan: Mandy Grant (Mercure Ballarat Hotel & Convention Centre )

Cathy McGowan is a very inspirational woman. Cathy shared with us so much, including her views on small business, farming in rural Australia and leadership. Cathy’s words of wisdom on leadership: • Leadership is not an optional extra; • Be frank and open - don’t play games; • Get people to work together in the community; and • Invest in time management to be more efficient with your time. 

Question Time at Parliament House: Rachel Meinig (Central Highlands Water )

“Question Time is a surreal experience which is oddly removed from reality. It is a performance where everyone involved has a role to play, from the Opposition with their series of questions designed to challenge current policy, to the Government who – invariably - skilfully avoid answering the question. There is a viciousness in Question Time that is strangely accepted by all involved. Members loudly jeer and shout throughout the session and name calling is common place. Is this targeted towards generating media interest? Or is it a natural outcome of having a group of people with opposing views arguing about topics they’re passionate about? Whatever your view, Question Time is a crucial part of our democratic system as it allows representatives elected by the people of Australia to challenge and question Government policy.”

  Senior Adviser Stephanie McKew: Kasey Chapman (Department of Justice )

Above: Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove chats with Leaders Forum participants.  "Be balanced and heard. Be the smart loud majority to create change”. Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.

Above: Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove chats with Leaders Forum participants. "Be balanced and heard. Be the smart loud majority to create change”. Governor General, Sir Peter Cosgrove.

“Standing in one of the hallways of Parliament House, Stephanie McKew, Senior Advisor to Minister Fiona Nash, spoke about the key to being an influential leader and the importance of good professional relationships. Stephanie described herself as a collaborative leader, explaining that having the ability to trust her team allows her to easily hand over the reins. She stressed the point of 'what goes around comes around' with regard to the people you work alongside throughout your career and no matter where you are employed in Parliament, there is great accountability. When asked about how she felt about being a woman in this space, Stephanie responded with, 'I don't know what it's like to not be a woman'. She indicated that she doesn't allow herself to become absorbed and likes to overcome any issues head on. Stephanie disclosed that there is a stronger emphasis on the way women look, although she doesn't let these things weigh her down.”

Political journalist Paul Bongiorno: Megan Franzo (City of Ballarat )

“From priesthood to journalism and politics, Ballarat-born-and-bred Walkley Award winner Paul Bongiorno is a household name with an illustrious resume. Paul spoke of the importance of personal brands in politics and cited the election of both Malcolm Turnbull and Donald Trump. He explained Turnbull’s push to reposition the Liberal Government from conservative to centralist and used the Finkel Report into Australia’s energy sector and the Gonski 2.0 education reforms as current key policy examples. And, for budding journalists in the room, he imparted some crucial advice: expand your knowledge base by undertaking an unrelated degree first.”

Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Cities and Regional Development Anthony Albanese: Stuart Squire (VicRoads )

“Anthony Albanese reflected on the importance of mentoring and the lasting values this practice instils within future leaders. Tom Uren – a former Minister who served in the Whitlam and Hawke Governments and was a Prisoner of War to the Japanese – was the ‘father-like' figure that had a profound influence on Anthony's journey into politics. Tom's leadership style was ensuring inclusiveness and socialism - values Anthony compliments and displays proudly in his own leadership style today.”

Senator for Victoria Jane Hume:  Fiona Brew (Ballarat Health Services )

“Senator Jane Hume was appointed to the Senate in 2016 and has an extensive background in banking. Her role in leading the Senate Inquiries into the bank tax brings a unique understanding of the impact and anticipated outcomes. Senator Hume’s ability to articulate the issues in a succinct manner endeared herself to the group. She is also a mother and has participated on a number of boards personifying all that women can achieve in leadership roles.”

Senior Clerk of Committees Tim Bryant and Nicholas Craft (Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee): Tamara Warland (UFS Dispensaries )

The leadership group in Canberra

The leadership group in Canberra

“Meeting with Tim Bryant and Nicholas Craft proved to be a very informative session. Tim began by explaining Australia's Constitution and giving a snapshot of why the Senate do what they do. Whilst Nicholas circulated copies of the Constitution pocket guide to the group, Tim openly admitted he spent the first 45 years of his life ignoring the Constitution, however is making up for it now. Merely looking at this tiny book felt daunting at first, but listening as Tim spoke and referred to the different sections put my mind at ease. The group was briefed on the reasons for a Senate committee, how the process of an inquiry begins, and the life cycle of an inquiry. As a group, we were surprised to discover an inquiry can be as short as four days and as long as many months.”

Special Minister of State Scott Ryan: Warwick Smith (UnitingCare Ballarat )

“Scott Ryan is not so concerned about his title or stats, however his children are very pleased with the fact their dad is the only minster with the word ‘Special’ in their title. Scott spoke about his key roles of overseeing the Electoral Commission, reviewing parliamentary expenses and, most importantly, being a real problem-solver working with all levels of government and the opposition at both federal and state levels. What struck me most about Scott was his approachability and candid nature, right to the point of sitting at the table with our group as a peer.”

National Arboretum: Adrian Tinetti (Federation University Australia )

“The National Arboretum was established in 2004 to rejuvenate the western fringe of Canberra following the devastation of the 2003 bushfires. It comprises of 94 forests of rare, endangered and symbolic species from around the world and striking views across Canberra and beyond. Visitor Services Officer Julie McLaren gave us an insight into the plantings and the challenges presented by pests and the dry Canberra region. Just like children, trees need a lot more care and attention when they are little. Over time, the forests will grow for future generations to enjoy.”

Regional Australia Institute CEO Jack Archer:  Megan Riedl (Tripwire Theatre Incorporated )

“We sit in the Margaret Whitlam Pavilion at the National Arboretum, waiting to meet Jack Archer. This place is the very definition of a long-term project. 100 forests which will take centuries to mature seems insanely forward-thinking. Many of the speakers we’ve heard so far have talked about how hard it is to collaborate across the three tiers of government and about how the three-year term, coupled with the media's pervasive need for content, creates a focus on the quick fix. And Jack Archer is no different – also noting the lack of foresight by our governments in response to problems which remain unresolved even 20 years after the first evidence is presented. The Regional Australia Institute provides research and policy advice and its CEO is a leader whose positivity radiates as brightly as the sun shining through the floor-to-ceiling windows of the Pavilion.”

Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove: Jake Miocic (CFA )

“To complete our Canberra trip, we were guests of Governor-General Peter Cosgrove and Lady Lynne Cosgrove at Government House. Sir Cosgrove discussed contextual leadership and reflected on his time in the Defence Force in contrast to sitting on the Qantas board, stating that both require collaborative leadership in their own right. While having the most delicious afternoon tea, we were able to have face-to-face conversations with their excellencies. I had one question for Sir Cosgrove - “What can we do for you to carry on your legacy?”. His answer? "Be balanced and heard. Be the smart loud majority to create change”. 

The Canberra experience: Daniel Findlay (Findlay Engineering)

“Canberra, in its remote location, is full of monuments, memorials and office buildings with underlying symbolisation to the country’s values. Canberra provided the leadership group with great insight into how federal parliament affects our country and our region. Learning from our past at the Australian War Memorial and Old Parliament House, we gained insight as to how our country got to where it is now. Parliament House guest speakers gave us a rare chance to get answers to personalised questions regarding leadership. The experience has given participants confidence and aspiration into growing and improving our region and beyond.”

The Canberra experience Liana Skewes (Finding Femme blog )

"Canberra is a symbolic city. There’s Old Parliament House where so many people forged the direction of our nation. There’s the Aboriginal Tent Embassy directly out the front, visible and strong. Behind Old Parliament House is the new Parliament House; huge, imposing and built into the hill. When you draw a line through all three, you arrive at the Australian War Memorial. All these places have grown from the visions of individual people: architects, curators, citizens. Touching the white stone walls of the War Memorial, I couldn’t help but feel the weight of all the lives that had interwoven to put me in a place where I could contribute to the future of this nation. “

The group experience Kym Edwards (Centacare )

“Our whirlwind Canberra trip provided us with many privileged opportunities and experiences. We gained valuable insight into our history and spoke with many of our country’s prominent leaders. We were challenged in our ways of thinking and considerate of our own beliefs and values. We questioned our understanding with some of the processes of Parliament. Just because Question Time has 'always been that way', should certain behaviours be deemed appropriate or acceptable? One thing is certain, we are extremely thankful to have been part of this amazing trip and will be reflecting on this powerful experience for a very long time.”

Key leadership learnings Andy Grey (SED Advisory )

“A common thread resonating from politicians to lobbyists to journalists was that leadership is about having a positive influence on other people and their lives. In order to have an influence, you must not only be heard but listened to. To this end, the impact of good storytelling was a theme of our discussions, whether that be through good preparation or inspiring rhetoric to ensure key messages are communicated with maximum effect. Alternatively, sometimes the very story itself can inspire and influence rather than those who tell it or how it is told.”

Key self-learnings Damian Hetherington (The Courier )

“Local influence is just people talking to people. The key self-learning for the Leaders Forum group was the communication of local stories, issues and ideas was the successful ingredient of local leadership. From dignitaries and politicians to subject matter experts and volunteers, each of our hosts was able to convey their passion in such a way that just compelled us to get involved and contribute to the process in any way we can. The underlying message from each of them was clear – step up, because local problems need to be solved by local people.

 Learnings for Ballarat Serena Ioannucci (Sovereign Hill )

“It was very clear to all present that there were some very vital lessons for Ballarat. We must always move forward but, at the same time, never forget to look back every now and then – our history has many lessons for us. And never overlook how we got here – Ballarat has always been a melting pot of different cultures, knowledge and learning, rebellion and justice, where opportunity was there for all. Most prominently, Ballarat’s presence in Canberra, throughout Australia and the rest of the world is important. Our city needs to be seen and heard and that cannot be achieved from the Town Hall alone.”