NSW Women of the Year Awards

24th March 2021

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (15:36): I join my many colleagues in the House in sharing my great pleasure at having attended the NSW Women of the Year Awards in Sydney earlier this month. Mark Twain famously posed the question: Where would we be without women? Twain answered his own question with, "Scarce, sir. Very scarce." While entirely true, this does not entirely capture the value of women, particularly those women in leadership roles, and what they bring to our families, our lives, our communities, our economies, our collective wealth and our knowledge. I acknowledge those women who are here in this Chamber with me today—the member for Swansea and the member for Blue Mountains—who both fit that very image.

Indeed, it was an honour to sit among so many inspirational, hardworking and high-achieving women from throughout New South Wales, and to see them properly honoured and acknowledged for their work. Among the award recipients on the day was Saretta Fielding from my electorate. Saretta is an Aboriginal woman from the Wonnarua Nation, whom I have known for many years. She is an outstanding nationally acclaimed artist, who has not only celebrated the natural beauty of Lake Macquarie in her work but also the traditional culture of her people. As we well know, no woman is any one thing. Saretta is also a strong and dedicated advocate for our local Aboriginal community and was a pioneering board member of Yarnteen, which is an organisation committed to creating and building Aboriginal businesses. She is an extraordinary woman, and I am very pleased to say that she is one of thousands in the Lake Macquarie electorate who inspire, teach, build, achieve, encourage, create and lead our local community.

It would be impossible for me to acknowledge every one of those women in this one opportunity, but in the spirit of International Women's Day, which we marked a fortnight ago, I must mention a few others. Among them is Ann-Maria Martin. As a survivor of domestic violence, she began the Survivor's R Us charity at Cardiff, which supports the fight against domestic violence, homelessness and unemployment. This vital service provides men, women and children alike with counselling services, a food warehouse and an op shop. Alongside a large band of volunteers, she is returning hope to many in our local community. Christine Mastello runs a similar operation called Southlake's Incorporated in the Morisset area. On the smell of an oily rag, donations and a team of volunteers, Christine similarly provides a food bank, support clubs for school kids, a community hairdressing project and a homesharing scheme among other things.

Audrey Koosman might be 73 years old, but she has been a dedicated wildlife volunteer in the Lake Macquarie area for 56 years and continues in that role. From providing round-the-clock care to orphaned animals to conserving wildlife habitat to overseeing the creation of a wildlife education centre, Audrey is there. We also have other women such as Suzanne Pritchard and Robyn Charlton, who lead the way on local environmental issues. We have business innovators such as Samantha Cross who founded Plastic Police, a business that collects soft plastics and recycles them into everyday products such as bench seats, decking and bollards and, most importantly, educates the community and politicians about the need to act.

We have local legends such as Gwen Deaves, who has been part of the Wyee Rural Fire Service for more than 60 years. Gwen attracted international notoriety in the 1960s when she and a few of her female neighbours began what is thought to have been the first ever ladies firefighting brigade. They did so when they realised they could get to a fire emergency far quicker than their husbands, who worked in the local mines. Their story attracted attention from a UK film crew, which made a short film about them. I hasten to add that the film was calledThe fire-eating Amazons of the Antipodes. Gwen still serves the local RFS in any capacity she can. While Gwen's story is hard to top, countless other women in our community are in senior business and leadership roles, often while juggling motherhood and families. We have some incredible women running and playing with local sporting clubs, running community groups, and teaching in schools and classrooms. Needless to say, overwhelmingly, many more local women than men do the hard yards in voluntary roles. The community would be lost without those vital, skilled and essential roles.

The other day, I was somewhat buoyed to see Australian Bureau of Statistics figures which showed that 49 per cent of senior leadership positions in the Federal public service are now filled by women. This figure compares to 37 per cent just 10 years ago. I do, however, believe we have a long way to go in eliminating that divide in the broader sphere, but I acknowledge the significant inroads made towards ending that disparity. I am equally pleased to acknowledge International Women's Day and thank those women who are achieving extraordinary things in our State and in local communities such as Lake Macquarie. Long may they be given every opportunity, long may we celebrate their contributions, and long may they continue to inspire a new generation of women to be everything they are capable of being and more.

Mr MARK TAYLOR (Seven Hills) (15:41): I commend the member for Lake Macquarie for his outstanding private member's statement [PMS], and I support his comments on the women mentioned in his PMS. I take the opportunity to recognise the NSW Premier's Woman of the Year and she, of course, is NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant. It was a fantastic decision to appoint Dr Chant to that great honour. Dr Chant is excellent in her field. We all certainly remember seeing her each day at every press conference giving out vital information to us and providing support to the great people of New South Wales through what was some of our darkest times in this State. She inspires through her leadership and dedication. What a tremendous award that was.

Website: Read the Parliamentary Hansard here

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