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Speech to the RIRDC Rural Women's Awards Dinner.

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The Hon. Tony Burke MP Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry

Transcript of RIRDC Rural Women's Awards Dinner

27 May 2008 DAFF08/014tb

Thanks very much Michael. What Michael didn’t mention in that introduction was if you do an acronym of my portfolio the AFF means I am also the Minister who is proud to have bought you all a pen in your showbags tonight.

[Inaudible]… I want to acknowledge my Parliamentary colleagues, as well as the people here from RIRDC and in particular all the sponsors - in particular the Women’s Weekly.

What a great night. What a great occasion at a time where so much of the potential of this nation is actually vested in our rural communities. The last time that I stood on this stage was actually at 2020, and I was reminded when Deb mentioned Family Farm Day, and I’ll come to that in a moment, but when I last stood here it was made clear by many of the participants in our 2020 forum that rural communities are not only agriculture, they are so much more than that. And I think that it is important to acknowledge that, notwithstanding the focus on agriculture in so many of the state and territory award winners tonight.

My family was one of those 300 families on the weekend, and I do want to thank Deb for her foresight as last year’s winner, in the work in establishing Family Farm Day. It was an extraordinary weekend, my three daughters aged ten, six and five loved every moment of it, and the Groves family up at Cowra were sensational hosts. Although they were challenged mid-way through dinner when my youngest, Helena, who is five said, “Mrs Groves, where does this roast lamb come from?” Having been on a sheep property all day and having grown up on the certain belief that all red meat comes from aisle 12, at which Mrs Groves rather wisely said, “I think it is time you went and spoke to your Dad.” But the explanation was given and Helena went back and finished her meal, so I was very, very happy with that - no vegetarianism emerging in my family as a result of that.

But while agriculture is not the be-all-and-end-all of rural communities, it is important to note that for many of the global pressures that our planet is about to face, including the global food shortage, where pretty much for the first time famine is not going to be an isolated occurrence.

The global food shortage that we’re going to see in the coming months is looking pretty dire. And everybody who goes to work, goes to work essentially to feed, clothe and house their families. But whether it be agriculture, fisheries, forestry, whether it be food, fibre, or forest products there is something particularly noble about people who, as part of their every moment, work feed, clothe and house the people of the world. And whether it be in doing that directly, with so many of the nominees tonight, or whether it be in providing the support functions either through financial counselling, or the ongoing support all the way through that value chain, that particularly noble job - which doesn’t happen too much for people who live in the parts of my city where I live, but is very much the story of every nominee here tonight - I think is worth marking out as something that strikes at the core of why anyone has a job in the first place, and strikes at the core of the pressures that are bearing down on some of the most desperate people on our planet, in the months and years to come.

Those pressures have come as a combination of both the pressures of climate change, and the shrinking world - the way our world has just become closer, and major events don’t just hit one nation, the shockwaves reach all of us in ways that they never used to.

And in order to really harness all the opportunity, all the good work the nation can do and all the productivity we can drive, we need to make sure that we’re isolating the best of the people who can do it. And you are not isolating the people who can do that work unless you’re focussing squarely on women in rural and regional communities.

I look many times at some of the boards that provide me with some pretty good quality advice but never cease to wonder that, if it is essentially 70 to 80, sometimes 90 per cent male, am I really looking at selection that is being made purely on merit?

And those sorts of changes aren’t in committee appointments, aren’t a matter of trying to balance, it is just a matter of trying to make sure I get the best advice. And I don’t think I get the advice unless you get a better reflection than what we have had for many, many years - a better reflection of rural and regional communities.

And tonight is a stark reminder to all of us of the optimism, the potential and the national opportunity that is there and only there because of the unique talent, drive and commercial success of so many women in rural Australia.

I get the great honour, the great honour of announcing a runner-up and a winner. But before I do, I think everyone wants to acknowledge that so many people do great work and never get nominated. So many people do fantastic work and are part of that national example and national solution but never go through the leadership program that’s here, never come to an awards dinner like tonight, but are champions for Australia.

The runner-up, as you saw in the slides, has been a leader in Western Australian protea flower, passion fruit and olive industries. Please, for the runner-up for this year’s Rural Women’s Awards, please give a very warm level of congratulations to Maggie Edmonds.

[acceptance speech from Maggie Edmonds]

Thanks you very much Maggie, you are an inspiration to us all. The winner, recognised for her work in the avocado, macadamia and custard apple sectors, and for her business enterprise skills and chair of the grower-operated cooperative company, please give a warm round of applause, from Queensland, to Ros Smerdon.

[acceptance speech from Ros Smerdon]