In her own words
Like so many people, it was an absolute accident that I entered the transport industry. I did a social science degree at university, majoring in political science. I have always been interested in history and governments, but when I started university I didn’t understand or have the vocabulary to express my keen interest in policy and politics. After completing my degree, I landed a graduate role with the Roads and Traffic Authority of NSW (RTA) with a goal to work for two years, go backpacking and figure out my career after that. I distinctly remember the RTA newspaper advertisement for graduates in the Sydney Morning Herald featured a long list of engineering disciplines, with the very last dot point asking for people with qualifications in public policy. In fact, I was one of the first graduates in public policy in the RTA in 1999. I did some extremely interesting work in the graduate program including rebirthing vehicles, working with police in the area of registration and organised crime, and bringing in emissions standards. It was fascinating.
I took leave without pay to back-pack for 22 months and when I returned I had the opportunity to write a RTA response to a national policy paper in six weeks. That six-week gig turned into a 24 year-plus career in transport. It has all been built on relationships and people recognising my ability to bring people together, listen, synthesise a discussion and write simply for government. I am a good collaborator and can diplomatically work through issues, and others saw this in me well before I did and gave me opportunities.
The more I worked in transport the more I realised it is an absolute enabler to creating the communities and social outcomes we want. When done well transport goes to our better angels. I am a total transport convert and can’t imagine working anywhere else.
The long game
In the first part of my career, I worked in the national space in a state role; now I work in the national space from a national perspective. I believe my early experience allows me to do my NTC role better because national reform doesn’t work unless the states can make it work. When we can embrace a national view for national outcomes, it’s our federation working at its best.
But not everything has to be a national solution, some things are fine for states to do in different ways. I often hear ‘Í am all for harmonisation, uniformity and national consistency as long as you do it my way’ and what I love about my job is to try and weave that pathway between everyone’s ‘right way’ to get the right outcome. It is a puzzle, and you don’t work in national reform if you are someone who wants a quick win. But if you play the long game, as I tend to do, when you nail national reform it is meaningful and so professionally fulfilling.
My focus at NTC is to ensure we are across our work program, as match-fit as we possibly can be in terms of our relationships with jurisdictions and stakeholders, and we have the resources and systems in place to achieve national outcomes. We can’t do our work without great relationships, and these need to be nurtured and grown. We can only achieve national reform if the private and public sector work together and engage in a conversation of partnership. It is not about ‘us’ and ‘them’. It is about us working together.
When transport is working as it should communities are more connected, the national economy is tracking well, our supply chains are efficient, transport is accessible, and we are reducing our carbon footprint. The decarbonisation imperative on transport represents a massive opportunity and we must act on sector-wide initiatives and make some hard decisions.
Advocating as leaders
At the recent National Transport Conversation in Canberra (held May 2023) we focused as an industry on the next waves of reform coming our way. We need to figure out as a sector how we make the best use of the technology and data, including who owns the data and how do we share this information to build evidence-based initiatives. An area I am particularly interested in is the workforce we are going to need in transport.
It will need to be diverse and inclusive otherwise we are not going to have enough bodies to deliver what is already on the books, let alone what is possible.
I think those of us in transport have an obligation to build culture that is inclusive and welcoming of a diversity of views. For too long it has been overly blokey.
We all have a responsibility. For those of us in transport we need to speak about the opportunities within our industry whether it is when we are talking to our peers, friends, or members of the community. We are the best advocates of our industry. As leaders we need to highlight the connections between what we do in transport to the outcomes enjoyed in the communities we live in, because many times the linkages are not obvious.
A great thing about the National Women in Transport initiative, particularly its Speaker Bureau, is that it showcases that leadership can look different. It’s about being authentic and holding the space for those different approaches.
The best advice I was given was to listen and then speak, but never forget or be afraid to speak up.