In her own words
I started my career as a criminologist, something I knew I was interested in from a really young age. I had a fascination of understanding what goes on in the mind of someone who would commit terrible crimes and what that means for our society. I worked as a criminologist for a number of years, including undertaking some fascinating research in England on treatment resistant schizophrenia, involving 300 people who had been in a maximum security psychiatric hospital. The research involved following people up three years later, doing an assessment of their mental state and finding out what had gone on in their lives. This work gave me an incredible insight into how many aspects in society connect to support someone – including the mental health system, housing and employment.
After this work I travelled for nine months, which sparked an interest in climate change, development issues and aid, which have become enduring passions.
Returning to Australia, I transitioned from criminology to public health, joining the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare focused on prison health and youth justice issues.
I embarked upon a PhD which led me to small remote islands in Fiji and Tonga researching the adaption of disaster response to climate change and during my study I became keenly aware of the important role advocacy organisations play in society. After completing my PhD, I joined the Public Health Association of Australia in a senior policy officer role, which brilliantly aligned with my personal drive to fight against inequities and injustices. What I realised is that so many issues relate back to public health.
After four years, I decided to zero in on one aspect of public health and was keen to lead an advocacy organisation and joined the Australasian College of Road Safety.
The bug that has bitten me is advocacy. I like being able to give a variety of people a voice where they would not otherwise have one and I value the incredible way that membership organisations are able to do that.
I often reference a line from a former boss about the amazing people who volunteer In membership organisations; ‘these are people who pay money for the privilege of doing more work for free that will benefit other people’. It is so true. Membership organisations are amazing places to work because of the energy, passion and deep knowledge the members bring and they are looking for a way to share and do good in society.
Connecting for change
My diverse career allows me to bring different perspectives to my role because I immediately see the broader linkages in our community. Road safety is not just about people in cars and it is not even just about people on the roads. It’s about people on bike paths, and foot paths, on public transport, and it links in with the quality of the air that we breath, and the quality of life we have.
We must open-up the possibility up of what road safety is if we are to get to zero fatalities and zero injuries by 2050. The only way we are going to do this is by completely rethinking how we live, how we get from A to B and why, and how we use the different spaces we live in. For instance - should a space be prioritised for people to walk around because it is their neighbourhood versus a space that should be prioritised for cars travelling at high speed because people want to get from one city to another
Achieving our target of zero fatalities and injuries will take a lot of political will and bringing the community along on the journey to accept the idea that slowing down is not going to take you three hours more to get to work but it might just save people’s lives. That is a conversation that is extremely difficult to have when we have been brought up with the idea that you get into your car and that is your independence, your protected zone and you don’t want people dictating too much to you in that personal sphere.
And sometimes there is a tendency to blame the individual when the changes that actually need to be made are difficult, unpalatable, expensive or inconvenient - including road safety. The power the individual has is nowhere near the power of the people who design the roads and transport systems. If there are safe roads to travel on, safe vehicles, separated and safe cycling and pedestrian infrastructure and reliable, accessible, affordable and safe public transport the individual is enabled to make safer decisions and choices. But where those things are not available the decisions the individual are making are so constrained. It is not fair to keeping putting the responsibility on individuals in the absence of real choice. You have to give people the infrastructure and tools.
The possibility of zero
In Australian culture we have an acceptance that people die on the road and I don’t know why. We do not accept it in any other form of transport – on trains, planes and boats – or in our workplaces. We don’t think it is ok for people to die on a construction site, or in a mine, and when those things happen there is an outcry and we demand action and change. So why do we accept it on our roads?
It’s not universal. Some Scandinavian countries have progressed much further than us getting down the road towards zero fatalities and injuries because they can see what this would look like in reality. I think one of the problems in Australia is that we can’t see the possibility of zero yet as a broader community. We still have 1,200 people a year dying on our roads and tens of thousands with their lives forever changed. If there was less acceptance of this level of trauma there would be more demand for action.
Road safety is about so much more than just building roads; it about the connections between health and human behaviour, urban design and communication. The need to involve different sectors (particularly the health and human behaviour fields) to drive change has resulted in greater gender diversity. I was recently looking at a photo taken when the National Road Safety Partnership Program was established in 2014 and of the 30 people in the group, two were women. Now if you were to gather the equivalent group of people it would be around 60% men, 40% women.
For women considering a career in transport I would say that it’s a lot more than what it may at first seems. It is a space which is moving extremely fast and changing. If you think about the growth in micro mobility in our cities, the moves towards autonomous vehicles and the raft of developing technology, it is a really interesting industry to be in.
Importantly, you now have to find a way to embrace the notion that you are not just going to have one career in your life. It is no longer about answering - ‘what do I want to be when I grow up?’ It is about answering - ‘what am I interested in and passionate about, and how can that be my job?’