Home' The Canberra Times : FEMME 2011 Contents 14 - SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT - THE CANBERRA TIMES - MARCH 8, 2011
A CELEBRATION OF INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN
'Gypsy' who's finally
put down roots
Helping people gets Joy Burch out of bed.
By Ewa Kretowicz
Politics isn't life and death -- that's
the mantra of former nurse and
current Labor MLA Joy Burch.
The minister for women,
children and young people has been on
the receiving end of some pointed attacks
of late, notably by a Canberra ''shock
jock'' who is baying for blood and
shouting for her resignation.
Ms Burch says her time on the front
line of health care gives her perspective.
''There are days when it's difficult and
I'm being questioned and ridiculed . . . I
do reflect on moments in my nursing
career where I worked with and cared for
somebody in extreme circumstances -- in
very tragic circumstances -- and so that's
always a balance,'' Ms Burch said.
The 56-year-old says its doesn't matter
if the attack originates from a man or a
woman -- she deals with it in the same
'' If I have faith in my integrity and
faith in my ability to get on, do the job and
do the right thing, and am doing all I can,
then the criticism is unfounded, then I
deal with it. I parcel it up and put it
She credits her sense of self worth to
her father and jokes that having numerous
siblings -- Ms Burch was one of six
children growing up in Sydney in the
1950s -- helped define her voice.
''I had a very frank and fearless
childhood where you had to speak your
mind or you didn't get your own way,''
Sitting in her ministerial office, the
first-term politician exudes a confidence
-- an unshakable sense of self. Ms Burch
replaced John Hargreaves, who resigned
after one-too-many embarrassing
incidents. It has been a steep learning
curve and Ms Burch looks as though she
has found her feet.
''My father was very much an Aussie
bloke, but there was no way he was going
to have anyone not support his girls, or
put barriers in front of them, or tell them
they couldn't do anything, which is
probably why I've approached life
thinking there are no barriers in front of
me -- there is nobody who can tell me I
can't do something.''
In the 1980s. this ability to ignore
hurdles until they disappeared led the
young mother to open a childcare facility
in the NSW snowfields.
Ms Burch left her career as a nurse at
about the same time, as the shift work was
too hard to combine with motherhood.
The self-described ''gypsy worker''
has found her calling now and has no
plans to leave politics. Looking back on
her different roles, the mother of three
sons has worked in a variety of fields
from nursing and community health to
policy before taking up politics. She says
it was a constant search for fulfilment and
a desire to improve life for others.
The one-time bank worker jokes her
pregnancy symptoms included the desire
to acquire a new university degree and a
She says the challenges she faced as a
working mother in the '70s and '80s were
different from the obstacles facing
women today. In particular, bullying and
its spread in the 21st century earns her ire.
''In the good old days you had to be
right in front of them to get a mouthful of
bad manners, whereas now it follows you
when you are out shopping with friends,''
''There are more means to bully . . .
we've got computers and texting.''
Ms Burch moved to the ACT with her
family in 2002. It was a conscious
decision to finally put down some roots,
ending a vagabond existence which
ranged from Alice Springs, where she
worked in indigenous health, to rural
Victoria, where she ran a community
health centre. Living in Canberra gave Ms
Burch the opportunity to explore her
passion for politics.
Helping people and working towards
positive change gets her out of bed. But as
she tells it, that's the way it has always
She explained, ''It was about using my
skills to make things better -- how can my
Her goal as minister for women is to
make women's lives easier.
''My advice to young women is that in
many ways there will be lots of criticism
and lots of praise given to you --
understand that is part and parcel of [life]
and if you are true to the good work you
are doing, you don't bring it into yourself.
''It's learning for the cycle, 'could I
have done that better?' But if you don't
even recognise you've made a mistake,
and self-reflect and be honest with
yourself, and have that inner belief that
you can learn from this and keep on
moving, you don't move forward.''
She said name-calling is a part of
politics but it's not what voters want.
''It was the biggest job interview, an
interview panel of 60,000 . . they're not
asking us to sit here and verbal across the
chamber, they're asking us to get on and
do the work they want us to do.
''But when Mike Walsh is in full form
he is a little daunting, I have to tell you
A crucial role that
Air Vice Marshal Margaret Staib's role is vital.
By David Ellery
Air Vice-Marshal Margaret Staib
is the highest ranking woman in
the Australian Defence Force.
Her rank is just one step down
from that of Chief of Air Force, Air
Marshal Mark Binskin, and the same as
the deputy chief of the air force.
That puts her very close to the top of
the command tree in an organisation with
14,177 personnel and another 2700
She is just one of 40 two-star officers
across the 77,000 strong Australian
Air Vice-Marshal Staib's job is one of
the most vital -- and complex -- in the
As commander, joint logistics, she is
Australia's senior defence strategic
logistician and found herself -- literally --
working overtime during the nation's
recent spate of natural disasters.
Air Vice-Marshal Staib, who reports
directly to Vice Chief of Defence Force,
Lieutenant General David Hurley, also
played a key role in developing the
logistic command's contribution to the
2030 Defence White Paper and is now
responsible for implementing the reforms
Despite everything that is on her plate
-- which can include coordinating the
delivery of the ADF response to
bushfires, floods, cyclones and tsunamais
-- this working mother of twins faces even
greater challenges at home.
''My twins, a boy and a girl, are
15-and-a-half,'' she said.
''I spend my weekends doing the
Saturday and Sunday sports runs. I could
say that on occasion the sports run is more
complex than ADF logistics.''
The 48-year-old, who was working in
the Pentagon at the time of the September
11 attacks and has been awarded the
United States Meritorious Service Medal,
said the floods, fires and storms had been
a significant test of the ADF.
''We have been very busy across the
nation,'' she said. ''[The recent disaster
response] has been one of the biggest
domestic operations I have been involved
''The ADF has responded to Cyclone
Yasi, the bushfires in Western Australia
and the floods in Victoria and South-East
The challenges came on several levels
with one of the most obvious being
ensuring vital material such as sandbags,
generators and water purifiers was ready
for shipment to where it was needed.
Air Vice-Marshal Staib, who urges
young women to consider a career in the
RAAF and the other services, said she had
not grown up wanting to wear the
Her father spent 34 years in the RAAF
but, despite this, she hadn't really thought
about it as a career until Year 12.
A native Canberran, her interest was
piqued in the early 1980s by an RAAF
advertisement for officer cadets.
The service would pay for her degree
and guarantee employment.
That was an attractive opportunity at
the time -- and one she was quick to seize.
The opportunities are even greater
''Thirty years ago, for example,
women couldn't be pilots,'' she said.
''That is no longer the case; women
have been pilots since the 1990s. Over my
career I have seen more and more
opportunities open up.
''Women are now allowed to fly
combat -- there are no lady fighter pilots
yet because nobody has qualified -- but it
is only a matter of time before someone
gets through the course.''
Air Vice-Marshal Staib, who said she
had never encountered discrimination in
the RAAF in a career that has spanned
three decades, had a fair idea of what lay
ahead when she joined up.
That isn't always the case.
''A lot of people have misconceptions
about what being in defence involves,''
''We are normal people leading normal
lives -- but there are great opportunities
for travel and education.
''The military funded both my
undergraduate and post-graduate
The Air Vice-Marshal said the ADF
had something for everyone -- including
''The beauty of being in the military is
that there are up to 200 job families to
choose from. The opportunities are vast,''
''My own experience has been that
there is no resistance to women in
leadership roles. People respect what you
do and what you bring to the table.''
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