By Jen White
November 11 is a momentous day in Australian History and a day when the spotlight shines brightly on the nation's capital. Of course it is Remembrance Day, which marked the 97 anniversary of the Armistice and the end of the First World War. Politically, November 11 2015 also market the 40th anniversary of the dismissal of the Whitlam Labor Government by the then Governor general Sir John Kerr. This years celebrations had an added touch of royalty, with prince Charles and his wife Camilla attending Canberra's service in the pouring rain.
However, another Very Important Party quietly slipped into Canberra on November 11, with no fanfare, no processions in the streets nor meetings with the Prime Minister. The group infiltrated Parliament House, poking into areas where the public can never go. Twelve members of the Leadership Illawarra program had arrived in town, chaperoned by their fearless leader Karen Bain and selfie master Janine Cullen.
Our visit started in the office of Federal Member for Cunningham and Shadow Minister for Vocational Education Sharon Bird. Sharon gave us a run down on how the Federal Parliament operates and was happy to answer our questions.
We were treated to a "back-stage" tour of the beautiful building, including the Press Gallery, Ministerial Wing. We accidently joined one tour which could have been very informative but we were too distracted smothering giggles at the tour guide who was obviously an expert in talking to children or non-English speaking visitors, judging by his performance.
Back on track we wandered down the corridors of power, marvelled at the amazing architecture of the building and its fascinating history. We kept our eyes out for any familiar faces and were rewarded when we found the Opposition Leader Bill Shorten leaving the staff café on his way back to his office. never backwards in coming forwards, Janine stopped him firmly in his tracks, introduced herself and the group and grabbed a selfie before we herded him into a group photo.
We were given a fantastic insight into the workings of government by our first guest speaker (Mr) Chris Lamont. Chris is now the managing director of Moisson property and Laing+Simmons Corporate and Facilities Management but has years of experience in government, including as Chief of Staff to the Minister for Small Business and Tourism and Senior Adviser to the Assistant defence Minister. Chris impressed the cohort with his drive, passion and commitment across his varied employment history and his personal story was truly inspiring.
We attended Question Time, most noteworthy were the Dorothy Dixers and we were amused by a group of primary school students sitting opposite us who was fighting off boredom and trying not to fall asleep.
We found a wonderful restaurant for dinner and enjoyed getting to know each other better over a few drinks, without the usual restraints of office or home demands.
The next morning we headed to the Australian War memorial and, for many of us, the highlight of our trip. We were honoured and extremely fortunate to have as our tour guide The Hon Dr Brendan Nelson, former Defence Minister in the Howard Government and now Director General of the Australian War Memorial. He was a walking treasure trove of information, facts and figures about Australia's involvement in all theatres of war. His story-telling had us spellbound and brought the past to life in such a way that you felt you were part of it. It was amazing how he was able to link these stories back to leadership. The AWM itself was phenomenal and our only regret was we didn't have more time to explore.
Our final speaker was another incredible man, Dr Allan Hawke. I can now admit that when I read his bio I feared we were in for a rather dry speaker, but nothing could have been further from the truth! He was engaging, funny and gave an amazing insight into government, leadership and particularly the Department of Defence where he devoted much of his career. Dr Hawke was named as one of Australia's top 30 leaders in the Australian financial review's 2001 Boss Magazine and we could understand why.
Our two days in Canberra were fascinating, informative and educational. They were also physical - Sarah's Fitbit revealed we'd taken more than 10,000 steps on the Wednesday alone, most of those within the walls of Parliament House.
As much as we enjoyed listening to our speakers and learning invaluable leadership tips from them, the cohort most appreciated the chance to spend time together, get to know one another in an informal setting, to learn about each other's families, careers. interests, hopes and aspirations.
In fact we discovered new mates on a day when Australia honours and salutes the mateship of all who have served our country, especially those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Lest we forget.
Blog posts written by the Leadership Illawarra Program Cohort.