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Tuesday, 22 June 2021
Four Seasons Hotel
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC

Bujari gamarruwa  Diyn  Babana  Gamarada  Gadigal  Ngura.[1]

Gathered here on Gadigal land, I pay my respects to Elders, past, present and emerging - and First Nations’ people here present.

Thank you for the invitation to open this 35th Women of Achievement luncheon in a milestone year for the Black & White Committee - its 85th year of supporting Vision Australia.

As many of you would know, I am a lawyer.  So much of the law is a matter of listening to other people’s stories. I look forward to hearing the stories today of each of our three Women of Achievement Guest Speakers.

Deborah Lawrie’s story of winning a landmark sex discrimination case in the High Court in 1980[2] is well-known to me as a former Judge and a young lawyer at that time - yet, I remain uplifted by it. It was a ‘lightning rod’ not only for the law but for women’s equal opportunity in the workplace.[3]

The courage and determination in taking on that behemoth, Ansett, which, as we know, rolled over one day and expired, to merely do what you, Deborah, had trained to do and at which you excelled, cannot be overstated or underestimated.

No less intrepid and as inspirational are Kate McClymont and Layne Beachley.  On many occasions I saw Kate, sitting at the back of the court room, brow furrowed, pen poised, ready to pounce, always with a glance towards the defamation laws that the journalist has to navigate, but always with the professionalism of the journalist which says ‘it is the truth that matters’.

Layne, it has been an honour to meet you today for the first time.  Your achievements are legendary but, as I read your bio, your success is so much about ‘attitude’ – and if I may cut back to those words I used earlier  - about ‘courage and determination’  - traits each of our speakers have in bucketloads.  The determination to succeed, the courage to respond to the ‘naysayers’ with three simple words “Just watch me” says it all.  

Everyone has to work hard to achieve.  But those who have had to fight to get where they have a right to be, know only too well how hard it is. In my own experience, what I found particularly galling was that the males who dominated the legal profession at the time when I commenced in the law,thought they had the right to determine what I could do and where I could practice, if at all.  Even in 1993, when I was appointed a judge, a senior barrister gave me this unsolicited ‘gob-smacking piece” of wisdom, that it was “a social disgrace for the Government to have appointed me”, because, as he explained: I had “a husband and children”.   Then I did something he could never do to me:  I patted him on the knee.  And I said: “Dinosaurs die out, you know”, although recent events might make one think that it is taking not only a long time, but too long.  

I am ‘sighted’, as are the women of achievement who join us today.

If it has been hard for us, imagine how difficult for any person with a disability.  The world in which we tread every day, our normal, needs to be everyone’s normal.  It is the insight and foresight of those with disabilities which is enabling that to happen. 

As my great friend Ron McCallum AO, Emeritus Professor and Dean of Law at the University of Sydney, first totally blind person to be appointed to a full professorship in any subject at any university in Australia or New Zealand, as well as the first to become a Dean of Law in these countries, has said: “As a person with a life-long disability, I have an understanding of what exclusion means and thus know the urgent need for making all human rights accessible for and inclusive of persons with disabilities.”[4] 

Professor Anna Lawson from the University of Leeds, the first blind woman professor of law in the United Kingdom, advocates that:

“there should be systems in place which ensure that education (as well as health, transport and other services) should be accessible to disabled children and adults without the need for communities to have to rush to the rescue.”[5] 

This is echoed in the National Disability Strategy. It is about: 

‘Improving access to education, health care and employment, as well as buildings, transport and social events, so that people with disability can participate in all areas of Australian life.’[6]

Today is not only a celebration of women of determination, courage and achievement.  It is an acknowledgement and celebration of the courage and determination of those who live their lives with a disability. It is also the occasion to thank the Black and White Committee for their support of Vision Australia. 

For nine decades, the Black and White Committee has fundraised, raising over $250,000 each year for Vision Australia’s Children’s Services.  Thank you.

Thank you to Vision Australia for what can only be described as ‘your vision’.  There are over 350,000 Australians who are blind or have low vision and this number is predicted to reach over half million by 2030.[7]  

Young children who are blind or have vision loss gather information about their world in different ways. Intervention begins in early childhood - from the tactile playroom for babies and toddlers, through to assistance to gain university degrees. The Vision Australia Access Technology team minimises and eradicates the barriers people who are blind and have low vision- providing access to computers through synthesised voice screen readers and Braille, written literature translated to talking books, recorded versions of texts, and the innovative Feelix Library of Braille books.[8]

It is the funds raised by the Black & White Committee, dedicated volunteers, past and present, who have provided and continue to provide so much of this support.[9]  “Imagine the Impact.”

It is now my great pleasure to open the 35th Women of Achievement Luncheon.


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