Ceremony for the Appointment of Commissioner Karen Webb APM
Tuesday, 1 February 2022
Boorowa Central School
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC
In the language of the Gadigal, the land on which Government House stands: ‘Bujari Gamurruwa’. ‘Hello’, to each and every one of you.
Thank you, Mr Jones,  Premier, Deputy Premier, Ministers, Commissioners, Special Guests - that is absolutely everyone here, wonderful Students, and the person who is about to become the best-known person in NSW in a few moments, Commissioner Karen Webb.
What an honour to be here at Boorowa Central School! I have never been here before, but you can always get a sense of a place when you walk into it. May I say, I could tell it is a wonderful school the moment I went through the school gate.
This is a very special occasion in the history of the school, the commissioning of the new Police Commissioner Karen Webb, who attended this school from kindergarten right to the end of her schooling. To honour and celebrate the occasion, it is as though the whole NSW Police force has come to town - we have the PolAir helicopter, the Police Band, the Police Dog Unit and the Mounted Police. Has there ever been another occasion when you had a helicopter land here? Or have the Police Band play … That never happened at my school, I can assure you.
Boorowa is a relatively small country town. Small towns in New South Wales have a knack of producing people who go on to play very important roles in our community. Tim Fischer AC was born in Lockhart, down in the Riverina. Lockhart has a population of about 800 people. Tim Fischer was leader of the National Party and became Deputy Prime Minister of Australia.
Justice Stephen Gageler was born in a little town called Sandy Hollow, which is in the Hunter. That little town has a population of about 170 people. He has become a High Court Judge.
Then, there is the new Commissioner of Police, Karen Webb from Boorowa, a large town by comparison with the two I have just mentioned, with a population of about 1650 people. That Commissioner Karen Webb has chosen to receive her commission here, as the highest-ranking Police Officer in the State, speaks volumes of the respect she has for this school, its students and teachers, past and present, and for Boorowa.
I can only imagine how proud you are all today.
Given that we are celebrating an historic occasion here today, it seemed to me a good day to ask what is it about our small towns that produce such wonderful people?
I think the answer is summed up in the word ‘community’, a community where people know each other and help each other. Where everyone in the town plays their part.
When you think about the school community, it is the place where you find your friends, where you learn, where you discover your talents, and from what I have heard already, this is a school of very talented young people. School is where you learn the value of empathy, where you become leaders and take on responsibility, where you learn the importance of making a contribution, of looking after others. These are the values that you will take with you whatever you do.
You have many role models already: your parents, your teachers. And, today, this school has its very own role model. The new Police Commissioner today is the person that ‘you’ can be in the future. She has shown us all that your dreams and aspirations can be achieved through determination, courage and commitment - or, in the words of your school motto by: ‘excellence through, respect, responsibility and participation’.
In 2015, the NSW Police Force marked 100 years of Women in Policing in NSW, a celebration event that was led by Commissioner Webb to honour the swearing in of the first female police officers, Lillian Armfield and Maude Rhodes, becoming the first women police officers employed in Australia and the Commonwealth.
Lillian Armfield would go on to serve for 33 years. In 1947, in the final year of her career, then Special Sergeant (First Class) Lillian Armfield was awarded the Kings Police and Fire Service Medal for distinguished service, the first woman in the British Empire to receive this distinction.
Lillian set a trailblazing course for women in the NSW Police Force. Can I say a special thanks to Commissioner Webb as, 106 years later, she, too, has made history? She has made a dent in that long history being in the Force, but yet to reach the top leadership position. May I also say that we need to shorten the distance in the timeline between today and the next leader. When that happens everyone rises up – girls and boys … able to use their talents in a ways that make such an extraordinary contribution to the community.
When I talk about contribution to the community, I talk about it in terms of big ways and little ways. Karen Webb, undoubtedly, started to make a contribution in small ways at this school. She is now to make a contribution to our State and Australia in one of the most difficult jobs you can have.
It takes an extraordinary Police Officer to become Commissioner. Commissioner Webb has demonstrated the leadership, dedication to the community and determination to succeed over the course of her 35-year policing career, which commenced at Castle Hill Police Station in 1987. At that time, only 10% of police officers were women. As I knew from my own career in the law, it is difficult time to be there, largely on your own.
Karen worked across all areas of policing, including in the toughest areas - most recently as the first female Traffic and Highway Patrol Commander and as Deputy State Emergency Operations Controller during the bushfires of 2019 and 2020.
Karen, can I say what you already know … the importance of being first, the importance of being the first female Police Commissioner, means that there will be other female Police Commissioners. Without a first, there can’t be a second or third. Personally, and on behalf of everyone in the State, ‘thank you’. By being first, you have made it possible for everyone else to achieve.
But it was back at the school that it all started. The education you received here at Boorowa Central School, together with your family values, and what you learned as part of a rural community, has stood you - and will stand you - in good stead for the most senior role in NSW Police as Commissioner.
Former Commissioner Mick Fuller, in announcing his retirement observed that “the job of Police Commissioner is a job that requires enormous energy.” In bringing every ounce of that energy in leading the NSW Police Force, you will be well supported by your colleagues, by this community and the entire community.
I have one more message to the school, the school community and the community of Boorowa and that is to say: ‘thank you’. Thank you for being a representative of all that is really fantastic about NSW, everything that is excellent about education and schools in NSW and, most importantly, everything that is excellent about you, the students of NSW.
What a particularly fine school you have - undoubtedly, one of the best you can possibly have in regional communities. Thank you, again.