Federation Chamber

Matter of public importance

As country women, we know that the Country Women’s Association of Australia is more than an organisation; it is the lifeblood of so many rural and regional communities.

Few institutions win as much respect from right across the country as the CWA, and for good reason. These are women doing important work on behalf of all rural and regional Australians. The CWA is much more than a bunch of ladies having tea and baking scones, although they do plenty of that. The CWA is a progressive organisation, taking stands on issues most important to rural people. Much like a good ginger fluff, the CWA may appear genteel, delicately mixed and expertly baked, but there’s a good dose of spice!

In its own words, the CWA ‘advances the rights and equity of women, families and communities in Australia through advocacy and empowerment, especially for those living in regional, rural and remote Australia’—equity and empowerment.

This year, the Victorian state conference, which would have been held on the last weekend of May, was to debate motions on issues as diverse as plastic pollution, TV gambling, mobile telecommunications, the age pension and e-cigarettes. The women of the CWA are no shrinking violets.

They are powerful advocates for the bush, looking out for the interests of regional Australia and showing our city cousins the best that the regions have to offer. They fund research into rural health and professional development scholarships for nurses and midwives, they promote farm safety, and they are a powerful voice for mental health.

I’d like to pay tribute today to all the CWAs across the country and to all the women who lead them, particularly the 24 branches of the CWA in my electorate of Indi, from Kinglake and Yarck in the south to Kergunyah, Cudgewa and Tintaldra in the Upper Murray. There are many extraordinary examples of the work of the CWA, but today I’ll illustrate the leadership of some of them. There are women like Dhirleen Clark and Elizabeth Harvey, president and secretary of the Wodonga CWA.

In Wodonga, Dhirleen and Elizabeth lead a group of women who cook for local events, raise money for local projects through sausage sizzles and the like, and advocate on issues important to women. Their main goal this year is to raise money to build a covered pathway from the Hilltop cancer hostel to the Albury-Wodonga hospital. This is classic CWA—seeing the hidden needs of the community and quietly going about their business to get things done. On top of that, they’re doing this project hand in hand with the local Men’s Shed.

But this year also brought a pandemic. Building on the theme ‘Grow, connect and improve’, the Wodonga CWA have developed an impromptu support network to help their most vulnerable members through the crisis.

For many of the older women, many of whom aren’t online, the CWA is the main source of social interaction, so the Wodonga CWA started a phone chain to ensure that all women continued to maintain social contact, even as the lockdown was imposed. Recognising that the lockdown means many women will be placed in vulnerable situations, they’ve been advocating strongly on violence against women and domestic violence—tragically, issues that are all too important in 2020. The pandemic, of course, threw off many plans. The Wodonga branch had planned an outreach event with women from the local African community, which is growing in Wodonga. Those plans have had to be delayed, but I look forward to both communities coming together when we’re able to again.

I’d also like to recognise the North-Eastern CWA group, led by their president, Wilma Bright, for their work during the bushfires. When fires came to Corryong, the women from Rosewhite branch cooked 360 meals, hopped into their cars, went to the Corryong area and knocked on any door where it looked like the people were affected by bushfire or could use a meal. The Oxley-Milawa branch sent personal care bundles, and women across the region spent countless hours knitting and crocheting for bushfire affected communities. The bushfires brought out the best in us, and the CWA is the best in us.

The CWA is a treasured national institution and I hope it remains that way for many years to come. To all its 44,000 members, thank you, and I wish you well.

[June 10, 2020]

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