Woman Siewert, Rachel Mary

Agricultural scientist, Environmentalist and Parliamentarian

Written by Judy Lambert (edited from blogs prepared by Jane Elix), Australian National University

Rachel Siewert was born in Sydney in 1961, but moved to Perth with her family when she was 13.Her early involvement in anti-nuclear issues began while completing a BSc in Agriculture. Rachel's interest in agriculture came, in large measure, from her grandmother, a strong woman who lived with the family. After a time working in the Western Australian Department of Agriculture, Rachel successfully applied for the position of Coordinator of the Western Australian Conservation Council (WACC) - a position she went on to hold for 16 years (1987-2004). Under Rachel's leadership, the WACC grew from a single staff member to a team supported by many skilled volunteers. Her work with the WACC is recognised in her receipt, in 2003, of the Bessie Rischbieth Conservation Award for outstanding environmental activism. Rachel relied heavily on her own and her husband's parents for support in caring for her young son during this hectic period. Managing work and family life was difficult and she believes that this was a factor in her marriage breakdown.

Approached to enter politics, Rachel successfully contested a Senate position and entered parliament in 2005. Since then she has been a dynamic member of the Australian Greens team addressing a range of environmental and social justice issues and serving as the party whip. Rachel also chairs the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs and has taken an advocacy role on behalf of former child migrants, Forgotten Australians and women separated from their children by adoption. Rachel describes her own leadership training as 'limited', having however benefited from the Mittagong Forum program organised by Peter Garrett when he was president of the Australian Conservation Foundation. The women she admires as leaders include Beth Schultz, Sue Graham-Taylor, Joan Payne and Jo Vallentine - all of whom Rachel regards as 'dedicated, humble and very willing to give of their time'. Rachel says leadership is 'not leadership for leadership's sake; it's leadership because that's how you can achieve things'. In general, Rachel sees traditional leadership as 'male-dominated, quite rude and arrogant; not listening and not participatory'. She identifies a need to change that culture and to recognise that people play leadership roles in many different ways, all of which should be accommodated.

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