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Published on the VCOSS Voice on 26 July 2012.
VCOSS and its many friends and colleagues recently said farewell to Cath Smith and celebrated her 10 years of outstanding leadership as VCOSS CEO.
It was a great night – held in the gold vaults of the Old Treasury Building– with tributes led by former Premier Joan Kirner, Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge, and Department of Human Services Secretary Gill Callister, who presented Cath with the perfect farewell present – a roll of red tape.
See some of the photos from the night and read a selection of the speakers’ toasts to Cath, or you can listen to all the speeches.*
“Cath has a strange influence on me, she actually calms me.”
“We’re both passionate believers and advocates for social justice and when you work with Cath you get the whole package; you get the research, the facts, you get the analysis, you get the answers, well some of them…and then she actually does something unusual: she asks you to contribute to the answers as well. That’s her real skill, getting people to find solutions together and we all know the best decisions are made when community owns the challenge and owns the solutions and Cath has led that.”
“It was through A Fairer Victoria that, in a government sense, Cath and the whole sector came into their own. It was an extraordinary thing for a government to decide that, at the same time as it produces an economic statement, it should produce a social justice statement…based on the principles of human rights, of equity, sustainability, social inclusion, universal social services, and community ownership of decisions.”
“I think one of the outstanding things for me is, having worked in the community sector myself, and now being back there…I know that one of the hardest things to do is decide to work in partnership with government. It’s pretty easy to be on the attack and it’s good fun too…but in so many cases it’s a partnership that actually works. And I don’t mean a one-handed partnership, (but) one where you share ideas and strategies and accept responsibility for shared outcomes.”
The Community Services Minister characterised Cath with three words: passionate, strategic, and fair.
“When you think about an advocacy campaign led by Cath, every box is ticked; the research is done, it’s fantastic; the support is generated, the case is argued very articulately and strongly, everyone is brought around the table to make it happen, and it’s delivered.”
“Cath has always been incredibly straight with me: I know where I stand, I know what the issues are. It’s always delivered and managed in a way that I think is appropriate, respectful and fair, but always very clear, regardless of whether it’s in support or against. I’ve always felt that in Opposition and in Government. I think the mark of groups who seek to influence and the leaders who lead them is you understand that everyone has a role in the political processes and you can achieve by working with everyone, in terms of where you need to go… That has, for me, meant a huge amount and it builds trust when you know that sort of relationship is there.”
“I know both in terms of the policies we took to government and what we have implemented since, that Cath’s contribution and the VCOSS team’s contribution has been significant in shaping them and achieving some of the really positive social justice objectives that we had and making them happen for the broader community.”
“After we were elected – and I must say most people were very surprised – I know that the entire public service of the departments of Health, Human Services, Early Childhood and Education… watched the videos (ed note: VCOSS recorded a Coalition Q&A before the 2010 election) because they had no clue who their Ministers were going to be and the only source of information was actually this detailed interview…because no one had engaged with us in a similar way as Cath and VCOSS did. I still have a very clear memory of that and I’ve got to say I am still being held to account for what I said! As I should be!”
“For me, your time at VCOSS is characterised by leadership, which you have shown in spades; partnership, which is easy to talk about but quite hard to do, particularly in times that get tough; by innovation, always open to new things; optimism, there is always a way forward with you, no matter how robust or critical you’re being at the time; and determination, the ‘never give up’ factor.
“VCOSS is an extremely important, very significant partner for DHS, and Cath’s leadership has been instrumental in many reforms and initiatives.”
“I’ll miss your passion, wise counsel, (and) ability to bring people together around a common purpose. But your legacy is strong and sound and I think you leave VCOSS in strong hands to go forward.”
Listen also to VCOSS Board President Micaela Cronin….
…and hear Cath’s speech in response.
*Apologies for the poorer sound quality on Joan Kirner’s speech
Stop press: in case you missed it, the VCOSS Board was pleased this week to announce the appointment of Penny Wilson, the former Chief Executive Officer of the Responsible Gambling Advocacy Centre, as our new CEO. More details in our media release.