Association Influencers 2020 - ANNOUNCED 

We are pleased to announce the selected AuSAE Association Influencers of 2020!

AuSAE’s Association Influencers program is about highlighting and recognising the outstanding contributions of individuals in the association community across Australia and New Zealand.

We thank our entire community for their contributions, especially our peer nominated group of forty-four (44) nominees for their continued support and commitment to the community over the last 12 months.

It has been our privilege to recognise each and every one of these individuals for their tireless efforts to making a significant and lasting impact within our tribe, and setting the benchmark for association professionals into the future.

Meet the AuSAE Association Influencers for 2020

The independent judging panel of experienced and passionate association leaders have selected the following 13 Association Influencers for 2020.

We formally acknowledge their achievements and celebrate them within the tribe as influencers, setting the benchmark within the associations community and our sector. ithin their sectors.

Recognising outstanding contributors to the sector

"It is our privilege to recognise outstanding individuals making a significant and lasting impact within our tribe and setting the benchmark for association professionals into the future".

Toni Brearley

Chief Executive Officer

Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE)

Association Influencers 2020... The below details are extracted from the nomination submissions.

Chris Roberts, Chief Executive - Tourism Industry Aotearoa 

“Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi.” "Without foresight or vision, the people will be lost."

Throughout the past year, Chris has led and represented the whole tourism industry in a positive light, demonstrating leadership through our most challenging period ever, from the West Coast flooding, Whakaari-White Island disaster and through the global pandemic. 

This has included round-the-clock media interviews on behalf of the industry. At a time when there was demand for Government support coming from almost every other industry, Chris refused to let tourism be ignored.   Early in the year, he asked Government for a special group to facilitate communications and key messages, which led MBIE to form the COVID-19 Tourism Future Advisory Group, bringing together government and private sector representatives.

He was twice invited to present submissions on behalf of the tourism industry to the Parliamentary COVID-19 Epidemic Response Committee, which was established in March 2020 to examine the Government’s management of the pandemic, furthermore, mid-year he was invited to brief the Governor-General on tourism issues relating to the pandemic.

Chris spoke up for migrant workers. When the borders closed, Chris considered those who were displaced in New Zealand and formally called on the Government to support them.   Being a valued spokesperson Chris was asked to be on the Tourism Futures Taskforce Advisory Board and is regularly invited to share his knowledge as a speaker at events.  He publicly wrote to and held meetings with top influencers, including the Prime Minister, Tourism Minister and Finance Minister. 

He has represented the sector with energy, creativity and resourcefulness, working long hours and leading the team through a period of very significant change.  Chris has listened to the sentiment of members and has represented their concerns with diligence and empathy.

Sarah Lang, Director Strategic PartnershipsInfrastructure New Zealand

Sarah Lang is a values driven leader, who is passionate about using her skills, networks and knowledge to contribute to structural change for a better New Zealand. Sarah is a highly collaborative, values-based association professional.

She is a very strong advocate and champion for the association sector, is well connected and highly respected in commercial, public and not-for-profit sectors, and also within Māori communities, having worked for and with a number of iwi authorities. Through her various government and not for profit roles, along with her own consulting company.

Sarah has a proven track record in delivering transformational, long lasting results across a raft of industries, including the association sector. Her ability to leverage from her well established, senior and cross-cultural networks, combined with her diplomatic leadership and engagement skills, results in enduring positive outcomes for all partners and stakeholders.

Sarah is continually pushing the boundaries in regard to association best practice, running NZ’s largest infrastructure conference and driving social impact and sustainability goals for the event.   

Sarah is a strong advocate for supporting tomorrow’s leaders. Sarah established Infrastructure NZ’s young leader Emerging Talent programme for upcoming leaders in the infrastructure sector, under the age of 35.  This network now has 3 Chapters in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and over 700 members.

Sarah founded the Women’s Infrastructure Network (WIN) in NZ, and is an advocate for the advancement of women in the infrastructure sector.  Sarah has led the growth of the WIN network to over 2000 members, spread over seven chapters nationwide, and was recently awarded the 2018 Women of Influence Diversity Award and was a nominee for the 2019 New Zealander of the Year Award.

She has inspired countless peers and her vision and drive in sustainable events and developing programmes specific to women and Young Professionals is admirable.

Charles Cameron

Chief Executive Officer - Recruitment, Consulting and Staffing Association of Australia and New Zealand

Charles Cameron, CEO of the Recruitment, Consulting and Staffing Association of Australia and New Zealand (RCSA), his first CEO role, has excelled time and again.   The RCSA worked with the Commonwealth Department of Health to create a Surge Workforce programme to ensure the provision of aged care staff in to aged care facilities where COVID 19 had ravaged staff and residents.  Charles led the program, on behalf of RCSA members to source and fill over 25,000 unfilled aged care staffing shifts during the COVID 19 crisis across Melbourne and Sydney.

The programme has been challenging and demanding but the end result has been outstanding. It resulted in the matching of over 50 healthcare staffing firms with over 100 Victorian aged care facilities impacted by COVID 19 outbreaks.  We have no doubt that our success in this programme directly saved lives as a result of the contribution made by the RCSA.   

On the back of the highly successful Commonwealth Department of Health Surge Workforce programme, the National Disability Insurance Agency and RCSA worked together to establish a scheme for NDIA providers to ensure the protection of those within the care of that scheme.  This program has been established and is ready to respond to any further outbreaks of COVID 19.

The RCSA also collaborated with the Queensland Government to establish the Jobs Finder Queensland Program, which connected over 17,000 out of work Queenslanders with recruitment and staffing agencies to assist them to find employment in their local area during the Covid-19 Pandemic.    

In order to help promote the role that recruitment firms play in the economic recovery required from COVID-19,  the RSCA launched its Working Sooner campaign.  Information on the Working Sooner Campaign is available at

Charles was, during this crisis, also elected to become Australia’s first Vice President of the World Employment Confederation in November.  

Lori Modde

Chief Executive Officer - Outdoors NSW & ACT 

Lori Modde became the CEO of Outdoors NSW & ACT on the day of COVID lockdown (23 March 2020) and managed to bring the industry together and collaborate in a time that was full of distress, but turned that into a time of collaboration, hope, connection, and future thinking. With each challenge, she faced it head-on and provided information, clarity, and opportunities to collaborate.

Lori submitted a report to the government indicating the toll of COVID-19, a $7.6B industry down to a $0.0B, and the standing down of all 77,000 FTE staff.  The report also detailed the impact to individual businesses of an average of $612,478.48 per business until July 2020 and the requirements to move forward through a 6 Point Plan.

Lori responded to issues raised with special risk management sessions, development programs, and media training to help guide the sector over this time, not only maintaining membership but growing it.  She increased organisational engagement by over 60%. In June as restrictions lifted in all states announced the resumption of school camps EXCEPT NSW & ACT.

In addition to the role of CEO, Lori devotes time to the outdoors community through being on the board of the Outdoor Council of Australia, as a Member of the Advisory Committee for Skills IQ. Lori is also a passionate volunteer. She is the public officer of a local progress association on local issues (Arcadia Galston Residents Association), is on the Advisory Council of the Tourism Division of the NSW Business Chamber (Business NSW), is a Board Member of Northholm Grammar School in the Hills District, recently judged the IAP2 Australasia Awards and is in her 8th year of judging the NSW Tourism Awards. 

In Simon Sinek's words, 'Leadership is not about being in charge. Leadership is about taking care of those in your charge'.

Andrew Hiebl

Chief Executive Officer - Association of Australian Convention Bureaux

Andrew Hiebl has been the CEO for nine years with his industry experience in the NFP sector being the driver of his ability to undertake meaningful lobbing and advocacy for the business events industry.

Andrew’s leadership has been evident throughout the COVID 19 crisis via roles with the Business Events Council of Australia (BECA), Australian Regional Tourism Board, Tourism Advisory Group and being called upon at the National Tourism Incident Communication Plan meetings.

He is a strong collaborator and known for his strategic insights that cut through to core issues that present in association businesses such as strategy, membership, advocacy, constitutional management and governance, government relations and stakeholder engagement.  While at the helm he has been able to grow AACB participation to its highest level with truly national engagement among diverse membership.

Andrew has had significant influence working in close collaboration with BECA.  AACB supported BECA and the united voice to reinforce the case for ongoing support for Australia’s $35.7 billion business events industry and the 229,000 people it employs.   In support of this principle, the AACB volunteered its resources in a part-time capacity to support BECA and advocate on behalf of the sector.    

Andrew’s influence expands internationally with invitations from DFAT to appear as the Australian representative at the 2020 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) MICE forum and from Destinations International to partake on a global COVID-19 taskforce.   

Recognising the mental health impacts on our community due to COVID-19, Andrew established a fundraiser for Beyond Blue and successfully raised $6,300 to support people in an industry that had essentially been shut down since late March 2020. 

Whilst all BECA members have their own niche within the marketplace, the pandemic highlighted the value and need of a collective industry voice. As a councillor on the BECA board, Andrew acknowledges differing opinions, whist consolidating members to support a united industry voice. 

Jessica Keough

National Committee and Events Manager - Auscontact Association 

Jessica Keough has been a pillar for the Auscontact Association team for many years, in the disruptive year that has been 2020, she has absolutely excelled - leading the redesign of the organisation's delivery of all key programs.

Through Jess’ work the association reached out and touched unprecedented members representing hundreds of  companies through many online events. In June and July, the numbers remained fairly similar with the added challenge that Jessica managed to re-engage with the volunteer workforce and reintegrate them into the new online process.

Not wanting to sit back and relax Jessica convinced the Board to allow the awards program to continue, having now demonstrated they could move the entire face to face event process online. In the third quarter of last year Auscontact held its first ever totally online national awards process celebrating the year of the individual.

Not being satisfied with the clear success that the association had garnered the team then requested permission to move ahead with an online conference. The Auscontact Annual Conference went online. It was a hit.

Jessica has shown within the last 12 months that she can rise to the challenge that businesses around the world have struggled with. Her tenacity to achieve, when matched with her internal need to bring everyone along on the journey has been a large part the reason that Auscontact returned the single biggest growth in its history. Jessica’s impact, has been the difference, not only to the association but in finding ways to support each and every member in a time of crisis for themselves.

By accepting this challenge, she has permanently changed the landscape of the association and has empowered the board to determine a new and profitable future that brings greater engagement with members, volunteers and sponsors while increasing profit and stability of the association going forward.

David McKeon

Chief Executive Officer - GrainGrowers


The work undertaken by David leading GrainGrowers over the last 12 months has been industry-leading and at the cutting edge of industry associations – GrainGrowers often talk as a team about how to strive to innovate and try new ways of delivering impact for grain farming members. Whether it’s policy and advocacy efforts providing an influential voice within government decision making, inspirational leadership programs enabling innovate grower leaders, grower engagement activities ensuring  activities are well focussed and impactful, or corporate services providing the financial sustainability and strong corporate governance to keep the business thriving.

GrainGrowers implemented a sustainability framework for the Australian Grains Industry, to  collect and transparently communicate industry level sustainability credentials, without putting additional time and cost on individuals in the grains industry. Tracking sustainability progress will help the industry, companies, government and individuals identify opportunties to cooperate and continuously improve.

David also championed the GrainGrowers family support service. This offers free counselling and advice to grower families across Australia, free of charge. With access to these services sometimes limited in regional communities, this has been an extremely meaningful project to implement and a testament to Dave's leadership.    

David led the association's response for growers to the COVID-19 pandemic with results across the areas of policy, advocacy, education, and membership support. When the impacts of COVID-19 became apparent, it was essential that grain farmers be recognised as essential workers.  GrainGrowers produced a COVID-19 information guide to assist producers to manage their business through the pandemic.

GrainGrowers also built a COVID-19 resource page on its website to keep growers and the broader industry up-to-date with the latest information and resources. It included an interactive travel map that was updated daily with border restrictions and travel permits.

David encourages and develops his team to be ambitious, to take risks in order to do bigger and better things. 

Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward

Chief Executive Officer - Australian College of Nursing 

The Australian College of Nursing is led by CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward, and this year has seen radical changes with dramatic and unique challenges to the nursing profession.

Kylie Ward has championed a dynamic, fast paced, and impactful scope of works that will have an impact for years to come. Kylie is the epitome of upholding the highest levels of ethical standards, inclusion of others and making brave decisions in the face of uncertainty.

Nurses and Kylie led the development of a critical strategy – the COVID-19 Nurses Support Strategy which provided practical help and a six-pronged approach: Information, Upskilling, Advocacy, Support, Changes to the Health Care System and Community Awareness.

In a year in which nurses have been working tirelessly on the front line, Kylie led a campaign to ask Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of Australia, to acknowledge nurses for their role during COVID-19. It resulted in a video message and associated press of his acknowledgment which received over 2.5 million views.

On behalf of nurses everywhere, Kylie called for a minimum of one RN to be on shift at every Registered Aged Care Facility 24/7. This is an important reform that will benefit millions of people.

Kylie supports Men in Nursing - There are hundreds of men who are nurses. Kylie Ward, a staunch warrior in the fight for gender equality, launched a successful campaign to assist with dismantling the ‘stigma’ around men in nursing.

And gifting $1M in scholarships to the membership - Kylie led the initiative that saw the ACN through its Institute of Leadership gift members $1,000,000 in scholarships in appreciation and acknowledgement of the work nurses have done for all Australians during 2020.

An agile CEO, Kylie led with courage, tenacity and patience; stepping up and out of her comfort zone, she actively rallied on behalf of all nurses in Australia.

Patricia Sparrow

Chief Executive Officer - Aged & Community Services Australia 

Patricia Sparrow is the Chief Executive Officer of Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA), she has had a 30-year career in aged care spanning roles across Government, Consumer and Provider Peak bodies. Throughout her career, Patricia has advocated tirelessly for older Australians, most notably through the COVID-19 crisis and throughout the Aged Care Royal Commission.

During 2020, Patricia has shown exemplary leadership in what has been the most challenging year in living memory for the aged care sector. ACSA and its members had already been dealing with new Aged Care Quality Standards, 18 months of a Royal Commission and a nightmare bushfire season, when COVID-19 struck.    

It is widely acknowledged that Patricia is the leading voice in aged care and community services and is in the unique position to have a 360 degree view of the sector working on the aged care reform agenda with Government, with consumers and families and ACSA members who provide essential services in aged care homes and in people’s own homes throughout Australia often in challenging circumstances.

Patricia led from the front in terms of tackling the government and the media on behalf of ACSA’s members during the COVID-19 crisis.     Her strong and unrelenting advocacy influenced things like the setting up of the Victorian Aged Care Response Centre, and the mandating of hospital transfers for aged care residents that were diagnosed with COVID-19.

Patricia was a regular guest on all the major TV networks including breakfast TV and the nightly news and successfully helped change the sentiment of media away from vilifying individual aged care providers to highlighting the systemic issues from chronic underfunding by government.    

The final report of the Royal Commission is expected to deliver wide reaching recommendations to transform the aged care sector for which Patricia will lead ACSA and its members through.

Patricia’s vision is for a society where older people are treated with care, respect and dignity and their care is resourced properly.

Merlin Kong

Head of innovAGEING & Interim Director of the Centre for Workforce Development and Innovation- Leading Age Services Australia 

Merlin Kong is the Head of innovAGEING and Interim Director of the Centre for Workforce Development and Innovation at Leading Age Services Australia (LASA).  His work with innovAGEING to allow LASA to scale and apply measurable innovative change in the aged care sector ecosystem.

Merlin has developed innovAGEING (iA), from a mere concept with 35 'kick-off' participants to what it is today, a national innovation network for the age services sector with over 3,000 participants. In doing so, he successfully established iA as a Commonwealth Government supported initiative, and forged constructive partnerships with the Commonwealth Bank and KPMG Australia.

Additionally, identifying the need for better linkages between research and industry, Merlin created knowledge translation partnerships with practice-based research institutions like RMIT University, the National Ageing Research Institute, the University of Western Australia, and Flinders University.

Merlin has definitely challenged the status quo, but in a manner that is constructive and positive. Over the given year, Merlin had approximately 16 national speaking engagements, deliver approximately 15 speaking events and workshops, and engage with over 6,000 people.

Merlin has created and supported networks of like-minded innovators with a strong grasp of the issues addressing aged care delivery, encouraging a mindset of collaboration and sharing that has fostered real change and transformation that positively impacts the lives of ageing Australians. To have had continued progress and growth in the introduction of innovative new products and services embraced by aged care providers and the individuals for whom they care, in a year remarkably impacted by the effects of COVID 19 is a testament to Merlin’s foresight, dedication and leadership.

He is collectively strongly respected and appreciated by the people creating innovative improvements for ageing Australians as well as those that highlight the issues they face in care delivery and he is the key facilitator between idea, action and rapid tangible improvements for all.

Wes Lambert

Chief Executive Officer - Restaurant and Catering Australia

Led by CEO, Wes Lambert, the Restaurant and Catering Association faced its hardest year in record, and believe that RCA stood up and represented the industry.

Wes’ approach where he genuinely cares about each business and member has led to membership referrals, greater events, new ways to deliver virtual relationships, and other paths to support members either digitally and/or in person. 

Wes was named one of South Australia’s “Most Influential Hospitality Heavy Hitters.” He has appeared on the Today Show, ABC News Breakfast, Weekend Sunrise, & Sky News, including on Alan Jones, interviewed live on 3AW, 2GB, 4BC, & ABC radio, and has been featured on ABC RN The Money.  Wes has been quoted in The Australian, The Australian Financial Review and AFR Magazine, The Sydney Morning Herald, Good Food, The Age, The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph & The Courier Mail, and featured in numerous podcasts, webinars and as a guest speaker at multiple conventions and events, speaking about his hospitality experience and on behalf of the industry.

He has actively sought ways to offer help when it was called for; particularly around topics such as; mental health; IR advise; how to get staff when there are no visa workers. 

Amongst all this Wes has found the space to write and publish a book this year on how to grow the industry.  This has been a useful tool for restaurateurs and more so 100% of Profits from the 'Saving Hospo Collection’ will be donated to various charities.

Wes’ unrelenting focus and energy into answering every phone call; speaking to every radio request; representing the industry on every TV interview and being quoted in almost every paper in Australia, shows his dedication to changing the industry for the better and making sure it has a seat at the table.

Wes has had a truly innovative mindset – ‘saving hospitality - one venue at a time’.

James Pearson 

Chief Executive Officer - Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry

James is CEO of ACCI and through that role has been influential since his appointment, in 2020 however, James directly connected ACCI members to government at the highest level.  His time as a diplomat has flowed into how he brings his ability to influence to the table. He displays curiosity, interest and genuine concern. He's constantly ready and willing to help, and he follows through.

Highlights of recent achievements include guiding the Commonwealth Government to support wage subsidies for employers (JobKeeper); increasing funding for training (VET) and increased industry involvement in skills policy; increasing skilled migrant numbers despite cuts in overall permanent migration; and adopting a consistent, targeted approach to Covid-19 hotspots balancing health, economic and social impacts.

Additionally, James and the ACCI team Won Senate cross bench support for a tax cut for small and medium businesses; extended instant asset write-off; and re-establishment of the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

James leads a team that is able to influence the highest levels of government, he connects members directly to relevant members of government.   It is through the growth of ACCI’s Business Leaders Council that James has had the greatest influence on associations and our connections. The Business Leaders Council brings together association leaders, corporate leaders and senior government and society leaders via regular events. Through these events James has ensured that associations are having a direct voice into government. During the COVID crisis, this access to government has never been more important.

Under his leadership, ACCI have also been active in coalescing the views on other associations into their own policy positioning and ensured that government was aware of these views.

While James' CV and work over the last year or so speaks for itself, it is James' style and approach that accords him his influence in the association sector. He is remarkably generous with his time and incredibly humble despite his successful career.

Thomas Dunsmore

General Manager - Australian Boarding Schools Association 

Thomas has had a dramatic influence on the Australian Boarding Schools Association during 2020.   

At all times he has acted with the needs of the Association as the key influencer, showing complete integrity and appropriate risk-taking within the bounds of possibilities for boarding school engagement.  He is exemplary in his ability to dream up new ideas, discuss them with his team members and others in the Association field, and take on criticism and suggestions to enhance the projects. His work has meant the appointment of a new staff member to assist him with his work, and at all times his team mentality has meant that the things the Association has achieved are way above and beyond those we thought possibly at the start of the year.   


After taking a key lead in the development of Partnerships for the Association Thomas raised the income of the Association in this regard from around $20,000 to just under $250,000.  The challenge of COVID-19 during the past nine months has meant a complete re-think of the way our Association could support these Partners (with no face-to-face events) to ensure as limited as possible decrease in income. 

As an Association we have taken a big step forward in providing an extensive online experience for our members which includes webinars, certificate courses, online courses, virtual discussions, partnership activities - these activities are now all being aligned under our ABSA Training Academy. 

A key focus for us in the future is continuing to improve our online offerings and targeting international boarding schools due to our ability to service them now. 

This has all been done while studying two subjects toward his degree, and in his first year of married life!

Nominees for 2020...

Joanne Kane

Records and Information Professionals Australasia

Marketing and Convention Manager | Editor in Chief

Amelia Hodge

Australian Property Institute

Chief Executive Officer

Jade Laverty

Governance Institute of Australia

Marketing & Communications Manager

Catherine Cattanach

New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography


Barbara Wood

Boob Buddies Inc.

Founder, CEO, and President

Sequoia Harris

Healthcare Financial Management Association

Projects and System Support

Kym De Britt

Australian Dental Industry Association

Chief Executive Officer

Harry Hoang

Disaster Relief Australia / 

Canberra Business Chamber Ltd

Volunteer Finance Officer / Secretary

Ben Reeves

Australian Association of Graduate Employers

Chief Executive

David Jenkins

The Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia

Chief Executive Officer

Dr Zena Burgess

Australian Psychological Society

Chief Executive Officer

Leslie Henderson-Craig


Executive Officer

Nick McKissack

Human Resources Institute of New Zealand

Chief Executive Officer

Dr Anthony (Tony) Clarke

Australian & New Zealand Gastroenterology International Training Association

Deputy Chair & Programs Coordinator

Vase Jovanoska

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Chief Executive Officer

Alison Verhoeven

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association

Chief Executive

Michelle Berriman

Fundraising Institute of New Zealand

Executive Director 

Katrin Watson

Strata Community Association (Qld)

Executive Officer

Phillip Armstrong

Australian Counselling Association

Chief Executive Officer

Michelle Blicavs

Association of Consulting Surveyors

Chief Executive Officer

Patrizia Torelli

Australian Furnishing Association

Chief Executive Officer

Spiros Dassakis

SPASA Australia

Chief Operations Officer

Tara Diamond

Australian Mines and Metals Association

Director Operations

Dean Seeley

Australian Trucking Association

Partnerships and Events Director

Kosam Nyamdela

Project Management Institute of New Zealand

President and Chief Executive Officer

Ken Griffin

Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association

Chief Executive Officer

Melanie McKay

Employers and Manufacturers Association

Public Affairs & Communications Manager

Melinda Lyons

Family Business Australia

National Marketing Coordinator

Gerry Yuwono

Australasian Society for Ultrasound in Medicine

Product and Innovation Lead & DMU Coordinator

Emma Brooke

United Way SA

Chief Executive Officer

Well done to all of this years 2020 peer nominees!

For further information about Association Influencers 2020 or to make an enquiry, contact: 

The Australasian Society of Association Executives (AuSAE)

Australian Office:
Address: Unit 6, 26 Navigator Place, Hendra QLD 4011 Australia
Free Call: +61 1300 764 576
Phone: +61 7 3268 7955

New Zealand Office:
Address: 159 Otonga Rd, Rotorua 3015 New Zealand
Phone: +64 27 249 8677


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