AFR 100 women of influence speech

2 March 2020
Congratulations to MBI's Professor Julie Leask
Julie was named the overall winner of the Australian Financial Review's 100 Women of Influence for 2019

In her acceptance speech, Professor Julie Leask writes:

I want to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation and thank Auntie Anne for her welcome to country. I thank the Australian Financial Review, Qantas, Korn Ferry and all the sponsors. And the judges – you had a tough job.

I feel keenly a sense of privilege and responsibility with this award. To me this award recognises public health: public health, in the words of Pat Barker the novelist, doesn’t have much dash about it. You can’t cut the ribbon on a public health intervention but tobacco control, road safety, malaria prevention and vaccination are saving lives, ten thousand at time.

Vaccines prevent about 2.5million deaths each year. But some people aren’t having them. The US, Ukraine, Yemen, Venezuela and the Philippines all had large measles outbreaks in 2019 because not enough people were vaccinated. We need to find out why and map solutions well. It’s not just the ‘anti-vaxer’ phenomenon. There’s also breakdown in primary health care, conflict, displacement, neglect of immunisation programs. And yes, some fear vaccines.

In vaccination, the more you control the diseases, the less people see them. If they stop vaccinating for this reason, the diseases come back.

This is a complex, even wicked problem.

My field, social science in immunisation tries to understand why people don’t vaccine and what to do about it. We also look at how to have more constructive conversations with the hesitant. Vaccination is an emotional topic – it touches on issues of protection and social responsibility. When people question it, many want to shout louder, or to fight dirtier. But in vaccination, we must conduct ourselves in a way that is worthy of the goals we seek to achieve: the health and wellbeing of children, adults and societies.

I work with groups of talented and committed people: who are building the tools to help countries find out why their immunisation rates are low; who are finding out why only 25% of Australian children are having the flu vaccine; or 50% of older adults have their pneumonia vaccine. And we are understanding success too: how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 5 year-olds are now 97% nationally and the untold story of the contribution of the Aboriginal Community Controlled sector and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers to that

Mostly women have discovered these things: and they have done this while they have raised children, or led their First Nations communities, were responsible for EDs or health programs.

I want to acknowledge them and the Collaboration on Social Science in Immunisation. And all the quiet achievers who making vaccine programs – many of whom share my background – nursing – who drive the extra mile, send the extra reminder or stay the extra hour to get people vaccinated.

I want to acknowledge people important to me here tonight. My mother, who as a young mum didn’t  vaccinate then changed her mind, going against how she was raised. She did what she believed was right, even though it was hard. She taught me determination, curiosity, and empathy. She is here with my stepmother. They have been friends since 1975, showing how it’s possible to cross traditional boundaries within families. Rose, is a woman of true grit.

Also here tonight Kristine Macartney, director of the NCIRS. I want to particularly acknowledge my team at the University of Sydney: Kerrie Wiley, Pen Robinson, David Levy, Lyndal Trevena also Nina Berry, Margie Danchin, my PhD and masters students, and many others – it’s hard not to be able to mention them all by name. Also my colleagues in the Sydney Nursing School and my mentors Lesley Barclay, Peter McIntyre, Sally Redman, and Amy Creighton.

Finally I want to acknowledge my husband Sandy Leask – on this journey with me for the past 29 years. Your support and love – words fail. We have been in partnership raising our two wonderful children (our son is at home cooking dinner for his sister).

What an incredible group of women here tonight. You:

  • help farmers effect climate action
  • lead our space agency in Australia
  • Work in media diversity
  • You lead in Sport
  • Film making
  • Distance education
  • You’ve been advocates for Refugees
  • You’ve worked in cerebral palsy research
  • You’ve been advocates for the Rights of LGBTQI people
  • All of us are winners tonight because we effect change, we stare down our struggles and our imperfections, yet act as a role models for all genders and show what it possible.

Thank you for all that you do, and for this award.