Special Guest

The Hon Fiona Nash

The Hon Fiona Nash is Australia’s first Regional Education Commissioner will be attending the Forum as a special guest.

Ms Nash has a deep love for regional Australia and an enduring interest in regional education, with strong links to the education sector.

She is a champion for regional, rural and remote education, working with stakeholders and governments across sectors so all Australians can access a high-quality education, regardless of where they live.

Keynote Speakers

Andy Saunders

Comedian and advocate for role modelling respect for women
Andy Saunders, a proud Biripi man and the father of four, has an extraordinary ability to use humour to break down barriers and stereotypes as well as provoke thought.

Andy has been part of the Australian Government ‘Stop it at the Start’ campaign, promoting the importance of role modeling respect to children and encouraging others to call out disrespect of women.

This Keynote address is sure to leave you laughing, but also reflecting on the important role educators can play in shaping children’s futures.

Dr Leanne Gibbs

Dr Leanne Gibbs is Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Charles Sturt University. Leanne has worked in early childhood education (ECE) for over 35 years. She has a PhD in ECE leadership, along with qualifications in education, public policy, politics, leadership and management. Leanne’s roles have included teacher and director of ECE programs, adviser and manager with local, state and federal government and principal researcher. She has managed professional development programs for major providers and was Chief Executive Officer of an Australian sector peak.  Leanne is an active member of not-for-profit Boards. She is an author, researcher, and podcaster. Her research interests are leadership, management and governance and their influence upon social justice and ECEC quality.

It’s a privilege to work with early childhood education professionals who are passionate about their work with children, families and each other.”

> Leading every day for children, families, and the early childhood profession

Forum Speakers

The Hon Sarah Mitchell, MLC

NSW Minister for Education and Early Learning
Sarah Mitchell was born and raised in Gunnedah and has spent most of her life living in North-West New South Wales. She continues to live in Gunnedah with her husband Anthony and their daughters Annabelle and Matilda.

Since entering parliament in 2011, Sarah has served on numerous committees and as Parliamentary Secretary for Regional and Rural Health and Western NSW. In 2017, Sarah was appointed Minister for Early Childhood Education, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Assistant Minister for Education. In 2019, Sarah was appointed as Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning.

Sarah is a graduate of Gunnedah High School and is passionate about education, particularly in regional and remote parts of NSW. As Minister, she is committed to ensuring every child – no matter where they are from – has access to top-quality education. Since becoming Education Minister, Sarah has led evidence-based reform with student outcomes at heart. Introducing mandatory phonics and creating the School Success Model to bring more transparency into the system to ensure students receive the support they need to succeed. Regional, rural and remote students are a focus. A revitalised regional strategy backed up with on-the-ground support is a big step to addressing the regional divide that Sarah is dedicated to closing.

Senator the Hon Anthony Chisholm

Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development
Senator the Hon Anthony Chisholm is the Assistant Minister for Education and Regional Development.

Coming from a big decentralised State like Queensland, Senator Chisholm understands the importance of ensuring access to high quality education regardless of where Australians might live.

This is something the Albanese Government is committed to, and an area that Senator Chisholm is focused on delivering as part of the Australian Government.

Sandie Wong

Early Childhood Educators Well-being project
Sandie Wong is a Professor at Macquarie University, and a Research Fellow with Goodstart Early Learning. Sandie has worked as an academic, manager, researcher, evaluator, educator, consultant and nurse, within a range of early childhood, academic and health organisations.

Sandie is committed to working in collaborative, strengths-based ways, with academics from a range of disciplines, early childhood organisations and practitioners, and governments, to lead and support high quality research, evaluation and practitioner enquiry, that contributes to best practice in early childhood. Her current work investigates: early childhood practices (including inter-professional practice); workforce issues (including educator time-use); educator well-being; and the history of early childhood internationally.

> Well-being Initiatives for Early Childhood Professionals

Tamara Cumming

Early Childhood Educators Well-being project
Tamara Cumming is a Senior Lecturer with the Macquarie School of Education. Tamara has worked in the early childhood sector for over 15 years. Prior to becoming an academic she held positions as an early childhood educator, inclusion support manager and research officer in a children’s services organisation.

Tamara’s research concerns the complexity of early childhood practice, and the well-being and sustainability of the early childhood workforce. She is co-leader of the Early Childhood Educator Well-being Project, and a Chief Investigator on the Exemplary Educators at Work ARC Linkage Project. Tamara supervises PhD students in the areas of early childhood workforce well-being, practice and leadership.

> Well-being Initiatives for Early Childhood Professionals

Rhonda Livingstone

Rhonda has a wealth of experience in the early education and care sector, having worked in preschools and long day care centres, and as an assessor of programs and services for both the Queensland Government and the Crèche and Kindergarten Association of Queensland. Rhonda’s extensive involvement in the National Quality Agenda reforms saw her contribute to the development of the National Quality Standard and its guide, assessment and rating tools and processes, and the training and testing program for authorised officers.

Emma Cross

Curtin University
Emma is an early childhood specialist with a Bachelor degree in commerce (management and marketing), Masters degree in early childhood education, and is currently studying her PhD exploring quality leadership and positionality in the Australian early childhood sector. Emma has experience as a centre director for Australian early childhood service providers.

Emma is a researcher passionate about leadership driving quality in the early childhood sector. Emma’s research interests include the digitisation of childhood and leadership. Emma aims to support educators working in early years services to embed digital technologies into learning environments in meaningful ways based on emerging research. Her vision is to support young children to use digital technologies creatively for innovation, play, and connection.

> Advocacy and growth in rural and remote early childhood education

Sarah Powell

Macquarie School of Education
Sarah is Senior Lecturer in Creative Arts in the School of Education at Macquarie University. She works with Early Childhood and Primary School preservice teachers to prepare them to incorporate the Arts and be creative in their practice. She teaches in the areas of Music and Movement/Dance, and her research focuses on the power of singing with children. She is particularly interested in encouraging teachers to use music, singing, and movement in creative and integrated ways.

> Music and Movement

Sue Lane

Music Specialist
Sue Lane has had much experience as a music specialist and classroom teacher in a variety of school settings on the Central Coast of NSW. She worked for many years with pre-service teachers in Early Childhood and Primary Music and Dance Education programs at the University of Newcastle and the University of Technology, Sydney. She has also been employed as a professional development manager, presenter and consultant with Musica Viva Australia.

Sue’s research focuses on arts education provision in Australian schools. She has been actively involved with the Orff Schulwerk Association of NSW for many years, supporting educators in the presentation of creative music experiences with their students.

> Music and Movement

Cynthia Cuoco

Cynthia Cuoco has worked in administration for over 30 years working in a variety of administrative roles such as Practice Manager, Team Leader, Paralegal and owner of a long day care centre.  Cynthia is currently working as a Training and Development officer with ECTARC, training in Business Services and Leadership and Management.  Cynthia is passionate about empowering learners with the knowledge and skills to step fully into their leadership and further develop their business abilities.

> Inclusive Workplace Practices and Effective Communication

Scott Brunelle (he/him)

Rainbow Families
Scott Brunelle is the founding board CoChair of Rainbow Families. Rainbow Families works to reduce discrimination and disadvantage faced by children of LGBTQ+ parents so they can thrive and shine.

Scott’s interest in Family Diversity education began in 2011 as the coordinator of Gay Dads NSW. Having experienced first-hand how a lack of focus on this crucial aspect of inclusion disadvantaged children and families, Scott established stakeholder relationships and contributed to the development of resources with Early Childhood Australia that enable all early childhood educators to feel confident in creating learning experiences on family diversity.

Formerly a private sector Marketing and Business Development leader for 20 years both in the USA and Australia, Scott transitioned into the early childhood educator sector in 2021. In addition to being a qualified educator, Scott has a Graduate Certificate in Marketing and a Master of Commerce (Marketing) from the University of Sydney.

Scott and his spouse are proud parents to one son, who was born with the help of a surrogate and two daughters, who they co-parent with a lesbian couple.

> Beyond the rainbow: Connecting, supporting and empowering diverse families

Marly Greenwood

Rainbow Families
As an educational professional, Marly understands the importance of families and children feeling welcomed, accepted and included in their early childhood service and school community. Marly believes that a sense of acceptance and belonging are essential for children’s overall happiness in their learning environment. Marly has been a long-time advocate for diverse families, with a particular interest in LGBTIQ+ headed families.

Marly and her family have faced numerous challenges in early childhood services and their children’s primary school because of their family structure. These experiences prompted Marly to volunteer her time providing training and information sessions to early childhood and primary educators. The driving force was a desire to dispel myths, provide education and support staff to create welcoming and inclusive environments for same sex parented families.

Marly is a volunteer with Rainbow Families. Marly, her wife and teenage children continue to be strong advocates for LGBTIQ+ headed families and gender diverse children. She continues to learn about the wonderful diversity within LGBTIQ+ headed families and the ways in which we can help reduce disadvantage for these families. Marly and her wife are fulfilled parents of two teenagers and as a family, they are proud members of Rainbow Families and the Rainbow Community.

> Beyond the rainbow: Connecting, supporting and empowering diverse families

Rachel Kerry


Rachel Kerry has over twenty years’ experience in philanthropy and corporate responsibility with a background in financial services and responsible travel. Rachel joined CAGES in 2011 focussing on strategy, measurement, partnerships and overall administration of the foundation. She has also done occasional work with Perpetual Ltd, Future Generations Global and Westpac Foundation.

Rachel was formerly on the Board of Curious Works and has spent time consulting to non-profits around strategic philanthropy. She is an enthusiastic member of the Early Childhood Impact Alliance and the International Funders for Indigenous People network. Rachel was born and raised in Sydney on the land of the Bidgigal people and after much exploration she now lives there with her husband and two teenage sons.

> Philanthropy: The opportunity, the reality and the cautionary tales

Margot Beach

Dusseldorp Forum

Margot Beach is the General manager of Dusseldorp Forum. She has over 30 years experience in the human services sector working  in senior management positions in both government and non government in both Queensland and New South Wales. Her areas of experience have been in child protection and early intervention, early years education, age care and disability services. Her commitment is to engage with compassion, respite and curiosity. Margot was born in Goondiwindi, raised on the land of the Bigambul people and lives in Sydney with her wife.

> Philanthropy: The opportunity, the reality and the cautionary tales

Maurita Cavanough

Jarjum Centre

Maurita is a Bundjalung woman from Ballina NSW, who has worked in the Early Childhood sector for the last 20 years.

As the director of Jarjum Centre, an aboriginal early childhood service, Maurita has overseen a transformative approach to education. In 2020 Maurita joined both the Board of the North Coast Aboriginal Alliance and the NSW ECED Aboriginal advisory group. The NSW ECED Aboriginal Advisory group co-designed with the Department the First Steps strategy which was launched in 2021. Maurita recognises that working with a system lens provides a great method to collaborate and co-design with many knowledge holders effectively and constructively. Systems thinking is how she has learnt to culturally identify, make meaning and connection to the world around her. She has a strong belief that to learn and act collaboratively there must be a shared vision and opportunity to hear and learn from one another.

> Philanthropy: The opportunity, the reality and the cautionary tales

Valenty Mai

NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency

Valenty Mai is the Manager of the Sydney Metro West Inclusion Hub of the NSW/ACT Inclusion Agency. In this role she oversees the management and implementation of the Australian Government funded Inclusion Support Program. The Inclusion Support Program provides supports to eligible mainstream ECEC services to build their capacity and capability to include children with additional needs, alongside their typically developing peers, so all children have genuine opportunities to access, participate and achieve positive learning outcomes. Valenty is passionate about empowering and supporting educators to address barriers to inclusion so that all children can meaningfully and actively be included and valued as part of their communities both now and in the future.

> Big situations…Supporting educators to prepare and respond

Christopher Phoenix

Phoenix Support for Educators

Christopher is an author, keynote speaker, researcher, and the wellbeing specialist for the Phoenix Cups, and Phoenix Support for Educators. He is the co-author “The Phoenix Cups: A Cup Filling Story“, and tours Australia and beyond delivering the Phoenix Cups framework.

Christopher began his career in the corporate sector, however, his passion was for philosophy, wellbeing, and understanding human behaviour, grew his side hustle into a colourful full time career as an author, mentalist, and hypnotherapist. This has seen him grace the screens of Australia’s most popular morning show Sunrise, been interviewed on national radio station Triple M, and spoken about the need for wellbeing management in numerous newspaper and media articles.

As someone who continues to learn, Chris is currently undertaking his Ph.D. in Philosophy, to pursue his theories on authenticity as a virtue, and how we can create meaningful lives, and attempt to meet our human needs.

During this presentation you will learn about a powerful framework to understand wellbeing and behaviour through the lenses of Positive Psychology, Humanistic Psychology, and Philosophy.

Aleshia Lonsdale

Welcome to Country

Aleshia Lonsdale is an accomplished artist and proud Wiradjuri woman hailing from Mudgee in Central Western New South Wales. With a deep connection to her cultural heritage and identity, Aleshia has dedicated herself to using her artistic talents as a platform to amplify the voices and experiences of First Nations people. Her art is a reflection of her cultural knowledge and experiences, often exploring themes of identity, spirituality, and the ongoing struggle for justice and recognition.

Aleshia’s work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and exhibitions across Australia, and she has received recognition for her contributions to the Indigenous arts community. Through her art, Aleshia seeks to challenge the stereotypes and misconceptions surrounding Indigenous people and their cultures, while also celebrating the rich diversity and resilience of First Nations communities. She is a passionate advocate for Indigenous rights and cultural preservation, and her art is a powerful tool for education, empowerment, and change.

Ben Ballard

NSW Department Of Education

Ben Ballard is Executive Director of the Regional, Rural and Remote Education Policy Unit within the NSW Department of Education. Ben is a proud Biripi man with links across NSW. An experienced K-12 educator, he has worked in both the NSW and ACT public school systems as well as with the NSW Department of Sport & Recreation. Ben leads a range of initiatives and reforms focussed on educational, social and technological developments to support rural and remote students, staff and communities. His portfolio spans from early childhood through to school and post-school pathways.

Ben’s commitment and ability to build a strong team has led to leadership and advisory roles in state, national and agency advisory boards. He is passionate about equity and wellbeing, and is driven to ensure the NSW education system improves outcomes for all students.

> Shaping the educational journey in regional, rural and remote NSW

Shane Snibson

NSW Department Of Education

Shane Snibson is the Acting Executive Director, Quality Assurance and Regulatory Services, Early Childhood Education in the NSW Department of Education. In this role, Shane provides strategic and operational leadership for the regulatory governance, policy reform and practice of more than 5,900 early childhood education and care services in NSW.

> Changes to Assessment & Rating in NSW

Nicholas Backo

NSW Department Of Education

Nicholas Backo is currently the Director of the Statewide Operations Network within Quality Assurance and Regulatory Services (QARS). QARS is the NSW Regulatory Authority for early childhood education and care.

Nicholas leads a workforce of over 150 staff including authorised officers across the state and Information and Enquiries, Triage and Review, Continuous Improvement and Compliance and Investigation teams. Nicholas joined QARS in 2022, following a long career working in child protection within the Department of Communities and Justice.

Sarah Hurcombe

NSW Department Of Education

Sarah is the Executive Director, Universal Pre-Kindergarten. Sarah’s varied career in Australia and the UK has focused on service system redesign and change. She has worked within local, state and national governments, small and large not for profits, philanthropic foundations, large consultancies and boutique service design consultancies. ​

Sarah is passionate about working in partnership with people, communities and organisations to collectively re-imagine and redesign services and systems which support people to live their best lives. 

> Universal Pre-Kindergarten

Karen Davis

NSW Department Of Education

Karen Davis is Director, Workforce. She has over 20 years’ experience in senior executive roles and has a background in leadership, talent, learning and development, reform and organisational culture.

Karen started her professional career as a secondary school teacher. She held leadership roles in schools and then moved into frontline child protection and has led large teams in the areas of child protection and out of home care and learning and development and people and culture. She has also managed and run a successful consultancy business with a major focus was on public sector reform projects in countries like Vanuatu, Solomon Island and East Timor. 

Her consultancies in Australia focused on the provision of advice on strategy, leadership, people and culture and change.  Karen has deep experience in workforce strategy, talent acquisition and retention, leadership development and diversity and inclusion. She brings to her work a passion for putting people at the heart of strategy development and a strong desire to be inclusive and consultative in her approach.

> Enhancing, retaining and growing the ECEC workforce talent and leadership pipeline by putting people at the heart of everything we do

Lou-Anne (Lou) Lind

NSW Department Of Education

Lou-Anne Lind is the recently appointed Director of Local Reform working in Commissioning in Early Childhood Outcomes (Department of Education) to support the roll out of the NSW Government’s Early Years Commitment.

With over 25 years of experience working in the public sector on the design and implementation of policy and programs across multiple portfolios including children and young people, disability, multicultural affairs, Aboriginal Affairs, and environmental protection.  Lou-Anne has a deep commitment to taking a place-based and localised approach to the implementation of government reform.  Her approach to solve for complex local issues is to drive collaborative, cross-sector and multi-disciplinary approaches that brings together everyone’s collective knowledge and experience. 

When not working in Sydney, Lou-Anne spends her time in the Lake Macquarie area where she and her partner have recently settled exploring the wonderful natural environment made up of mountains, lakes, beaches, and untouched bushland.  She has recently become an aunty which has deepened and further personalised her commitment to the education and well-being of young children.

> Local Reform and Commissioning

Joe Parsons

NSW Department Of Education

Joe Parsons is the acting Executive Director of Commissioning within the NSW Department of Education. Joe leads the Commissioning team in designing and implementing programs that meet the diverse needs of children and families in NSW, including Start Strong, Drought, Flood and Bushfire support and Disability and Inclusion programs.

Before joining the Department of Education, Joe led strategic commissioning and system design at the Department of Communities and Justice.   Joe is passionate about ensuring all children in NSW have the best start in life though access to quality, affordable early childhood education. 

> Local Reform and Commissioning

Meg Mendham

Meg joined CCSA in May 2014. Meg has a Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood) and has worked in the Early Childhood Education and Care sector for over 30 years. Meg has direct service delivery experience as an Early Childhood Teacher and Director and experience in executive positions of peak organisations. Meg also has extensive experience in governance and management having held various positions on State and National boards.

With her knowledge of rural and remote communities and the perspective of NFP standalone services run by local Management Committees and approved providers, Meg is an invited member on several steering committees, forums, and advisory and reference groups working with other peak organisations and government departments at all levels.

Helena Hyssett

Member Service Manager, CCSA
Helena holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree and Certificate III  Bookkeeping. She joined CCSA in 2005 and currently manages the Member Support and Business Solutions teams.

The team of experts in Member Support provide governance, management, compliance, workplace relations and industrial information and support to our members so they can be confident they are complying with current regulations and policies. Business Solutions offers payroll and bookkeeping services enabling our clients to improve their budgeting, ensure they are meeting their financial and reporting obligations, and have more time to focus on the education and care of children

Helena has a detailed knowledge of ECEC regulatory frameworks including the NQF, workplace relations requirements, and human resource and funding issues affecting early childhood education and care.

> Privacy and Data Breaches

John Gunn

Resources and Engagement Coordinator, CCSA
John holds a Bachelor of Science an Graduate Diploma in Defence Studies, as well as being a graduate of the Australian Army Command and Staff College.

John joined CCSA in 2011 after 24 years as an Army Officer and then working as a Business/Operations manager in various not-for-profit organisations from 2005. John’s role is focused on compliance and contract delivery, and on resource development for delivering our programs.

> Privacy and Data Breaches

Molly Hewett

Service Development Coordinator, CCSA
Molly holds a Bachelor of Education, Diploma of Teaching Early Childhood. Diploma of Management, and Advanced Diploma of Business Administration.

Molly has more than 15 years experience as a Director of Preschools. She has considerable experience in implementing change and innovation with the services she has led including developing local educators networks in local communities. She was responsible for forming a local Community School Transition Group that involved liaison with local schools, and ECEC services and has worked collaboratively with a number of organisations, such as Department of Education, other Early Childhood Services, Community Groups such as schools and Early Intervention Services, and Universities

> Contingency Planning For The Administrators Role

The 2023 Rural and Remote Forum is supported by the NSW Department of Education

The 2023 Rural and Remote Forum is supported by the Australian Government Department of Education