Guest Speakers

We have invited guest speakers to our conference, who will be presenting their valuable insights on a range of topics that are relevant to our members. So far, the following guest speakers have been confirmed:

Dr Craig Challen SC OAM
Dr Craig Challen SC OAM

Craig Challen SC OAM is an Australian cave explorer and member of the Wet Mules diving group. After commencing cave diving in the 1990s he was an early adopter of closed-circuit mixed gas rebreathers.

Notable explorations include the extension of Cocklebiddy Cave on the Nullarbor Plain of Australia in 2008 and the Pearse Resurgence in New Zealand over the last

10 years. He has additionally explored caves throughout Australia and New Zealand and in China, Thailand, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands.

Craig also has an avid interest in shipwreck diving and has explored sites over the last 15 years in the South China Sea, Solomon Islands, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

A veterinary surgeon by profession, he founded the Vetwest (later Australian Animal Hospitals) group of veterinary practices in 1993 and ran it until selling his interest and retiring in 2017.

Craig is also an enthusiastic helicopter and aeroplane pilot.

In July 2018 Craig participated in the Tham Luang cave rescue of 13 people in Thailand. He has been named as the 2019 Australian of the Year for Western Australia.

Fiona Nash
Hon Fiona Nash

Regional Education Commissioner

Having grown up in Sydney, Fiona has spent the last couple of decades living and working in regional Australia.

For many years she was involved in a farming enterprise in the central west of NSW, which her sons Will and Henry are now running. She spent twelve years in the federal parliament as a Senator for NSW and also held ministerial positions including Rural Health, and in Cabinet the positions of Regional Development, Regional Communications and Local Government and Territories. She also held the position of Deputy Leader of the Nationals.

From 2018 - 2021 Fiona was the Strategic Adviser, Regional Engagement and Government Relations for Charles Sturt University.


Fiona was appointed by the Australian Government as the Regional Education Commissioner in December 2021.

Telstra logo
Justine Rowe

Telstra Chief Sustainability Officer and Executive, Sustainability, Policy and Engagement Centre of Expertise

Justine and her husband Mark are blessed with two children – Liv (aged 13 years) and James (aged 11 years).

Justine Rowe is Telstra’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Executive, Sustainability, Policy and Engagement Centre of Expertise.  Justine and her team are responsible for providing policy advice, stakeholder management and community programs across regulatory, sustainability and regional affairs.  Justine has recently joined the board of the Telstra Foundation.

Justine has significant experience in legal and external relationship roles.  In her career at Telstra she has supported Andy Penn as Chief of Staff, led the Strategic Policy and Transformation group in Sustainability, External Affairs and Legal and also led a global team of lawyers as Legal Executive and Business Partner for Telstra Enterprise. Prior to Telstra, Justine worked in-house in the electricity sector after starting her legal career in private practice.

Born in Perth, Justine studied law at the University of Western Australia. She has a personal passion to inspire and develop diverse teams to make a difference to our planet, our business and each other. 

Gavin Williams
Gavin Williams

NBN Co Chief Development Officer, Regional and Remote

Mr Williams was appointed Chief Development Officer Regional & Remote in October 2019, bringing more than six years’ experience at NBN Co and 30 years within the telecommunication industry across Australia.

Mr Williams has held leadership roles spanning engineering, product management, marketing and strategy disciplines across consumer, business and wholesale markets.

Prior to joining NBN Co, Mr Williams held positions in Optus, Telstra and was principal of an independent consultancy. He was a Board Director of Southern Cross Cable.

Mr Williams holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree (Hons) from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Business Administration from Macquarie University.

Mr Williams was appointed Chief Development Officer Regional & Remote in October 2019, bringing more than six years’ experience at NBN Co and 30 years within the telecommunication industry across Australia.

He has held leadership roles that have spanned engineering, product management, marketing and strategy disciplines across consumer, business, and wholesale markets.

Prior to joining NBN Co, Mr Williams held positions in Optus, Telstra and was principal of an independent consultancy. He was a Board Director of Southern Cross Cable.

Mr Williams holds a Bachelor of Engineering degree (Hons) from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Business Administration from Macquarie University.

Richard Stokes
Richard Stokes

Richard Stokes is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Boarding Schools Association.

He has worked in boarding schools since 1979, firstly in Adelaide and then in Brisbane at St Peters Lutheran College.

In 1996 he took on the new challenge of Dean of Residential Care at St Joseph’s Nudgee College, a boarding school of nearly 600 boys, and held that role until he retired from a direct boarding role at the end of 2005.

Richard has been involved in ABSA or its previous versions since 1985, and was appointed the first part-time Executive Director for the newly formed Australian Boarding Schools Association in 2007. The role became a full-time one in 2011. His passion in his work at ABSA include staff training, advocating for boarding schools and most importably, as drafting chair for the Standards Australia committee for the National Standard for Boarding Schools, lifting the standard of our schools to be the best they can be.

Richard is happily married to Karen, and has two adult children who both enjoyed growing up in the boarding environment!