• Helen Williams Oration image

( L-R: Ann Sherry AO, Helen Williams AC and Frances Adamson at the inaugural Helen Williams Oration in 2018)

Most IPAA divisions host an Oration as part of their annual calendar, to honour an individual and their contribution to the field of public administration. In 2018, IPAA ACT established the Helen Williams Oration in honour of Helen Williams AC, the first female to be appointed Secretary of an Australian Government department.


Image credit: Sitthixay Ditthavong, The Canberra Times

Helen Williams AC made history as the first female Secretary of a Commonwealth department when she was appointed Secretary of the Department of Education in 1985, aged 39. Helen joined the public service 15 years prior in 1970.She went on to be the Secretary of several other portfolio departments: the Department of Tourism, Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, and the Department of Human Services, before her retirement in 2009. She was also the Australian Public Service Commissioner from 1998 to 2002. For 17 years she was the only female departmental Secretary.

Helen was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in January 2019 for eminent service to public administration through senior advisory roles, and to policy reform and innovative program delivery. This follows her appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1993.

The inaugural oration was delivered by Ann Sherry AO, Executive Chairman of Carnival Australia on 23 August 2018. The event was held at the launch of the ‘Women in Leadership Series‘, a collection of four events delivered in 2018, discussing the opportunities that exist and the challenges that are faced by women in public sector leadership roles. It celebrated the Australian Government achieving gender parity at the most senior level of the public service in April 2018, with nine of the 18 departmental secretary roles occupied by women.


Dr Cathy Foley AO PSM

Chief Scientist of Australia

Thursday 29 September 2021

View the Oration here

Christine Morgan

Chief Executive Officer
National Mental Health Commission
National Suicide Prevention Advisor to the Prime Minister

Tuesday 22 September 2020
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

View the Oration here here.

Dr Megan Clark AC

Australian Space Agency

Monday 4 November 2019
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra

View the 2019 Oration photos here.

Ann Sherry AO

Executive Chairman
Carnival Australia

Thursday 23 August 2018
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
Diplomatic Academy

View the 2018 Oration here.

Our partners

Tier 1 corporate partners
Tier 2 corporate partners
Digital content partner
In-kind partner
In-kind partner