Confirmed Featured Speakers

Dr Naomi Priest

Fellow, Centre for Social Research and Methods, College of Arts and Social Sciences, Australian National University

Naomi PriestDr Naomi Priest received her PhD in population health at the University of Melbourne, conducting a qualitative participatory study exploring Aboriginal perspectives of urban child health and wellbeing. She then completed a NHMRC post-doctoral fellowship also at the University of Melbourne with training in social epidemiology. She was leader of the VicHealth funded Anti-Racism and Diversity program at the University of Melbourne from 2012-2015, and also a Senior Research Fellow in the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation from 2014-15.  In 2014-15 she was a Visiting Scientist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Dr Naomi Priest’s broad research interest is to integrate social and epidemiologic methods to examine and address inequalities in health and development across populations and place. This includes social epidemiology and qualitative research to understand differences in health and development experienced by children and youth from Indigenous backgrounds and from ethnic minorities, and explanations for observed differences across intersecting identities and experiences such as gender, socioeconomic position, and disability. Much of this work focuses on patterns, mechanisms and prospective influence of adverse early life exposures and stressors, including discrimination, stigma and bias.

Cheryl Vardon

Principal Commissioner, Queensland Family and Child Commission


Cheryl Vardon was appointed Principal Commissioner of the Queensland Family and Child Commission in September 2015. She has a distinguished career in education, community and children’s services. Cheryl has held many board and university council positions and statutory roles on tribunals and commissions including the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the Commonwealth Safety and Rehabilitation Compensation Commission.

She is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management and a Fellow of the Australian College of Education.

She is a previous Director General of Education for Western Australia and a former Chief Executive of the Australian Capital Territory Department of Education and Community Services. She was a Vice Principal of the University of Melbourne and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra.

In 2004 while Commissioner for Public Administration in the ACT, Cheryl led a review “the Territory as Parent” and “The Territories’ Children” (the ‘Vardon Report’) of child protection services which established an ACT Children’s Commissioner.

Dr Skye Saunders

Acting Director and Senior Lecturer – ANU Legal Workshop, Australian National University

Dr Skye Saunders is a legal academic from the Australian National University and is an advocate for issues of sexual harassment and bullying in Australia. With a particular interest in gendered harm in rural communities, she is the author of the book, Whispers from the Bush – The Workplace Sexual Harassment of Australian Rural Women. In collaboration with the Victorian Womens’ Trust, Skye has just recently finished making a short film based on Whispers from the Bush called ‘Grace Under Fire’. Skye is also the Acting Director of the Australian National University’s professional legal education programs and has formerly practised as a solicitor in the area of Employment/ Discrimination Law in Canberra. She is a regular speaker at conferences and events, both in Australia and internationally.

Dr Jennifer Whelan

Founder, Managing Director, Psynapse Pty Ltd

A former Research Fellow at the Melbourne Business School and the University of Melbourne, Jennifer is a recognised academic expert and organisational consultant specialising in corporate diversity, inclusive leadership, and innovation. Jennifer is also the founder of boutique consultancy Psynapse, through which she advises on organisational diversity, inclusive leadership, collective intelligence, and innovation.

Jennifer is an active thought leader and a regular contributor to industry forums, events, and public debate, including contributions to The Conversation, The Age, and Women’s Agenda; and engagements with The Sydney Opera House (Ideas at the House), The Committee for Economic Development of Australia (CEDA), UNWomen, Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI), The Diversity Council of Australia (DCA), Women in Banking & Finance (WiBF) and the 100% Project.

The Psynapse story began in 2010 with the goal of bringing innovative cognitive science research out of the laboratory, and into the world of practical solutions to organisational problems. A central passion for our work was, and remains, helping organisations and leaders to leverage diversity and inclusion to drive innovation and organisational performance.

Matthew Sanders, Director and Professor of Clinical Psychology, Parenting and Family Support Centre, The University of Queensland


Ms Julie Inman Grant, Children’s eSafety Commissioner


Invited Featured Speakers

  • Ms Michelle Baxter, Chief Executive Officer, Safe Work Australia

To view our previous years’ featured keynotes – click here