The Joint Advisory Steering Committee (JASC) farewelled the Chair, Sarah Withell at their meeting on November 15 and welcomed the incoming Chair, John Watson. Sarah has been a member of the Joint Advisory Steering Committee since it was established in 2015 and has been the Chair since 2019.
Sarah has played a key role in setting the strategic direction of the Dialogue and ensuring the Dialogue remained relevant and agile. A realignment of the Dialogue’s organisational structure was undertaken in 2018, to consolidate existing, and form new working groups that reflected the Dialogue’s evolving priorities. Sarah’s oversight in the following years has seen continued improvements to the Dialogue’s efficiency and helped to ensure these groups remained effective vehicles for engagement and collaboration.
During Sarah’s tenure the Dialogue has developed and implemented a significant project to respond to community concerns around air quality, and continued to deliver annual rehabilitation progress and water use reports, and a successful school tours engagement program. These projects are now ongoing and have contributed significantly to the Dialogue building a reputation for transparency and as a trusted source of information.
The Dialogue benefited greatly from Sarah’s guidance and management throughout the years that were impacted by Covid. The Dialogue was able to remain productive and sustain much of the ongoing work and stakeholders remained engaged. Most recently, Sarah oversaw a re-invigorated Community Forum in 2022 where the Dialogue facilitated discussions with community members and other key stakeholders on a range of key local and regional issues, including ‘Transition’, economic diversification and the future prosperity of the Upper Hunter. These discussions have, in large part, shaped the Dialogue’s 2024 Strategic Work Plan.
On leaving the role, Sarah said, “It has been a privilege to serve as Chair of the Dialogue. I have valued the opportunity to help to ensure the Dialogue remains relevant and responsive to the needs and issues of the community and I wish John and all the members of the Dialogue the very best.”
The incoming Chair, John Watson (Director Environment and Community Coal Assets Australia – Glencore) is a founding member of the Dialogue, so has long established relationships and brings a wealth of experience and a deep understanding of the role and work of the Dialogue. This will provide a seamless and effective transition.
The Dialogue is also pleased to welcome Liz Watts to the JASC. Liz is a multi-generational Upper Hunter resident, and has served in various senior planning, technical and leadership roles in the Upper Hunter. Liz is currently the Acting Vice President NSW Energy Coal with BHP and is overseeing the ‘Pathway to 2030’ project.