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Catherine McGregor AM

Catherine recently joined ASPI as the inaugural Women in Defence and Security Adviser following a distinguished career in the Australian Defence Force. Catherine completed three deployments to Timor Leste and is a trained Tetun linguist. Catherine served as the speech writer to every Chief of the Army from 1999 until her retirement from the Army in 2014 when she transferred to the Royal Australian Air Force as Director of Research and Analysis to the Chief of Air Force. She was awarded the Order of Australia in the Military Division in 2012. Follow Catherine on Twitter @CateMc3273


Catherine with Rahul Dravid at Trent Bridge in Nottingham, commenting on England v India

You’ve had an incredible career traversing the military, academia, media, and cricket! Something that has been discussed quite often at WDSN speed mentoring nights is how to measure success and recognising your own successes. Has there been a moment for you that stands out where you felt really proud of something you have achieved or truly successful?

My career in the Australian Defence Force really lavishly rewarded me. I don’t know anyone who served for a reasonable amount of time who does not feel deeply enriched and proud of belonging to the ADF. For me two occasions that stand out in terms of personal satisfaction were the day I handed over command of our Military Training team to my successor in Dili. My soldiers had signed the flag that has flown over the Headquarters. Many wrote inscriptions in Tetum as an acknowledgement of my effort to get all ranks to engage with the local population. While a few of us had formal language training I encouraged all my team to show respect for the people of Timor by at greeting them in Tetum. When they made that unexpected gesture, I was incredibly moved. It meant a great deal. And when I opened a letter from Government House asking whether I would accept the award of Member of the Order of Australia I paused and felt deep satisfaction at the work I had done at Army Headquarters during the sustained operational tempo since 1999.


Noting you were the speech writer for every Chief of Army from 1999 to 2014, what are some of your favourite speeches from your career?

Peter Leahy was the most influential mentor and leader I worked for. He delivered a speech to the Navy’s maritime conference in 2004 about the important role of land forces in littoral manoeuvre. The First Sea Lord was on the same platform and sent the boss a note saying it was the best exposition of maritime strategy he had heard from an Army officer. Of course, David Morrison’s remarks about bullying and harassment received enormous attention and went viral on YouTube. But I don’t feel any professional satisfaction about that. It was a short sharp polemic and wasn’t really a speech - more like an extended campaign commercial. I laboured over much better texts than that which are long forgotten! Such is the fate of a speech writer.


Catherine on the HMAS Adelaide

How do you feel about joining ASPI as the inaugural Women in Defence & Security Adviser?

I am excited to join the ASPI team. Australia is facing an incredibly challenging strategic environment. Having lived through the end of the Cold War I did not expect to see American primacy to erode so rapidly. Moreover, when I look at the changes in warfare since my first command and look at the range of effects that even sub units have access to now I am genuinely stunned. Warfare has undergone incredible transformation in my lifetime.

In this dynamic women have a vital and in some cases indispensable contribution to make. With an ageing population Australia faces innate difficulties sustaining viable military forces over coming decades. We cannot waste a single motivated person. Some sneer at diversity as an enabler of capability. But in an era of multi-domain operations women will be indispensable ADF capability. And in the broader National Security and Intelligence communities’ women are becoming increasingly visible and influential. And that is both inevitable and welcome.


What books are currently on your bedside table?

My guilty pleasure is crime fiction. I am reading a crime novel by an Aussie writer Garry Disher called Bitter Wash Road. And I am wading through Christine Gray on International Law and the Use of Force.


Catherine on F18 Flight Line

Updated: 18 Oct 2019