The 20th cohort of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) experienced the hectic, inspiring environment of Parliament House in Canberra on Tuesday, 17 November as a part of their third program session.
Taking place in Canberra and Sydney, the third, week-long session of the ARLP blends the issues of politics and influence with social issues and challenges.
The 29 rural leaders, representing diverse regions and industries, received advice and insights about being politically engaged and becoming involved in democratic processes. They also viewed the workings of question time - a novel spectacle for many of those whose arrival in Canberra on 16 November marked their first trip to the Nation's capital.
Course 20 participants heard from a range of key political figures, beginning with a visit from Minister for Agriculture, Barnaby Joyce. Minister Joyce fielded questions from individual participants before addressing the ARLP group and providing advice on getting political figures to listen to their needs.
"If you bring a clearly thought-out case for not just the issues you're facing, but for the solutions you believe will address them, then you have a real chance of being heard," he said.
"Get to know the senators in your state - these people are here to listen to you and to serve you, remember this," the Minister said.
Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon, joined the Program group for lunch and espoused a brave approach to ensuring the future of agriculture is strong.
Australian Greens Leader Christine Milne spoke to participants about being themselves when they lead, and drawing on all elements of their experiences to aid them.
"Many of the women on this program will have a set of skills they may not be fully aware of. I still draw upon my time as a teacher - for public speaking, for patience, for empathy - don't forget what your background gives you," Senator Milne said.
Senator Richard Colbeck made his apologies to the group, but was ably represented by his Adviser Jane Lovell, fellow of Course 16 of the ARLP.
Fellow of ARLP Course 3 and Member for Indi, Cathy McGowan also addressed the Program, bringing a compelling tale of experiences on the ARLP affecting future leadership.
"I once thought that leadership was something you just pick up," Cathy said.
"But I learned so much - the Program really instilled in me the importance of having a shared vision when you lead. Course 3 was the beginning of connecting up with people, and it can grow to be so much," she said.
Speaking about her now renowned grass-roots election campaign against Sophie Mirabella for the seat of Indi, Cathy says it was a simple style of leadership.
"Our campaign was such common sense. I started to tell women I knew about it, they put their minds to it and told their husbands - then they all told their friends, and we listened, and made sure we knew what the community vision was as well as our own."
And of the high-profile position she now finds herself in, Cathy says it takes a lot of self-belief.
"It takes courage to grow. To be bigger than you thought you'd be."
The ARLP cohort later reflected on the range of leadership styles, values and philosophies each political figure demonstrated, and the efficacy of engaging with politics.
"Before coming here I was aware of the power of lobbying, but I - and many others in my community - really had no idea where to start," Tasmanian Jan Hughes, said.
Jan, who is sponsored on the ARLP by the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, runs an agri-business compny with her husband, called RhuBru, focussing on value-adding to vegetable rejects.
"This has just opened my eyes to how the processes work, and why they're effective. When you're aware of the process, you're empowered," she said.