Virginia Chadwick

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The Honourable
Virginia Chadwick
AO, BA, DipEd
Virginia Chadwick.jpg
President of the New South Wales Legislative Council
In office
29 June 1998 – 5 March 1999
Preceded by Max Willis
Succeeded by Meredith Burgmann
Member of New South Wales Legislative Council
In office
6 November 1978 – 5 March 1999
Personal details
Born (1944-12-19)19 December 1944
Newcastle, New South Wales
Died 17 September 2009(2009-09-17) (aged 64)
Toronto, New South Wales
Political party Liberal Party of Australia
Spouse(s) Bruce Sheldon
Residence Lake Macquarie

Virginia Anne Chadwick AO (19 December 1944 – 17 September 2009)[1][2] was a Liberal Member of the New South Wales Legislative Council from 1978 to 1999. She was the first NSW female Minister for Education; the first female President of the New South Wales Legislative Council; and Chair and CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Early life[edit]

She was born in Newcastle and educated at the Newcastle Girls High School from 1967 until 1968, then at Dormers Wells, Southall, UK 1969–70. She attended Newcastle Technical College 1971–73 and achieved her B.A., Dip.Ed. at the University of Newcastle.

Political career[edit]

Chadwick served as a Member of the Liberal Party State Executive before being elected to the NSW Legislative Council in 1978. She served as Opposition Whip and a member of the Opposition front bench before becoming the first female NSW Liberal Minister when the Greiner Government swept into power in 1988.[3]

Chadwick was a minister of the Greiner-Fahey era, initially serving as Minister for Family and Community Services, Minister for the Hunter and Minister for Women (25 March 1988 – 20 July 1990). Following the resignation of Education Minister Terry Metherell, Chadwick was appointed the state's first female Minister for Education (20 July 1990 – 4 April 1995), and was later given additional responsibility as Minister for Tourism (26 May 1993 – 4 April 1995).

Chadwick's appointment to the Education portfolio followed Minister Terry Metherell who reduced head office staffing, introduced Basic Skills testing and increased class sizes to pay for Special Education initiatives. Metherell's style quickly escalated to war with the Teachers Union, the Parents and Citizens Federation and even his own department. The strikes and protest rallies held during this unrest were amongst the largest in NSW history.[4] As the new Minister, Chadwick's first task was to broker peace between the Government and the Education lobby, especially teachers. The first breakthrough came with a settlement to the long-running teachers pay dispute.[5]

Parliament House, Sydney where Virginia Chadwick served as an elected representative for 20 years.

During her time in Education, Chadwick drew on her consultative skills to implement extensive reforms initiated by her predecessor. (These reforms are known as "School Centred Education" (Scott Reports) and in Curriculum, the 'Carrick' and 'Excellence and Equity' Reports.) The NSW Board of Studies was established, key learning areas developed and implemented in curriculum and schools; budgeting and some staffing responsibilities were devolved to school principals; more than a thousand local school councils were established. Selective schools, "centres of excellence" and specialist schools such as Westfields Sports High School were funded to create choice in public education in Sydney's West as well as regional and rural areas of the state.[6]

A Greiner loyalist, Chadwick was concerned during the 1992 Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation of the Metherell Affair, when Greiner was forced to resign. Although a Member of the Upper House, Chadwick was viewed by many as an obvious successor to Greiner; but when approached to take the leadership, she declined.[7]

In 1998 Chadwick again made history as the Parliament of New South Wales's first woman Presiding Officer with her election as President of the Legislative Council.[8] Her victory in the ballot for the Presidency was a surprise. The Labor Government's nominee for the position was Hon Helen Sham-Ho who had suddenly defected from the Liberal Party days before the ballot. The Government Leader in the Legislative Council, Michael Egan (Australian politician) mistakenly believed that one of the Government members who was absent from the House on leave for an exam would be paired. (Pairs are a courtesy arrangement in Parliament whereby an Opposition Member would have abstained from the vote when a Government member is absent, or vice versa). The Clerk of the Parliaments advised midway through the ballot that pairs did not apply for secret ballots. The Government tried to call off the vote but was advised that this was not possible after ballot papers for the secret ballot had been issued. Chadwick defected Sham Ho by 21–19.[9] She held this position from 29 June 1998 to 5 March 1999, when she retired from politics. Chadwick holds the record for the shortest presidency of the Legislative Council, being in office for 250 days.[10]

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority[edit]

Soon after her retirement from State politics, Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill appointed Chadwick as Chairperson and CEO of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA). She moved to Townsville with husband Bruce Chadwick and served in this role until her retirement in July 2007. Chadwick led the difficult negotiations with fishermen, farmers, tourist operators, local, state and federal Governments to achieve an increase in highly protected areas on the reef from 4.5 per cent to 33 per cent. This was recognised in 2004 when the Authority was presented a prestigious Banksia Award[11] by the Banksia Environmental Foundation. Following a potential crisis involving an oil tanker attempting to navigate through the Reef, Chadwick was appointed to a safety inquiry and so impressed the stakeholders she was then appointed to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) Advisory Committee. She subsequently led an Australian delegation to the United Nations on International Law of the Sea.

In the 2005 Queen's Birthday Honours Chadwick was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia. The citation was "For service to conservation and the environment through management of the environmental, heritage and economic sustainability issues affecting the Great Barrier Reef, and to the New South Wales Parliament, particularly in the areas of child welfare and education."[12]

Chadwick and her husband Bruce retired and returned to their Novocastrian roots, living at Lake Macquarie. The couple had two children, Amanda and David, and three surviving grandchildren.

She died from cancer on 17 September 2009, aged 64, at Toronto.[13][14][15]

Virginia Chadwick Memorial Foundation[edit]

The Virginia Chadwick Memorial Foundation was established in July 2010 to carry on Virginia Chadwick's work and build on her achievements especially in regard to the Great Barrier Reef and through environmental activities, including environmental education, environmental partnerships, Indigenous engagement, networking and knowledge sharing around the world.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^!OpenDocument
  4. ^ Moore, Matthew (17 August 1988). "Govt to Schools: We won't budge". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 3 January 2012. 
  5. ^ Garcia, Luis, M (17 August 1990). "Teachers Win Big Pay Rise". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  6. ^ Firth, Hon Verity. "Ministerial Statement – Condolence". Hansard NSW Legislative Assembly. NSW Parliament. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  7. ^ Collins, Peter (2000). The Bear Pit. Sydney: Allen & Uwin. p. 209. ISBN 1-86508-208-2. 
  8. ^ Parliament of New South Wales, History Bulletin 6, Women in the New South Wales Parliament
  9. ^ "President of the Legislative Council – Election". Hansard NSW Legislative Council. NSW Parliament. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ 'Banksia Award Recognises New Zoning Plan' GBRMPA Media Release /6/2004
  12. ^ Australian Government Honours Page
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Death of the Honourable Virginia Anne Chadwick, AO, a Former Member of the Legislative Council, a Former Minister of the Crown and a Former President of the Legislative Council". Hansard NSW Legislative Council. NSW Parliament. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 
  15. ^ "Motion of Condolence – Death of a former Member". Hansard NSW Legsiative Assembly. NSW Parliament. Retrieved 2 January 2012. 


Parliament of New South Wales
Preceded by
Max Willis
President of the New South Wales Legislative Council
Succeeded by
Meredith Burgmann
Political offices
Preceded by
Terry Metherell
Minister for Education and Youth Affairs
Succeeded by
John Aquilina