Alumni stories

Helen Jenkins – Two Steps Forward, None Going Back

5 August 2019

Nobody else is doing what Helen Jenkins, recent graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program, is doing within the seafood industry. Having worked in the seafood field for over 30 years, Helen is blazing a trail for industry success, preservation and emergency preparedness.

Taking on the newly created role of Aquatic Biosecurity Liaison Officer – Northern Australia for Animal Health Australia, Helen is working with stakeholders to discuss the relatively new concept of biosecurity plans and planning, risk assessment and emergency preparedness.

“Other livestock industries already have biosecurity plans in place and have an agreed Emergency Animal Disease Response Arrangements (EADRA) in place which is an agreement that has an established set of guidelines and cost share arrangements should an exotic disease occur. Aquatics don’t have this yet. We can’t just put our heads in the sand and think that an exotic disease is not going to happen to the aquatic sector.”

According to an Animal Health Australia survey, two-thirds of farms anticipate a disease outbreak across Northern Australia.

“The farmers that I’ve been working with have been really receptive to talking about biosecurity ideas. We need to have open and honest conversations with all stakeholders, Government parties included, about the risks and what we can do to minimise those risks.”

Helen is well-prepared for having these high-stakes industry conversations. Whilst working as Executive Officer for the Australian Prawn Farmers Association, Helen helped to negotiate the $20 million financial assistance package for affected farms after the White Spot Disease outbreak.

However, this outbreak came at the most opportune time for Helen – whilst completing the ARLP.

“We had just finished session two with the media training and crisis management component and boom one week late I had to deal with an industry in crisis because of an exotic disease and the media were in a frenzy. It was the lead up to Christmas and all they focused on was a shortage of prawns for Christmas and what it was going to do to the price of prawns. It really prepared me for having complex, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations, and making sure that I was being heard.”

Helen credits the timely media training as well as her new ARLP peers for helping get her through the next four months of complex media interviews and difficult conversations with affected farmers.  

“It was the best support network. They’d ring you up to see how everything was going and, also have really good advice to offer. That’s the benefit of having a network of amazing, influential people who are also your friends.”  

Helen is currently travelling around Karratha, Carnarvon, Exmouth, Dampier and Broome in  WA, speaking with different stakeholders about biosecurity and what their needs are.

“To be a strong voice for your industry, you have to listen and go with the solution that benefits the majority of people, not just the ‘big players’ in the room. I’m at the front of this biosecurity movement, and while that can be a bit scary at times, it’s very exciting and I’m up for the challenge.”

This the first time that biosecurity awareness has been made a priority within the aquaculture industry.

At the recent Biosecurity Symposium in June at the Gold Coast with 400 delegates in attendance, we heard from Andrew Cox CEO of Invasive Species Council that by 2030 sea, air cargo and passenger movements will double.

“This means that risks for the aquatic industry, and others, is ever increasing. It’s a shared responsibility between community, farmers, government and key industry players need to be prepared and on the front-foot of this.”

The ARLP gave Helen a lot of confidence to back herself in the decisions she makes and to be more outspoken about issues that she’s passionate about.

“The program taught me not to sweat the small stuff. It gives you opportunities to work on yourself without any distractions and this leads to some really powerful moments of realisation and growth.”

Reflecting on the program, Helen notes that the ARLP was always something that she wanted to take part in and is extremely appreciative of the opportunity sponsored by Fisheries Research and Development Corporation (FRDC).

“The program has such a high reputation within the fisheries industry – FRDC have sponsored a participant every year since the start. There are so many people that have either been on the ARLP or know someone that has. I was on a selection panel recently for the FRDC board. Two people on the panel had done ARLP and one person selected for the board has since gone on to complete ARLP.”

“I am extremely grateful that I have had the opportunity to do this program and I know my leadership journey will continue and that I can continue to influence and contribute to growth, development and biosecurity preparedness as my career progresses.”