WHEN around 200 delegates from around the world congregate to Canberra this month in the lead-up to the G20 leaders’ summit, two local women will be collectively holding their breath after months of intense planning.
Department of Treasury employees Mary Balzary and HK Holdaway have spent the last 18 months scrutinising every detail to ensure the G20’s finance track to Canberra, Sydney and Cairns runs smoothly for Australia’s G20 host year, which runs until November 30.
The track will begin in Canberra for a two-day finance and central bank deputies meeting at Parliament House on December 15, before delegates head to Sydney and Cairns next year and finally, Brisbane for the summit.
“Canberra is such a beautiful city and, since it’s our hometown, we’re looking forward to showing it off first,” says HK, who, with her team of 30 in the G20 policy division, is working on the policy agenda for the meetings, covering topics including current economic and financial sector vulnerabilities, infrastructure financing, financial regulation and taxation issues.
Korean-born HK isn’t a stranger to this kind of work: in 2010 she was seconded to the Korean government to assist with preparations for its G20 meetings.
“A lot of people say I’m crazy doing this the second time around, but it’s such an amazing opportunity and I think of it as a privilege,” HK says.
The passionate 43-year-old says the economic aspects of the summit may sound boring but are a “really big deal,” with the opportunity to influence the global economic agenda and strengthen engagement with the world’s major economies.
“In the end it’s the good government policies that have the potential to change people’s lives for the better and really make a difference, and it’s with that kind of passion we take on that responsibility and venture into our presidency,” she says.
Mary Balzary, with her team of 30, has a “hand-in-glove” relationship with HK’s policy team, responsible for operational and logistical arrangements including accommodation, security, travel, catering, transport, communications, branding and media management.
“It’s not very often you get to work on something like this on this scale; you have such a diverse number of things you oversee,” Mary says.
“I grew up in Canberra and love this city, so I’m really proud to be holding the first G20 finance track meeting here.”
Mary, who has a background in communications, was also tasked with choosing meeting venues that best showcase the country to the world as a world-class destination for tourism, education and business.
“We had so many venues to consider, and particularly in Canberra, we wanted to show off the beauty of it as our capital, so of course Parliament House will be an iconic meeting place,” she says.
Both HK and Mary have small children, and juggle senior positions with their family life.
Working in the male-dominated finance sector can be challenging, HK says, but she feels “privileged”.
“I’m always thinking about how it is I can help younger women achieve their aspirations, or eventually reach senior positions,” she says.
One of the highlights of her career is meeting International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde; one of the most powerful women in the world of finance.
“I was at a meeting that had mostly men at the table, and after it she took my hand and said: ‘You know, there just aren’t enough women in our field. I know people like you will work really hard and make it in the end.’ That was just so inspiring to hear.”
Photo by Gary Schafer