Lewis Bezzina had been employed as City of Lithgow’s transport manager for two years when he found himself catapulted into the centre of recovery efforts following the largest forest fire ever recorded in Australia.
The Gospers Mountain mega-fire that started in October 2019 ripped through 500,000 hectares of land across the Lithgow, Hawkesbury, Hunter Valley, Cudgegong, Blue Mountains and Central Coast before it was declared contained the following January.
Mr Bezzina’s new job description involved managing a $1.3 million remediation effort, overseeing the removal of some 3,000 dangerous trees, delegating scores of Australian and Indonesion defence troops and liaising with traumatised residents.
Mr Bizzina, who had previously worked for the Botantic Gardens and National Parks, says it was one of the biggest challenges of his career.
“It was quite intimidating at first, looking at the severity of the fires,” he said.
“And it was quite different to what council’s usual role is. It was really outside the square of what we normally do.”
Mr Bezzina, who was awarded a Public Service Medal (PSM) for his service to Lithgow Council and the community, is one of the many Australians featured in the Australia Day Honours List for outstanding public service.
Many of this year’s awards recognise work done during last year’s dual bushfire and pandemic crises.
Governor General David Hurley said the last 12 months have seen outstanding examples of achievement and service to the community as the nation confronted fires and COVID-19.
“I encourage Australians to look to the Order of Australia as a means of acknowledging the important work of their peers during these extraordinary times,” he said.
Other Australians to be honoured with a PSM for outstanding contribution to public service during the crises of last year include:
Caroline Edwards – Associate secretary at the federal health department, Ms Edwards played a key role in the COVID-19 response. She was integral to enacting legislative changes, secured funding for COVID-19 related programs and policies, and facilitated research opportunities for treatments and vaccines domestically and internationally. She was also instrumental in procuring and deploying PPE and led the expansion of telehealth services.
Jennifer Wilkinson – Head of the Parliamentary Budget Office, Ms Wilkinson was a principle architect of Job-Keeper, collaborating with the APS and the private sector to deliver a program designed to provide financial support to over 3.5 million Australians during COVID.
Sarah Wylie – In her role as the director of the bushfire clean-up program, Ms Wylie, a senior leader at the Department of Regional NSW Public Works Advisory, worked with traumatised and fragile communities in the biggest bush fire clean-up in Australian history. As at 31 July 2020, the team had cleaned up nearly 3,500 properties.
Natasha Luschwitz – During the bushfire crisis Ms Luschwitz’s role as Executive Director, Strategic Coordination in the NSW DPC saw her bring together senior leaders from across government agencies to establish the Disaster Recovery Office in January 2020. She also helped establish the new National Bushfire Recovery Agency. In responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, she led the establishment of the NSW Government COVID-19 Taskforce.
Charles MacLachlan – Mr MacLachlan, technical services co-ordinator at Glenn Innes Severn Council, coordinated Emergency Services support for Glenn Innes and the surrounding New England region during the bushfires and led the Glen Innes airport team in supporting water-bomber operations.
Dr Armand Casolin – During the pandemic Dr Casolin, the chief health officer for Sydney Trains and NSW TrainLink, helped ensure the health and safety of 30,000 transport employees. He also contributed to cleaning and hygiene policies across the network, established protocols for frontline employees dealing with COVID-19 anti-social behaviour, and led the implementation of temperature screening at high risk locations.
Stephen Cathcart – Mr Cathcart is honoured for outstanding public service to the National Parks and Wildlife Service, particularly to the protection of the Wollemi Pines during the 2019-2020 bushfires. Mr Cathcare was an key member of the ‘Wollemi Pine Operation’ and as Air Attack Supervisor, he coordinated the aerial components of the fire response. As the fire reached the canyon where the Wollemi Pines were located he was winched into the site, quickly repaired a damaged irrigation section and extinguished most of the active fire, saving the trees.
Other notable public sector awards
Malcolm Turnbull – The Former PM was appointed a Companion of the order of Australia (AC) for eminent service to the people and Parliament of Australia, particularly as Prime Minister, through contributions to national security, free trade, the environment and clean energy, innovation, economic reform and marriage equality, and to business and philanthropy.
Christina Miller – The Katherine Town Council Mayor was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for significant service to local government, to tourism, and to the community of Katherine.
Jody Grima – Awarded a PSM for achieving world class customer service as Executive Director, Service Delivery at Service NSW.
Anita Hawtin – Awarded a PSM for outstanding public service to the NSW Public Service Commission. Her achievements include the redesign and expansion of the state government Graduate Program and the NSW Public Service Talent Pools.
An Nguyen – The senior Victorian Treasury official was awarded a PSM for outstanding public service to major infrastructure delivery in the state.
Gordon Buchanan – Awarded a PSM for outstanding public service to Queensland’s transport sector.
Erma Ranieri – Awarded a PSM for outstanding public service to public sector reform in South Australia. A strong advocate for diversity and gender equality in leadership in the public sector, a highlight of her career includes placing the highest number of people with a disability in ongoing employment in the SA public sector.
View the full list here.
Individuals recognised for their contribution, service or achievement relating to COVID-19 will also feature on a dedicated COVID-19 honours roll, as well as the official Australian honours database from the Queen’s Birthday in June.
Find more information on Australian Honours, as well as information on how to make a nomination, here.
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