Canberra Citizen of the Year


Maureen Rose Cane

Maureen Cane 

SOURCE: Volunteering Victoria 

Maureen was born in the United Kingdom, completed an honours degree at Oxford University and in the late 1960s set off to see the world. Having reached Mexico City she met Peter Cane and her plans changed. They married and decided to come to Australia, apparently for no better reason than that both Peter’s parents and Maureen’s father shared a love of Australia, although none of them had actually visited the country.

Maureen and Peter found Australia “very familiar”, and particularly enjoyed rediscovering lamb, butter and cheese. In 1969 they settled in Melbourne, where Peter worked as a chemist and Maureen as a public servant. A brief holiday visit to Canberra prompted them to move here in 1979.

In 1981 Maureen was appointed director of the Women’s Bureau in the Department of Employment and Youth Affairs. Through the 1980s she was also head of Indigenous employment and training programs and as an assistant secretary in the Department was involved in the development and management of labour-market programs and services and in organisation development.

The Public Service Commission abolished its Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) unit in 1990, but after well-publicised protests from significant people, the job was incorporated in a new position of a First Assistant Commissioner. Maureen was appointed to the position in 1991, and chaired the first session at the conference "The Advancement of the Service through Women".

In the early 1990s there was much talk about the ‘glass ceiling’. While acknowledging that there was still a long way to go, especially in the upper ranks of the public service, Maureen also noted that EEO had been in place for 20 years and had substantially changed the work culture for women. "You can make hurdles which just are not there," she said in 1993. "There is a range of opportunities for networking and liaising with senior women in the APS. … I've had very good support and advice from women."

Harassment at work was another issue. In 1994 Maureen co-authored a set of guidelines that helped complainants work through informal means of redress before, if still necessary, going through official channels.

By this time the ACT Government was looking for people to head four of its most important departments; Maureen was appointed to the new Department of Public Administration. After the February 1995 election the new Chief Minister, Kate Carnell, embarked on major restructuring. Treasury and Public Administration were incorporated into the Chief Minister’s Department, the existing heads initially retaining their positions but subordinate to the new head of ACT Administration.

In August 1998 Maureen was appointed executive director of Assisting Drug Dependents Incorporated (ADDInc), a community-based, non-government health service agency funded by the ACT Department of Health and Community Care, and shortly after was made director of the parent organisation, the Drug Referral and Information Centre (DRIC). ADDInc began in 1973 at the TAFE College in Reid, changing its name to  DIRECTIONS ACT in 2001, and to DIRECTIONS ACT Alcohol and Drug Services in 2007.

Drug addiction had become a serious problem in Canberra. DRIC published a report in May 1998, Getting to Stop: Blueprint for Action on Exit Options for Young Drug Users in the ACT. There were already 17 needle exchanges operating in Canberra, and Maureen and others proposed the provision of an injecting room where adverse reactions could be noted and dealt with in time, creating a storm of argument.

A more successful proposal was to build and run a detoxification and residential facility for young people. Instead of being sent to prison, they would be sent for treatment and, if possible, rehabilitation. A facility for those aged 14-18 was funded by federal and ACT governments and in 2001 opened in a former mental health facility in Watson. Maureen was seconded to the Ted Noffs Foundation in Sydney to set up the Program for Adolescent Life Management, a three-month intensive residential program that would address emotional, physical and family issues and teach young people living and recreation skills. After-care service was provided when they returned to the community.

Later that year Maureen was appointed chief executive officer of Tuggeranong Community Service. “I swiftly realised my good fortune. I had been handed a rich inheritance – an organisation with amazingly creative and dedicated staff, a supportive Board of Management, and opportunity to try new things.” The first new thing was the inauguration of Business Tuggeranong, bringing businesses and employers together to promote the region as a great place to do business.

Amalgamation in 2002 with the Weston Creek Community Service created a new body, Communities@Work, which under her leadership became one of the largest and most diverse community based organisations in the ACT. When Maureen retired in 2011 it had over 400 staff and delivered services to about 10,000 people across Canberra.

Maureen was seconded to the Bushfire Recovery Taskforce in 2003 as the community sector representative. For several years after the Taskforce was disbanded, Communities@Work continued support services to those “still hurting, still needing”.

Childcare services were high on the list of priorities for Communities@Work. Activities and services for teens were developed and, at the other end of the age spectrum, the Tuggeranong Men’s Shed and the Tuggeranong 55 Plus Club. Helping train people for the workforce was accomplished through NuSkills Learning and Development, successor to Train2Work, while Super-Grands encouraged older people into volunteering.

In 2008 the Canberra branch of Sydney’s OzHarvest was launched, to be managed by Communities@Work. In four years it rescued over 500,000 tonnes of food from supermarkets and restaurants and redistributed it to more than 70 charities and refuges. When relaunched as a purely local service in 2012, its trademark yellow vans naturally inspired its new name: the Yellow Van Food Rescue Program.

Communities@Work celebrated 30 years of achievement in 2007, in part by being State Winner of the NAB Volunteer Award in the Large Organisation Category. It grew larger the next year by amalgamating with Galilee Inc, an ACT based not-for-profit community organisation that provides services for disadvantaged, homeless and unemployed young people. Maureen stepped down in 2011, receiving life membership in the organisation and taking on the presidency of the 55 Plus Club as well as being named Canberra Citizen of the Year.

She also joined Volunteering ACT as Chief Executive Officer and for a year was concurrently acting CEO of Volunteering Australia. In 2014 Volunteering ACT joined with the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) to launch the Skilled Community Network Program. It will source project talent via the AIPM database, essentially providing a pool of volunteers with high-level project management skills for not-for-profit organisations.  In 2015 Volunteering ACT amalgamated with Contact ACT, with Maureen as CEO.

Awards and Distinctions

2011 Canberra Citizen of the Year for her tireless community work, particularly as head of Communities@Work and for her role in implementing the Canberra arm of OzHarvest


1983 Cane, Maureen, Information technology and the future of work: implications for women's employment, Canberra, Work Resources Centre, ANU

1994 Cane, Maureen, ‘Eternal vigilance. Equal employment opportunity in the public service. Edited text of address to The Glass Ceiling: Illusory or Real? 1993, Sydney’, Canberra Bulletin of Public Administration, no 76, April, pp 134-136

Select Bibliography

2001 Youth Drug Service Opens, Canberra Times, 3 February, viewed 26 February 2016,!?&_suid=1456651159356040684736151198664

2011 ‘Community farewells a tireless worker’, Valley Voice, issue 1, February, viewed 20 December 2015,

See other Canberra Citizens of the Year.