Our people

We rely on the diverse proficiency of our people to maintain and build on the accomplishments of our organisation. 

Senior Management 

Peter Perry - Chief Executive Officer

Peter PerryI joined Spinal Cord Injuries Australia as Corporate Services Manager in 2006 after 30 years at senior levels in both corporate and not for profit organisations, where I specialised in financial management, change management and human resources development. Organisations I have worked for include Mirvac Funds, Schroders Australia, State Bank of NSW, University of Sydney Union, and EDS. I have also contributed as a volunteer to Guide Dogs NSW and Humane Society International.

The organisation I now lead has a proud history of removing barriers in society, and facilitating independence for people with a disability. Despite the organisation’s specialist origins, its work encompasses issues and outcomes that are of relevance to all people with a disability. These issues, including accommodation, respite, care, carers, transport, employment, and community participation are of fundamental importance to our organisation.

I am keen to ensure that whilst promoting and supporting innovation, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia does not lose touch with its roots and its proud history, and is constantly finding ways to better engage with its members and the broader community. Too many charities end up looking like businesses, treating people like objects similar to chess pieces; while a commercial mindset and commercial practices are important to ensure maximum bang for the buck, commercial outcomes should never become more important than community and individual outcomes. Whilst I am CEO, Spinal Cord Injuries Australia will always play a leading role in ensuring viability, sustainability and diversity of services for those who are at risk of being marginalised in our society.

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Peter Murray, Head of Development 

Peter Murray

I joined SCIA in February 2010 after a career involving teaching, working for both the NSW and Commonwealth Governments, being part of the organising committee for the Sydney Olympic & Paralympic Games and occupying a senior role for the PGA of Australia. For the first 3 years at SCIA I managed the Australian Disability Enterprise, Workforce, Emergency Care and Exercise Services teams and was responsible for the expansion of the Walk On program nationally.

I am currently Head of Development which entails working across the organisation with all areas to explore growth and development opportunities, especially in relation to the roll out of the NDIS, to ensure SCIA remains a strong and effective organisation into the future.

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Kierre Williams, Head of Exercise Services

Kierre Williams

I joined the SCIA family as a physiotherapist in 2009 and have led our Exercise Services since 2012. I have a passion to maximise the functional potential of a person with a neurological deficit by pushing the boundaries of their capacity through innovative and intensive exercise. It is wonderful to share this passion with our team of dedicated, knowledgeable and enthusiastic staff who naturally engage with our clients as if they were family. The department has expanded significantly to now offer a suite of exercise services tailored to the individual needs of any person with a neurological condition. I am so proud of the positive energy that our staff and clients create in each of our gym environments and it is incredible to see our clients putting in plenty of hard work and gaining such awesome results!

I have had experience as a Physiotherapist and Exercise Physiologist working with people with neurological conditions, ranging from very young toddlers through to very old adults and everything in between. I absolutely love the close working relationship that is built with a client on their journey to improved function, quality of life and independence and I will ensure this is maintained as our services continue to expand.

In my spare time, I am usually chasing my one year old around the house or teaching him how to shake his booty to the likes of Hendrix or Dylan. I also love to dance, run, play touch footy…Actually, I’ll try any sport and, oh…I love to bake (and eating the baked treats…which ultimately means more running!).

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Chris Nicholls, Head of Operations


After serving in an airborne regiment of the British Army, I joined the corporate sector, specifically, News International. There I had a number of different jobs in the IT arena, culminating with an IT Management role. In 1998, I was seconded to our sister company, News Limited, here in Sydney and promptly fell in love with Australia.

Unfortunately a few months after I immigrated to Australia in 2000, I was waiting behind a couple of cars at a set of traffic lights, on my motorbike, when suddenly a truck hit me from behind. This resulted in complete T6 paraplegia.

It was during my rehab that I had my first experience of Peer Support, something that quite simply changed my life and made me realise all was not lost. Here were people "getting on with it".

In fact it had such an impact on me that I abandoned the corporate rat race and In Feb 2007 I became part of SCIA's Peer Support Team. Since then I moved through the ranks of Team leader and Operations Manager to my present position of General Manager of Transitional Services, where I head up Peer Support, Emergency Services, Accommodation, Funding (grants) packages, Team Safe, Adventures and Jesters programs, oh... and I still keep my IT hand in with the ConnectAbility (Wi-Fi & iPad) project.

I am a board director of Wheelchair Sports NSW, a panel member of Sydney HMMS (Home Mods & Maintenance Scheme), an Access Consultant and, along with my wife, run our own Access Consultancy and Occupational Therapy company.

What little spare time I have is spent with my 4 kids who are boys aged 5 & 3 years and 5 month old, boy and girl twins (as at July 2013).

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Melissa Russell, Head of Customer Experience

Melissa Russell

I’ve had a 20-year career spanning multiple countries and sectors including Government, international and domestic corporations, United Nations and not for profit organisations.

I joined SCIA to be part of an organisation committed to making a real difference in the lives of others. After some years in the corporate world I was keen to work in a role that had a clear purpose and a positive human impact.

I’m Head of Customer Experience and it’s my intention to build positive, collaborative working relationships with other SCIA managers and teams, so that we can collectively understand and strive to meet (even exceed!) the needs of our customers, members and other stakeholders.

I generally work in:

    Customer experience - including system and process design for complaint handling, voice of the customer etc.

    Capacity building - including change management, project management, stakeholder engagement/participation, process design, and learning design.

    Human resource management - including HR strategy/organisational development, cultural change programs, employee attraction and recruitment, learning and development, talent management, coaching and mentoring programs, performance management, reward and recognition/retention

    I’m an avid traveller, I love to ski and scuba dive, I’m learning to ride a motorcycle, I’m known to be besotted with animals of all kinds, I’m not a green thumb at all but I love to be surrounded by lush plants and flowers, and my music tastes are wildly varied. I do draw the line at trance music though. I confess, I just don’t get it.

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    Jodie Burling, Head of Corporate Services

    Jodie Burling

    I have a passion for working within not-for-profit organisations and providing effective back office support so that staff can thrive and continue to deliver innovative and quality services to people accessing an organisation.

    I have a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Masters in Human Resources and Industrial Relations. I commenced my career as a Social Welfare Worker working in a Women’s Refuge for The Salvation Army. I have also worked for various other not-for-profits including NCOSS, Centacare and Positive Life, in both service delivery and HR/organisation development roles. My most recent role prior to joining SCIA, was as the HR Manager at Matrix on Board.

    I was drawn to SCIA not only because of the diverse range of services the organisation provides to our clients but also because of the staff culture which is intrinsically people centred. I look forward to continuing to build solid and effective back office solutions to support the future growth of the organisation.

    On my days off I am busy looking after my beautiful young children and entertaining my mischievous puppy!

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    Fiona Jackson, Head of Marketing & Fundraising

    Jodie BurlingI am an experienced fundraiser and marketer and have worked in agencies in London and Sydney before transferring to the NFP sector 15 years ago. Since then I have worked with a number of clients including Alzheimer’s Research UK, ActionAid, World Vision and Muscular Dystrophy UK. Prior to joining SCIA I was Head of Fundraising for Barnardos Australia and most recently Cure Brain Cancer Foundation.

    As the recently appointed Head of Marketing and Fundraising for SCIA I am really keen to increase current levels of fundraising and develop new revenue streams to fund more services in the community for people with spinal cord injury. I am passionate about social inclusion so want to highlight this through my role and increase overall awareness of SCIA. With the changes in the disability sector on the horizon it is an exciting time to join the team at SCIA.

    When I am not at work I love to cook, travel and play with my two spoodles Hank and Hector.

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    Board of Directors

    The Board of Directors is elected by the Members of the organisation for a two year period with half standing down annually. The Board is ultimately responsible for the governance and performance of Spinal Cord Injuries Australia (SCIA).

    The Board consists of an elected President, a Chairman (these may be the same person), and other Directors. The maximum size of the Board is nine. Persons with disabilities constitute a majority of the board.

    All Directors operate in a voluntary capacity. They meet at least once a month and more frequently if needed. In addition, many of them serve on sub-committees of the Board, which look at specific areas of operation or issues of interest.

    Download Spinal Cord Injuries Australia's Charter of Board Operations

    Joan Hume* President Since 2014

    Joan Hume

    Joan joined the Board of SCIA in 2012 because she believes she can still make a valuable contribution to the development of the organisation with which she has had an association for over 35 years.

    Joan has a professional background in secondary education and TAFE as a teacher and disability consultant and in public health policy and rehabilitation as a senior policy advisor.  
    She holds a BA DipEd and an MA in English Literature from Sydney University.

    Her activism and advocacy in disability commenced after she sustained a spinal cord injury in her early 20s. For over three decades she has played a prominent role in the birth and development of Australia's disability rights movement especially as foundation editor of the magazine "Quad Wrangle" and later board chairperson for the Australian Quadriplegic Association (now Spinal Cord Injuries Australia), NSW state president of Disabled Peoples' International (now People with Disabilities Australia) and a founding member of Women with Disabilities Australia.  She has represented DPI Australia at the United Nations in New York.

    She is dedicated to promoting the independence, dignity and full participation of people with disabilities in all aspects of community life. Joan has been awarded an OAM for services to people with disabilities, a high commendation for her writing in the Australian Human Rights Awards and an Australian Achievement Award for writing on media portrayal of disability.

    Apart from extensive experience in both mainstream and disability education, Joan brings well-honed writing and policy development skills, familiarity with management and collaborative board participation practice.

    Joan is a member of the Members' Issues Sub-Committee and the Board Development and Governance Sub-Committee.

    Anna-Maria Arabia Director Since 2012 

    Anna-Maria Arabia

    Anna‑Maria wishes to use her advocacy, political, and research skills to influence policy outcomes and assist others reach their potential.

    Anna‑Maria is currently Director of Policy to the Hon Bill Shorten MP, Leader of the Federal Opposition. She is a trained neuroscientist having undertaken her under graduate and post graduate training at the University of Melbourne, the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne, and the Mario Negri Pharmacological Research Institute in Milan.

    Anna‑Maria was formerly General Manager of Questacon ‑ the National Science and Technology Centre.  She has held political advisory roles in both social and economic portfolios in federal government and opposition, has been in involved in policy development in the federal bureaucracy, and in efforts to foster international cooperation in the area of science and technology.

    Anna‑Maria holds a personal commitment to social justice and equity and is committed to Spinal Cord Injuries Australia's mission.

    Anna-Maria is a member of the CEO Liaison Sub-Committee.

    Stewart Calderwood Director Since 2012

    Stewart Calderwood

    Stewart suffered a spinal injury in 1994, in a diving accident, was left temporarily paralysed and went through intensive therapy within a spinal unit which undoubtedly aided the recovery. He subsequently became involved with the Back Up Trust, a UK charity assisting those paralysed through spinal cord injury to inspire independence and to encourage everyone to get the most from their lives.

    Stewart moved to Australia several years ago and wanted to be involved with a charity addressing the needs of people with spinal cord injury which is passionate about transforming lives.

    Stewart is currently  a Director at Ord Minnett. He has corporate background in the finance sector with over 25 years’ experience in London and Australia. He has client relationship management experience in a wide range of institutional and corporate clients. He will use his corporate and financial back ground to bring the needs of the charity and its members to the awareness of the Corporate Sector.

    Stewart  is a member of the CEO Liaison Sub-Committee

    Brad O'Hara Chairman Since 2015


    Brad is passionate about helping in the community, having developed strategies and implemented community engagement programs at NRMA and acted as a volunteer for a number of charities and not for profits. He is also keen to explore new uses of communication and motoring technologies to further educate, engage and drive positive change in community attitudes towards people with spinal cord injury. Brad is a recipient of the Government of New South Wales medal for community service, a Member of the Institute of Automotive Mechanical Engineers and a Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

    Brad is currently employed with The National Roads & Motorists Association and  is Head of Commercial for the Publishing and Entertainment business programs within the NRMA Group. Brad has over 20 years corporate experience with varying roles and responsibilities. His working life has exposed him to diverse community groups and this has helped him understand the unique challenges that these groups face and how corporates and the not for profit sector can work together successfully to deliver on common goals.

    Brad uses his corporate knowledge and experience to strongly advocate for people with spinal cord injury so that they too can gain the independence and quality of life that others enjoy.

    Brad is a member of the CEO Liaison Sub-Committee and the Finance and Audit Sub-Committee.

    David O'Brien* Director Since 1996

    David O'Brien

    Joined Spinal Cord Injuries Australia in 1984 and elected to the Board in 1996.  I have a Bachelor of Business Administration and have worked since 1983. I work for The Audit Office of NSW. My work involves using software to assist in documenting the auditing of government entities. It also requires working with the accounting & auditing standards which helps in my role as a member of Spinal Cord Injuries Australia's Governance and Finance Sub-Committee, (GAF). I became involved with Spinal Cord Injuries Australia after becoming a C5/6 quadriplegic as a result of a rugby union move called “The Flying Wedge” in 1977. Since then, I’ve deteriorated to a complete C4 quadriplegic which meant adjusting again to a new disability level using mouth sticks. I was 19 when I had my accident and I’m now 52.

    Over the last 32 years there have been significant improvements, both medically and with technology, that have tremendous benefits for people who sustain a spinal injury. I’m determined to maintain the independence of the disabled and that they continue to be the primary source for anything that will affect them, especially the spinal injured. It’s crucial that well intentioned able bodied people do not make decisions on behalf of the disabled without their input. I look forward to a cure for spinal injuries in the near future and further technology developments and discoveries that will benefit the disabled. I feel the opportunities for the spinal injured will especially focus on education and employment which are so important to one’s quality of life and self esteem.

    David is a member of the Finance and Audit Sub-Committee.

    Richard Klinger * Director from 1997 – 2005; 2007 – present

    David O'Brien

    Richard considers it a privilege to be a member of the SCIA Board of Directors and a part of a unique organisation that is governed by a majority of people with a severe physical disability.

    He was Chairman of SCIA (AQA) from 1998–2001 and President from 1999 – 2000.

    Richard’s background is in civil construction engineering and his present occupation is Managing Director of equibuilt, a Building Services Company.

    He finds it most rewarding to be involved with the wider SCIA team of dynamic and committed people that provide services that make a difference to the lives of people with a spinal injury and in doing so keeps their needs and aspirations firmly on the policy agenda.

    Richard is a member of the SCIA Members Issues Sub-Committee and a past member of the NSW Community Housing Advisory Committee from 2000 – 2001.

    David Brawn Director Since 2006

    David Brawn

    David joined Spinal Cord Injuries Australia to help provide support for people with spinal cord injuries and, as part of this, to add more business expertise to the Board as it met new challenges to expand its activities profitably. David wholeheartedly supports the Vision and the Mission of the organisation and expects to continue to support the CEO and his team in realising these.

    David joined SCIA as a Director in 2006; was Chairman from 2007 to 2013 and Deputy Chairman in 2014. He holds a BSc in Physics and Maths from London University, an MSc in Business Studies from the London Business School and a Diploma (with Order of Merit) for the Australian Institute of Company Directors. David has worked in Xerox Corporation and Telstra and prior to his retirement from Telstra in 2004, he was CEO of a subsidiary called Telstra eBusiness Pty Ltd. David held executive roles in strategy, marketing and business management in these businesses.

    David was a Rotary District Governor in 2010/11 oversighting 50 Rotary clubs and 1500 Rotary members in a region extending from the Sydney CBD south to Kiama and west to the MacArthur region. Rotary is committed to serving the needs of the community and supporting the disadvantaged both in Australia and Worldwide.

    David brought his passion for improving the quality of life for people with spinal cord injuries and his business skills and experience as a Past Rotary District Governor to the Board of Director

    * Denotes a person with a disability

    Our Patron 

    Sir Peter Cosgrove

    His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth Of Australia is the Patron of Spinal Cord Injuries Australia.

    Spinal Cord Injuries Australia is proud to have His Excellency as its Patron. Sir Peter Cosgrove was pleased to accept the role and sees the work of SCIA as complementary to his responsibilities as Governor-General and to themes of personal interest to him.

    Peter Cosgrove was born in Sydney in 1947. He attended Waverley College in Sydney and graduated from the Royal Military College in Duntroon. Early in his career, he fought in Vietnam and he was awarded the Military Cross in 1971 for his performance and leadership.

    As Commander of the International Task Force East Timor, Peter Cosgrove was responsible for overseeing that country’s transition to independence.  For his leadership, he was promoted to Companion in the Military Division of the Order of Australia (AC). Promoted to Lieutenant General, he was appointed Chief of Army in 2000.  After further promotion to General, he served as Chief of the Defence Force from 2002-2005.  He retired from the Australian Defence Force in 2005.

    He was named Australian of the Year in 2001 and in March 2014, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that General Cosgrove would become a Knight in the Order of Australia when sworn in as Governor-General.

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