Leaders of the Profession: Newcastle

 An introduction to the 2021 Newcastle Division Committee

The role of the Newcastle Division Committee is to provide leadership and direction consistent with Engineers Australia’s Strategic Priorities and to communicate, advocate, connect and promote the engineering profession across academia, government, industry and the wider community, and contribute to the best engineering outcomes that the profession can deliver for the benefit of the whole community. 


Pierre C
Pierre Gouhier MIEAust CPEng NER

Pierre is a Chartered Professional Engineer (CPEng) who holds a Master of Engineering degree from Polyetch’ Savoie (France) majoring in Composite Materials, a Master of Engineering Management and a Master of Business from the University of Newcastle. He moved to Australia in 2006 to work as a Design Engineer. He received a National Engineering Excellence award for the design of a tidal turbine in 2012 and the Engineers Australia Newcastle Young Engineers Awards of the Year in 2013. In 2011, he followed his managerial inspiration and became Engineering Manager. Since then he has been leading, overseeing, coaching and mentoring Engineers and other professionals staff towards the delivery of complex engineering solutions. Today, Pierre is part of the Restech team as a Product Development Manager, helping to make great ideas a reality. He has also been an active player in the EA Newcastle division as a member and chair of the Mechanical branch committee. He joins the division in 2018 and is actively involved in the Education sub-committee and Engineering Awareness committee.


Stephen Palmer
Deputy President
Stephen Palmer FIEAust CPEng EngExec NER

Stephen is Managing Director of Safearth, Australia’s leading earthing specialist. Stephen has made a significant engineering contribution as a leading specialist in all aspects of earthing, both in Australia and around the world, through numerous conferences, standards committees and working groups including for ENA, Australian Standards, IEEE, Cigre, Ceati and Cired. Since its privatisation in 2007, Safearth has grown from a consulting group of 5, to an international team of 49 that now designs, manufactures and sells test instruments, provides specialist training and earthing design software, and supplies consulting & testing services. Safearth’s clients cover 7 countries and 16 states across the USA. Stephen is passionate about our profession and keen to see it reach the recognition in Australia he commonly experiences in Europe and America.

Joe Townsend
Immediate Past President
Joe Townsend MIEAust

Leading with passion, Joe is a results-oriented young professional with over 10 years of experience in professional services and the construction industry. He has successfully lead business units; setting strategy, achieving goals, growing commercial and community operations. Passionate about diversity, Joe brings a high level of authentic regional leadership and public advocacy for economic growth across Newcastle and Northern NSW.


Bret Barton
Bret Barton FIEAust CPEng EngExec NER

Bret began a career in the Canadian Air Force as an aeronautical engineer flight testing military aircraft and systems. He progressed to working with the US Air Force flight testing F-16 systems and subsequently moved to Australia in 2004 to help a start-up Defence consulting business, Nova Systems, grow into its significant position today.
Bret has dedicated his career to the defence, aerospace and engineering sectors.  Bret is recognised as a proactive leader, has held several executive roles, run operations across APAC including the establishment of a new business in the Asia market.
Bret is currently the Chief Executive Officer of the Goal Group which is a professional services business focused on the Defence and security sector. Goal Group operates Australia’s largest and unique “Complementary SME Model” helping Defence optimise capability and assets.
Bret is partnered with an accomplished Mechanical Engineering spouse, Hilary, an Electrical Engineering son, Mathew, and uniquely a physio therapist daughter Julia.


Renny Chivunga
Renny Chivunga MIEAust 

Renny Chivunga is a chemical engineer, pilot, model, and fitness instructor. As an engineer she has held positions within mineral processing RND, water planning and wastewater treatment and now works as a water network engineer at Hunter Water. As well as holding the post of Vice Chair for Engineers Australia Women in Engineering Renny also sits on the Newcastle University Chemical Engineering Advisory Board and the Newcastle University’s Construction Management Industry Advisory Panel. Renny is passionate about ensuring the provision of essential services to the developing world, especially for African communities where she is originally from. In 2018 Renny was nominated for the Zimbabwe Achievers Awards - Community Champion Female by members of the Zimbabwean Diaspora and in 2019 she successfully lead a team of water professionals to win regional awards in WaterAids Winnovator Challenge.


Karlie Collis FIEAust CPEng NER
Karlie Collis graduated from the University of Newcastle in 2004 with a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil), Karlie has been working at Northrop Consulting Engineers in Newcastle. As an Associate, Karlie enjoys taking an active role in strategic planning and formation of company policy. Karlie takes a participative approach to leadership as she actively seeks to encourage the best performance and participation from her teams. A strong believer in leading by example, Karlie is committed to promoting the profile of engineers within the community. Karlie is passionate about “giving back” to the profession. She was President of the Division in 2013 and is currently the Chair of the Structural College Board. Karlie keenly fosters new talent through mentoring while encouraging students to consider an engineering career choice. Karlie advocates for a collaborative approach to engineering to ensure the goal of “the best solution to the problem” can always be achieved.


Leon Fabrikanov FIEAust CPEng NER
Leon has over 25 years of experience in Project management and engineering with expertise in the Mining and Metals and Industrial Infrastructure projects. Leon has held the roles of Senior Project Manager and Engineering & Design Manager in several companies in Australia, the USA and the Middle East including Orica, Bechtel and Rio Tinto.  He has operated in a range of industries including Mining, Mining Explosives, Metals, Chemicals and Industrial Infrastructure and is currently working with Origin Energy in the energy generation space. Leon is also on the Newcastle CLM Committee.




Natalie Palmer
Natalie Perfrement FIEAust CPEng NER
I am an engineer more than 25 years experience in Civil Engineering infrastructure development, design, construction and maintenance. I have managed, developed and delivered infrastructure projects as diverse as 16km of road construction using local gravels to provide all weather access to remote communities; sewering sea-side holiday communities whose population increases 5000 fold during summer holidays; designing RAAF training facilities by refitting existing small local aerodromes and TAFE campuses; and upgrading multiple linking urban intersections to meet the challenge of increasing freight task, high road crash history, and increasing pedestrian and cyclists demand. I actively mentor and develop engineers technicians and scientists as direct reports and through my industry connections. I am actively engaged in my community creating opportunities for Women in Industry to network and be inspired by fellow leaders through my role as Chair of Women in Engineering, Newcastle; and through my role as a Diversity and Inclusion Committee member in Roads and Maritime Services. Outside of industry I compete as a Dragon Boat Paddler with Newcastle Hunter Dragons and am very proud of my teams achievement ranked second in NSW and second in Australia. I am an Engineer, a problem solver and innovative solution seeker, whose driven to improve my communities experience of infrastructure by making it safer, easier to access, less resource intensive and more sustainable.


Rhett Watters
Rhett Watters MIEAust CPEng NER

Rhett is a Chartered Structural Engineer with over 10 years’ experience, primarily working in professional services. Rhett provides structures management services to clients in the transport,
water and energy and resources sectors. Rhett’s practical experience includes condition assessment, diagnosis investigation, deterioration modelling, residual life assessment, life cycle costing, durability design, detailed design of remedial engineering and construction phase surveillance for civil structures.
In his role with Lindsay Dynan as a Senior Assets Engineer, Rhett is lucky enough to be based in Newcastle NSW and is focused on assisting clients in achieving durable and sustainable infrastructure. 


Frank Sammut MIEAust

Frank Sammut is a Mechanical Engineer with an impressive management and leadership career in the food manufacturing and engineering sectors. His experience has predominantly been in operations management in the food industry, holding senior operations roles, expanding his responsibility into Warehousing and Logistics, Planning, Procurement, Agronomy and New Product Development. He has worked in the metal engineering, snack, baking, coffee and confectionery industries. His Last corporate role was Operations Director at Saralee. He is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Central Coast Industry Connect – a not-for-profit organisation representing Central Coast manufacturers. Having lived on the NSW Central Coast for over 20 years he has a passion that extends into making the region a better place. He is currently the president of the Regional Advisory Council for the NSW Business Chamber Central Coast, sits on the state council of the Chamber, is on the board of Regional Development Australia Central Coast and is chairman of Engineers Australia Central Coast Group and sits on their divisional committee.


David Sparkes FIEAust CPEng NER

David is a proud Novocastrian and a passionate engineer practicing in structural and civil engineering. David is GHD’s Newcastle region Property and Buildings market leader and works across the same areas as Engineers Australia’s Newcastle Division footprint. He is a technical director of structures within GHD’s structures team and has gained formal education at a technology level (TAFE), degree level (UON) and masters level (UNSW). David has also undertaken formal education in teaching adults (Curtin) and is a conjoint associate professor in the Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment at the University of Newcastle where he provides guest lecturing and mentoring to engineering, architecture and construction management students. David is a past president of the Newcastle Division and is currently part of the Division committee and the education sub committee. David looks forward to future advances in engineering and digital technology including being part of the training and mentoring of our future engineers and technologists to provide sustainable solutions for the environmental challenges we face. 


Peter Orford
Peter Orford FIEAust CPEng EngExec NER

Peter has a Master’s Degree in Project Management, is a Fellow of Institution of Engineers, Australia, a Chartered Professional Engineer, Australia, an Engineering Executive, Australia, has National Engineering Register, Australia accreditation and is a Past Member of the Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Saskatchewan and Professional Engineer, Saskatchewan, Canada. Peter is a committed, analytical management professional with over 35 years’ experience in project management, project controls, information technology, shared services, management accounting, construction, contract procurement management, procurement management and maintenance management. Work assignments have ranged from key leadership roles in multibillion-dollar projects and/or multi-billion dollar turnover businesses through to small consultancy assignments. This experience has been gained on four continents and in various locations throughout Australia. Peter has a keen interest in bringing his insights and experiential learning back to the engineering profession which has afforded him a very satisfying career.