Sonya Bennett

Rear Admiral (RADM) Sonya Bennett AM

Commander Joint Health and Surgeon General of the Australian Defence Force

Rear Admiral (RADM) Sonya Bennett AM commenced her tenure as Commander Joint Health and Surgeon General of the Australian Defence Force on 1 December 2023. Sonya is a Fellow of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine. In addition to her medical qualifications, Sonya is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Sonya joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1991 in her final years as an undergraduate medical student, and subsequently served across a wide range of postings, including the submarine squadron at HMAS Platypus and the supply ship HMAS Success. Highlights of this period include spending time with the crew at sea aboard Oberon class submarines and being embedded on a US aircraft carrier during RIMPAC 96.

Sonya’s later service included postings as Research Manager of the Army Malaria Institute during the United Nations mission in support of East Timor when malaria and dengue were problems for our forces, and later as the inaugural Research Manager and Chief of Operations at the Centre for Military and Veterans Health. It was during her tenure in these postings that Sonya became passionate about public health.

Sonya transferred to Reserve service in 2009, which allowed her to pursue these interests. While serving as Executive Director Communicable Diseases in Queensland Health, she and her team were instrumental in implementing vaccination program reform for the State of Queensland, including being the first State to introduce both pertussis vaccination for pregnant women and influenza vaccination for children under 5 years old. In her Navy Reserve capacity she participated in Pacific Partnership 15 on the USN Mercy. Later, as Deputy Chief Health Officer, she led much of the planning and implementation of Queensland’s public health response, and chaired the Communicable Disease Network of Australia during the first 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Following her service with Queensland Health, Sonya was appointed Deputy Chief Medical Officer in the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, continuing to work on the COVID-19 pandemic response amongst other public health priorities. During this period she continued her Reserve work as Director General Navy Health Reserves, and as a Council Member of the QIMR Berghofer.

In 2023, Sonya was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the General Division for significant service to public health leadership roles.

“Marie Curie once said, ‘I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy’,” Sonya said.

“In many ways, I feel that this sums up my career journey with both Defence and the public service. Looking back, I have witnessed or been involved in much progress and public health reform, but it has taken hard work, persistence and patience - and always, always required collaborative efforts with others”, she reflected.

“Defence also has seen significant change over the last few decades, and is a diverse and inclusive organisation, with a dedicated and professional joint health capability. I am proud to be a part of it and on International Women’s Day I would encourage all women to consider the opportunities that Defence offers as it seeks the best possible talent available.”