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Inaugural Speech

By Robert Tickner, Secretary General - CEO Australian Red Cross

13 February 2005

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you here tonight on the occasion of the 2005 international humanitarian law dinner.

Significantly for me this is the very first public speech on the very first day of my appointment as Secretary General - Chief Executive Officer of Australian Red Cross.

Although this is an occasion which normally has a more narrow but important focus on International Humanitarian Law, I have been asked tonight to also reflect on what I see as my role in Red Cross and about some of the challenges and opportunities which confront our global movement.

Robert Tickner, Secretary General Australian Red Cross

While I stress that I have still so much to learn, in the two weeks working within Red Cross prior to formally taking up the position today (which I call my work experience) I have learnt so much and have received the warmest of welcomes from volunteers, board members and staff I have met around the country, from Perth to Sydney and Hobart to Brisbane.

I am looking forward to further discussions with the remaining Divisions over the next week or so.

While there are plenty of ongoing meetings, consultations and discussion still to be had over the years ahead, I already see an emerging consensus around many of the issues we face and I will make brief reference to some of those tonight.

So what are my first impressions and what do I hope to bring to Australian Red Cross?

To be appointed Secretary General - CEO of Australian Red Cross is of course a very great honour but much more importantly confers on me an enormous personal responsibility.

I propose to absolutely dedicate myself to the role, with the objective of working with my board, the state and territory divisions, over 1,500 Red Cross staff Australia wide and with 60,000 Red Cross volunteers and members to take the organisation to new heights of achievement in its task of serving humanity.

Too often the work of this national icon 'Australian Red Cross' is taken for granted and one objective I have is to educate the wider Australian community about the extraordinary achievements of Red Cross both here and around the world, championing the work of volunteers, members and staff.

The Red Cross 'idea' started over 150 years ago.

Central to the success of Red Cross globally has been the unique and fundamental principles that underpin all the activities of the organisation.

I intend to work with staff and volunteers to have these principles more widely understood - and embraced - in our community.

These principles help us understand why Red Cross has been so successful in fulfilling its humanitarian mission and why it is the world's largest and longest established humanitarian network. They are:

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, born of a desire to bring assistance without discrimination to the wounded on the battlefield, endeavours, in its international and national capacity, to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Its purpose is to protect life and health and ensure respect for the human being. It promotes mutual understanding, friendship, cooperation and lasting peace amongst all people.

It makes no discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. It endeavours to relieve the suffering of individuals, being guided solely by their needs, and to give priority to the most urgent cases of distress.

In order to continue to enjoy the confidence of all, the movement may not take sides in hostilities or engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.

The movement is independent. The National societies, while auxiliaries in the humanitarian services of their governments and subject to the laws of their respective countries, must always maintain their autonomy so that they may be able at all times to act in accordance with the principles of the movement.

Voluntary Service
It is a voluntary relief movement not prompted in any manner by desire for gain.

There can be only one Red Cross or Red Crescent society in any one country. It must be open to all. It must carry on its humanitarian work throughout its territory.

The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, in which all Societies have equal status and share equal responsibilities and duties in helping each other, is worldwide.

One of my objectives is to be a champion of these non-negotiable core principles, which have been the hallmarks of this global organisation. Fundamentally Red Cross is about 'people' and the alleviation of human suffering.

Importantly we undertake our work without fear or favour and totally free of political or religious affiliation of any kind.

People often ask me why I took on this job as CEO of Australian Red Cross and the answer is simple!

I have always been personally committed to humanitarian values and the ability to build a better world through striving to give effect to these values.

Australian Red Cross has been helping local communities help themselves across the breadth of this country for over 90 years and continues to do so today.

One of the messages I want to convey to the wider Australian community is: if you want to really make a difference, in your local community, to your country, and to humanity around the world, then get involved with Red Cross.

So what do I want to achieve in this job over the years ahead?

For the record I need to stress that Red Cross is not about one person and we are a movement of people working for a common cause.

Having said that, I will be trying to leave my own mark on the organisation.

Firstly, I applaud the work of Australian Red Cross in ensuring that we are already a leader in the not-for-profit sector in transparency and accountability in all the work we do both in Australia and overseas.

I will embrace this commitment and seek to take the organisation to even higher levels of achievement and recognition in this area.

And never has this been as important as it is now.

I have joined the organisation at a time when we have just conducted the largest fundraising effort in the history of Australian Red Cross as part of the largest global humanitarian relief effort.

The Australian public has donated almost $100m to the Australian Red Cross Asia Quake and Tsunamis Appeal.

With this unprecedented generosity comes the responsibility to spend the money appropriately, where it is most needed, in the most effective way, and with the transparency and accountability that donors expect.

I want all Australians to continue to be confident in knowing that when they donate to Red Cross, the funds do make a difference on the ground to those most in need.

Secondly, and this point is related to the first, I am determined to bring about even greater efficiencies in the work we do.

I want to grow the reputation of Red Cross as one of the most highly efficient not-for-profit organisations in the country.

Together with my colleagues we will be undertaking a comprehensive review of our operations Australia-wide to find more effective ways of delivering our work.

One example I could give you is the way in which Red Cross is increasingly working more cohesively across state borders, further reducing costs and sharing best practice.

Last year Australian Red Cross adopted some important governance changes to move towards this objective and it will be my role to work with colleagues to make the reforms a practical reality. The quality and innovation of our services will be the hallmark of our success.

We will continue to work with and reinvigorate the wide-ranging Red Cross networks - branches, Red Cross shops, volunteers, school groups and corporate partners - to ensure we reach deep into the community.

Thirdly, I want to make sure that Australian Red Cross continues to be an evolving organisation.

I will be championing the work of our Visioning project, which is developing a long term vision for the organisation in the first part of this year and which has so much potential to take us in exciting new directions.

Our key mandate is to alleviate human suffering wherever it occurs on the planet, including vulnerable people in our own communities.

As the needs of people change, Australian Red Cross needs to adapt to meet the new challenges as it has done over the past 90 years.

This is why we have responded so positively to the crisis facing humanity through HIV/AIDS around the world.

This is also why within Australia there is an increasing involvement by Australian Red Cross over recent years in meeting the needs of indigenous Australians.

Another very strong interest on my part is to explore the potential to support those in our community with mental illness, furthering the pioneering work of our Tasmanian Division in reaching out to this group of vulnerable people in our communities.

Fourthly, I have it as one of my objectives to grow the support for Red Cross among the ranks of young Australians.

I think that we can - and need - to do more to reach out to young people, to inspire them about our work and get them involved in making their own contribution to improving the lot of humanity.

I think that there is sometimes a false perception out there that Red Cross is something for older Australians and I am determined to change that perception. But it is not just young Australians who can do so much.

With an ageing population and many people retiring much younger there is a growing army of potential highly skilled volunteers we are determined to reach out to and enable them to continue to be involved in their communities.

I am also keen to ensure that, in accordance with our principles, our staff, members and volunteers reflect the diversity of the communities in which we work.

Fifthly, I want to see our politicians give more support to Red Cross.

Australian Red Cross has a unique role as an auxiliary to government in times of conflict, as well as a special responsibility under the Geneva Conventions to disseminate International Humanitarian Law on their behalf.

While maintaining the independence of Red Cross from all political parties I will be asking parliamentarians to put aside their political differences to work together to support Australian Red Cross.

As I have already said, the work of Red Cross has sometimes been taken for granted. To be fair I don't think that we have done enough to let our parliamentarians know about the great work we are doing - not just in Australia but throughout the world.

I will be asking our parliamentarians to work with us to establish 'Parliamentary Friends of Red Cross' in every state and territory parliament, in order to more effectively disseminate information about our work and to build understanding of our unique role.

Sixthly, I want to build the support for Red Cross in the corporate sector. Through the recent Appeal we have established many new and important corporate relationships.

Corporate Australia not only donated money to the Tsunamis Appeal, but we received dozens of offers of staff volunteers, call centres, data processing, promotional activities and goods. However, this is only the beginning, and we will be making sure we cement those relationships and identify new and innovative ways for corporates to help us help those who are vulnerable in our society, both here and abroad.

This is an exciting development for us and the corporate sector can be proud of what has already been achieved. Imagine what is possible if we build on achievements thus far.

Seventhly, I want to explore new and innovative ways in which we can work cooperatively together across this wide brown land.

Communication and opportunities for increased interaction between different areas of our vast organisation seem to me to be critical here. To take just one example of what may be possible, I would like to initiate discussions within Australian Red Cross about the possibility of holding a National Conference which would be open to volunteers, elected representatives, members and staff, both from Australian Red Cross and other regional National Red Cross or Red Crescent Societies.

This coming together could, I believe, be organised at modest cost and used to develop best practice in service delivery, facilitate board interaction and most importantly build our commitment to one Red Cross, so exemplified in our fundamental principles.

I also believe that we need an ongoing capacity to communicate with our members and volunteers Australia wide. To all our staff, I want to send the important message about the extent I will be valuing your work and ensuring that you have the systems, resources and training to carry out that work.

Eighthly, I want Red Cross to be a cutting edge innovator of new ideas and new initiatives in the humanitarian field.

To give just one example: I see a pressing need for an enhanced capacity for Australia to respond to international humanitarian crises within our region.

One way to do this is through the development of an Australian Red Cross Emergency Response Unit, or ERU.

An ERU, established and maintained by a National Red Cross Society, is a self contained unit with a contingent of trained specialists able to be deployed quickly when disaster strikes to provide particular emergency activities - health care, water and sanitation, logistics, referral hospital services, telecommunications and relief.

During the emergency response to the tsunami, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies were able to deploy 18 ERUs to affected areas. All but one of these, a Japanese Red Cross basic health care unit, were from European or North American Red Cross Societies.

Australia is well placed in the region to develop greater disaster capability, and I will be holding discussions with the Australian government and other organisations to explore the concept of an Australian Red Cross ERU being able to be deployed rapidly throughout Asia and the Pacific to bring relief to those affected by disaster.

Finally, I will be working to make sure that Australian Red Cross plays an increasingly active role in the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, both as a leader in the Pacific and key influencer in Geneva.

I am already very much aware that we have a lot more we can contribute in building the effectiveness of the organisation globally.

To give one example Australian Red Cross, with the very strong support of AusAID has been a major contributor to some pioneering work which I believe will lead to the development of more effective international law governing the international responses to global humanitarian disasters.

Let me tell you briefly about this project and about the state of play.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has initiated a program in an effort to promote better understanding, implementation and development of laws, rules and principles to ensure the fast and effective facilitation of international disaster response for the benefit of vulnerable populations, entitled IDRL - the International Disaster Response Law.

The IDRL Project Coordinator in Geneva is an Australian who was appointed in 2002, strongly supported by AusAID and the Australian Red Cross.

The objectives of the program are as follows:

  • Build the knowledge base on IDRL and the benefit of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement and the international community.
  • Facilitate better implementation of IDRL by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement, governments, international organisations and the international community.
  • Advocate for the continued research, development and implementation of IDRL by states and international organisations, utilising the network of National Societies.


It is the view of Australian Red Cross that the improved understanding and better use of the laws, rules and principles which facilitate international disaster will make a significant impact on the ability for international disaster response to occur quickly and effectively when needed.

The work on IDRL will ultimately benefit disaster-affected populations who depend on international relief efforts to assist them to respond and recover from large scale disaster.

We all know in the post tsunami global environment just how important this work is and I am committed to maintain a strong contribution to this work.

To conclude, my aim as Secretary General and CEO is to provide strategic leadership and articulate the exciting, clear and strong vision of Australian Red Cross and its future directions.

We respect and are proud of our traditions but will also continue to embrace change and reforms to ensure we remain a contemporary, professional and adaptable organisation.

We will be focused on high performance and strive to be lean and efficient so we can best serve humanity.

This is why we were formed and why our vision remains to improve the lives of vulnerable people in Australia and internationally, by mobilising the power of humanity.

Thank you for the opportunity to share these ideas with you.