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Mobilising Red Cross volunteers and staff in the aftermath of the Victorian bushfires

16 June 2009

By Robert Tickner, CEO, Australian Red Cross, at the Australian Human Resources Institute National Convention.

Thank you so very much for the invitation to address your convention and to share with you insights into the extraordinary mobilisation of Red Cross staff and volunteers in the aftermath of the recent Victorian bushfires which were as you know Australia's worst peacetime natural disaster claiming the lives of 173 people.

I am particularly pleased to speak to you today because the development of outstanding HR practices and policies is a huge priority for me as a CEO and the Director of our HR team Chris Steinfort and I work closely together on a daily basis. With more than 2,200 staff and 30,000 volunteers across Australia I am sure you will appreciate the importance of effective strategic and operational HR management within Red Cross. I should also pay tribute to our 500,000 voluntary blood donors who give their precious gift to save the life of another through the Australian Red Cross Blood Service.

I have also been asked to share with you how Australian Red Cross, a 95 year old Australian icon of the not-for-profit sector is responding to the current financial climate, while continuing to undergo a vast organisational change process and I will turn to that topic later in my presentation. Overall I will be trying to give you an appreciation of the special challenges of leadership and human resource management in a not for profit organisation which relies on a huge volunteer workforce.

Our work can be encapsulated in our overarching and driving objective of "mobilising the power of humanity" to assist vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

I would like to begin by showing you a short DVD which features aspects of the Red Cross response to the fires and in doing so make clear that we were only one of many organisations which played a leading role in the response and we pay tribute to the fire fighters and other emergency response organisations and charities. I am sure they will not mind however that I highlight to you the special role played by Red Cross.

It is one thing to articulate our commitment to mobilising the power of humanity but quite another thing to actually deliver on this commitment but that is exactly what we did in the aftermath of the Victorian fires. Managing an emergency response to a disaster on the scale of the February Victorian bushfires requires the full focus of the entire organisation including the CEO. My own personal story is that I went to work in our Emergency response headquarters for the disaster on the first day and did not even get back to my own office building for three weeks. Every day including weekends were relentless 16 hour (or longer) days. There was not one part of our organisation which was not mobilised to respond including: our Emergency services, our service delivery arm, finance, IT and of course HR. Our task was made harder by virtue of our response to the floods in Queensland at the same time, and an extreme heatwave in South Australia.

We knew the risk of fire was high on Saturday 7th February but as events unfolded, of course, the number, scale and ferocity of the fires exceeded Victoria's worst expectations. In the hours and then days and then weeks following the fires the organisation swung into action, as did numerous other government and community organisations.

A total of more than 1,000 Red Cross volunteers and staff initially worked in over 20 relief centres during and immediately after the Saturday of the fires. Relief Centres were then replaced by Recovery Centres and Community Service Hubs. Red Cross continued to have a strong presence at these centres, contributing to the ongoing support of those directly affected, particularly through outreach visits to the most vulnerable.

The National Registration and Inquiry System (NRIS) operated by the Red Cross, under the direction of Victoria Police, took over 22,000 registrations from people in the affected areas, and 21,000 inquiries from people wanting to know about the safety of family and friends. This was achieved through registrations at relief centres, by telephone or email and supported by the establishment of the State Inquiry Centre phone line for families and friends to inquire about the safety of loved ones. The inquiry process was also a critical tool in the Disaster Victim Identification work of Victoria Police centre and was finally closed on 5 March.

During the peak time of operations Red Cross had the support of three supplementary State Inquiry Centre's and an external corporate call centre, in addition to the main centre in the Victorian Red Cross offices.

Personal support teams worked in evacuation and relief centres and undertook initial outreach visits in some of the affected areas. One aspect of the personal support program was the provision of the Red Cross 'Coping with a Major Personal Crisis,' booklet to those affected. Catering teams provided food, and First Aid teams administered treatment for fire fighters and communities in all affected areas.

More than 10,000 members of the public called to offer their assistance as volunteers. The majority of these were spontaneous volunteers -- that is, those who previously had no affiliation with Red Cross and therefore had not been recruited or trained by our organisation. We also had many current Red Cross volunteers contacting us to let us know that they were available to assist. Managing spontaneous volunteers during and immediately after disasters presents special challenges as you can imagine. I am delighted that we have recently received additional Australian Government support through FaHCSIA to undertake some further work to develop processes and protocols in this challenging field of human resource management. We have seen time and time again in Australia and around the world that in the aftermath of natural disasters people in the community are drawn to work and give their services to the Red Cross Emblem which they associate with impartial and neutral humanitarian relief. This is one of the reasons why Red Cross, which is impartial, neutral and independent of government is also described in international law as an Auxiliary to Government. This means that in times of natural disasters and in response to major social catastrophes, Red Cross works in partnership with government to help mobilise the civilian population.

One of the remarkable things about Red Cross staff and volunteers is their readiness to work together and support each other and this is particularly evident during times of crisis, as happened in the case of the bushfires.

The major difference between the Victorian Bushfires and the numerous other events that Red Cross has responded to within Australia, was of course the number of deaths involved and the devastating long lasting impacts on so many local communities. Our hearts go out to the thousands of people affected by the fires and the family and friends of the 173 people who lost their lives. There will not be and could never be an overnight recovery from this loss and for many the loss will be permanent. We need to extend our compassion and support to these people on an ongoing basis.

The reality was that we had to manage the largest response ever undertaken by our organisation in Australia. The logistics of the operation were even more challenging than our work in the Tsunami response.

Our emergency services personnel (staff and volunteers) are highly skilled and ready for activation at any time.

They have undertaken training in Incident Management, Personal Support, Team leadership and working with individuals and communities from diverse backgrounds. Many fellow staff and volunteers also attend this training in readiness for such events so they can help us scale up in the event of an emergency.

The organisation regularly experiences the activation of response to a disaster situation throughout the year through simulated and real disasters.

Since 2005, significant resources and effort have been put into our emergency services program and we have been scaling up and prioritising this area of our work in addition to key other priority areas I will talk about later. Over the past 4 years we have also been undertaking a vast organisational reform process which I will also talk about in a moment.

Just one aspect of our reforms has involved developing a consistent approach to our emergency work across the country, enabling support to be provided to the affected State or Territory from other areas.

Critical to the success of this approach has been the development of systems and processes, including training programs, for application across all States and Territories. This has proven extremely effective to ensure adequate resourcing of major incidents.

Our National Emergency Service program had been in the process of instituting the Australasian Integrated Incident Management System (known as AIIMS) just prior to the disaster. The system is widely used across emergency service organisations to provide a simple framework for the management of the key operational tasks of planning, logistics and operations.

A great deal of our success during the bushfire response was based on our commitment to the AIIMS framework, as well as our ability to embrace a large degree of creativity within the Framework.

In the first two weeks of the emergency we instituted 24 hour shifts in the field and in the Victorian office.

The Victorian State Inquiry Centre was activated immediately.

Volunteers and staff worked around the clock to take calls from people who were concerned about the whereabouts and safety of their loved ones.

For the first time, they also took registrations from people over the phone -- something which previously happened face to face at registration centres. This was a result of the size of the disaster and number of people who needed to be registered into the system overtook the face to face resources.

At the height of the emergency, we asked other Red Cross state and territory offices to set up their own State Inquiry Centres in order to pick up the overflow of calls that were not getting through. Private sector assistance was also provided in Victoria with the donation of a call centre -- with some coordinating staff and facilities -- and a Red Cross liaison person to connect this service with the overall operations. We also received some other major support from Corporate volunteers during this emergency and I think we are going to see a lot more of it in the future.

As happens during such fluid circumstances, our tasks changed on a daily basis. We did our best to continually review, reassess and then identify the key people we needed and mobilised them as required.

Where possible, we selected individuals to fulfil tasks based on their skill set.

We had Red Cross people who travelled from interstate to assist from the Victorian office whilst their colleagues backfilled their usual roles with enthusiasm and focus.

Effective communications were also critical and strong efforts were made to provide our people with accurate and timely internal communications. Such information played an enormous role in enhancing the organisation's response to the bushfires.

We endeavoured to keep our people informed on the status of the response through daily email bulletins, briefings and an online bushfire appeal toolkit. We were of course required to respond to saturation media interest in our work and particularly the Appeal and I will not speak more about that given that you would have seen and heard yourself the intensity of that interest. Apart from saturation coverage within Australia, there was also huge international interest ranging from China, the BBC and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

As noted earlier, the public response was huge and unprecedented. In fact we received a total of 10,000 offers of support across the organisation. All of our offices around Australia were overwhelmed with contact and support. Tending to the thousands of emails and hundreds of calls involved systematically recording people's details.

It soon became impossible to respond individually to each request. Instead, we sent out group emails thanking people for their support and informing them of our requirements over the coming weeks. We also posted updates on the website about our volunteer needs.

Our resources were further stretched due to the fact that our teams in Queensland were involved in flooded regions, our people in NSW had their own bushfire emergency, and in South Australia we were supporting the community during a period of extreme heatwave. People forget that Government estimates have recorded the number of deaths in response to this heatwave as exceeding 75 people.

We have three key databases with details of volunteers, staff, and a 'bench' of skilled people ready for deployment to international assignments through other Red Cross societies (known as delegates). As our regular volunteers tired, we needed support from spontaneous volunteers. Those spontaneous volunteers who had medical qualifications were referred through a dedicated, specialised unit outside Red Cross called Rural Workforce Agency Victoria. We negotiated a 48 hour turn around from Victorian Police for police checking our new volunteers in the personal support areas which made getting spontaneous volunteers inducted into Red Cross a quick process. Ensuring that our volunteers in these personal support roles had undertaken the relevant Police Checks was a priority for us as was maintaining high OHS standards for all of our people in the offices and out in the field.

We also had corporate volunteer teams who assisted with taking donations and working in the State Inquiry Centre. Some new volunteers brought specific skills such as the Australian Psychologists Association, while others contributed by providing food and catering.

Several large organisations directed their own staff through their own internal Volunteering programs to assist us. Throughout the year, our partnerships with corporate organisations provide an invaluable support to many Red Cross programs across Australia, and we are very grateful to these organisations who work with us as part of their commitment to corporate social responsibility.

On 8 February the Premier of Victoria announced the Victorian Bushfires Appeal 2009 would be conducted in partnership with the Australian Government and Red Cross.

The launch and conduct of this appeal, along with the wider Red Cross role, has involved a whole of organisation response which attracted an extraordinary outpouring of public generosity from within Australia and indeed from around the world and a further demonstration of the power of Red Cross to mobilise the power of humanity. People in the wider community recognised that while they could not be emergency workers on the front line they could give their financial support to assist others in that work now and in the future. As at today the Appeal has raised almost $370 Million dollars.

As agreed at the commencement of the Appeal, Red Cross is transferring 100% of all donated funds on a daily basis through to a Trust Account established by the Victorian Government for the Victorian Bushfires Appeal Fund.

An independent advisory panel made up of community leaders is overseeing the Appeal Fund's operation, including development of criteria and processes for distribution. That panel has already allocated for expenditure in defined areas over $270 Million of the funds.

Actual distribution of funds from the Bushfire Appeal is primarily occurring through the Victorian Government (Department of Human Services) with over $110 million already distributed and keeping in mind that this is not a mindless rush to spend money given that we also have to meet longer term recovery needs of communities and individuals and there are many issues for the individuals to work through in some cases before they take the key decisions about their future lives. Many people remain severely traumatised as you can fully appreciate.

As HR professionals you will no doubt be particularly interested to learn of the initiatives we took to look after the health and well being of our people.

We saw it as extremely important to provide resources for emotional and physical wellbeing of the staff and volunteers, and to never assume that because a person hasn't been involved in direct contact with the event that they are not emotionally impacted.

Regular support was provided through our Employee Assistance Program (EAP system), along with a Staff and Volunteer Support program with our existing health partners and colleagues from the Australian Psychological Society. The program involved qualified mental health professionals volunteering their time to meet with teams in the field right across Victoria to assist with debriefing. We also provided counsellors at our major sites for staff and volunteers who needed additional support. Managers were asked to carefully monitor staff wellbeing and ensure individuals were given the time to recover from their involvement (through taking time in lieu).

Also, in recognition of the exceptional effort of all staff during this period an additional day's leave has been granted to everyone, to provide a four day break, staggered either side of the June long weekend. This recognition leave acknowledged the efforts of all staff who were directly involved in our response. It also recognises the valued contribution of staff who maintained our 'business as usual' services and programs during this period. Finally turning to the question of what lessons we have learnt from this critical time in our history, we are of course going to do an extensive review of all that occurred and our Board is very supportive of this process being undertaken.

In the interim however I would make the following observations:

Firstly I have been again reminded that these times demand leadership and there is sometimes a need to back your own judgement as a leader. I have no tickets on myself but I have been privileged to be in some high profile and personally hugely demanding roles of which this is one. By nature I am a team player and that is the goal I pursue in my daily work but there are times when tough calls need to be made under great stress. Can I share with you one such call which I had to make and it related to the cancellation of our Red Cross Calling major fundraising event which we suddenly remembered was scheduled to kick off one week after the fires and with just two days to go I came to the inescapable conclusion that we had no choice but to cancel this fundraiser and devote ourselves totally to the bushfire appeal from which we derive not one cent of benefit. A crunch decision had to be made after the Channel 9 Telethon in the early hours of the morning in consultation with our Director of Fundraising Marketing and Communications, without the time to consult the Board or the full national management team. Subsequently our Board, National Management Team, our members and our volunteers from across Australia accepted and supported my decision. Thankfully the Victorian Government has assisted us with our financial predicament and we are so desperately grateful for that.

We were also again reminded of the valuable lesson that a solid framework for operations is essential and even though the scale of the disaster was unprecedented, our preparations have paid off.

We're reminded that great contributors were found throughout the staff and volunteer spectrum. As HR professionals, you will appreciate that they are not always necessarily in management or supervisory roles and we learnt the lesson that we have to be better prepared to utilise the work of spontaneous volunteers. Over the preceding 12 months a considerable amount of work has been done to develop a Red Cross behavioural capability framework. This framework will underpin our approach at each stage of the employment life cycle for both staff and volunteers -- recruitment, orientation, performance management, development and succession planning. In the future, therefore, we will be even better placed to identity and quickly mobilise key staff and volunteers.

In the aftermath of the experience we are better integrating the management and support systems for our volunteers bringing the management of these hitherto separate processes together.

We learnt that we must find the capital resources to upgrade some of our systems and processes including our IT systems. We had more web site traffic in one day than we normally had in a year at one point in the Appeal and at times our IT and telephonic systems crashed under the strain but thankfully we were able to quickly recover. We were not the only ones to experience these challenges however and some of the call centres of our corporate supporters also crashed under the weight of hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic donors accessing the systems. While we managed this situation we are determined to be even better prepared next time and sadly for us there will always be a next time.

We are going to have a stronger focus on training both staff and volunteers in our organisation and we clearly recognise that when a volunteer has stepped forward to work with Red Cross the organisation needs to provide all of the tools and support that they require for their contribution to be effective.

We also increasingly recognise the need for even more robust, effective systems to manage staff and volunteers and the complex range of activities which Red Cross is involved in at National, State and local levels as is the need for these systems to be able to be rapidly scaled up or back to meet the changing requirements of large scale emergencies.

We have encouraged our people to provide feedback to their managers on their experience during the response. This information is being used to improve processes and systems for future events. We have found that this evaluation stage of an event is critical in ensuring that people feel heard and valued.

May I turn now to the other part of my presentation to you today which will focus on sharing with you our experience in responding to the current financial climate, while continuing to undergo a vast organisational change process.

To begin with I need to explain that Red Cross has operated in Australia for 95 years and for over 91 years of that existence operated not as a national organisation but as 8 separate State and Territory organisations, effectively with separate CEOs in each state and territory with comprehensive full management authority and reporting to separate boards. While this may have been a survivable organisational structure at one point in time by 2005 this was no longer the case. I am exceptionally proud of the fact that Australian Red Cross Governance management and staff have embraced the need to move to a cohesive national framework for our work. Clearly this is the direction of reform increasingly embraced by all sides of politics in shaping the future regulatory framework for Australia and we are embracing the concept of one Red Cross within our own work. I want to take this opportunity to pay a tribute to my colleagues on my National Management Team for their leadership in working with me to take the reform process forward under the guidance of our Board. They are a highly talented group of people and they blend experience with new ideas and energy. Anyone who knows anything about Federal structures in this country will know how hard the reform process is but I can report to you that we now have a National Board which accepts the governance authority for the organisation delegating to me as CEO the management authority to run the organisation while the Boards in the States and Territories are in the nature of advisory boards and will play an important role in that regard in the future.

However the consequence of this reform is that we are in the middle of a huge organisational reform moving from 8 separate budgets, 8 separate marketing plans often competing against one another, 8 separate HR systems and 8 separate everything ! -- into a cohesive national framework. This vast reorganisation has been proceeding over the past 4 years and understandably has created huge challenges but the rewards have been there for all to see including the increased capacity to respond to emergencies which I have referred to in my presentation.

Once that process was on track we then embarked on another major and very necessary reform agenda which was to undertake a root and branch review of the services which the organisation delivered to vulnerable and disadvantaged people.

The Administrative Operations and Services (AO&S) Review we undertook was one of the most significant reviews of our work ever undertaken in the history of Red Cross in Australia.

The Review of Red Cross' domestic services was requested by the Board in their commitment to ensure that our humanitarian services are sustainable and relevant into the future. Underpinning this is a requirement that our services are effective and appropriately targeted, and that our administrative systems and practices are as efficient as possible.

Despite some wonderful achievements and an impressive contribution to improve the lives of vulnerable people in many areas, the indisputable fact is that over the course of almost a hundred years Red Cross services had evolved way beyond our core business, often with insufficient regard for significant risk issues and very often not targeting the most disadvantaged people. We have moved to address these issues through a determined and planned strategy to take us back to our core focus. Sadly all too few organisations, governments and dare I suggest corporations are prepared to take this rigorous examination of their work and programs

The centrepiece of the review has been a thorough stock take of the current 131 Red Cross services. This has involved meticulous analysis of data and discussions with staff in relation to each and every service, a study of disadvantage in Australia, and research into trends amongst other National Societies and other service based organisations within Australia.

Emerging from this rigorous process, the Red Cross, under the direction of the Board, and as part of a broader strategic planning process, has developed a new direction for the future of our domestic services. This will enable Red Cross to grow and emerge as a sector leader by focusing on the needs of the most disadvantaged people in Australia.

Renowned thinker and leader in organisational strategy, the late Professor Peter Drucker, gave a valuable insight into the challenges which not-for-profits face in remaining contemporary, relevant and effective. Drucker suggested that not-for-profit Boards and management need to ask the hard questions such as:

'Are we doing what we are supposed to be doing? Is it still the right activity? Does it still serve a need?' And, above all 'Do we still produce results that are sufficiently outstanding, sufficiently different for us to justify putting our talents to use in that area?' Then, you can do the next important thing, which is every so often to ask: 'are we still in the right areas? Should we change? Should we abandon?'

For us, the answer to these questions shows us that there is a need for a shift in both where and how we work, with a renewed focus on those areas of need where we can have the greatest impact, based on core Red Cross strengths and competencies. It will mean reconfiguring some of our existing services, developing new services and competencies, and transitioning out of some of our traditional and in some cases long-standing services.

Achieving the level of transformation proposed in this paper will not happen overnight. The realignment of people, programs, resources and locations will require a gradual and considered change management program and organisational redesign. While some changes can be introduced immediately, others are likely to occur over a 3 year period.

The change process will be predicated on a set of core and non-negotiable principles, underlining our commitment to protect the interests of our clients, and to ensure that the interests and aspirations of our staff and volunteers are carefully managed in the process.

The courage, commitment and vision of the Red Cross leadership will be essential to drive the change process and enable Red Cross to achieve its mission of improving the lives of vulnerable people.

This new and more focused direction will see Red Cross services concentrated in the core areas of:

  • Emergency Services
  • International Aid and Development
  • International Humanitarian Law
  • Impact of migration
  • Working with the most disadvantaged people in the most disadvantaged communities
  • Working with Indigenous communities
  • Providing bridges back into communities for marginalised people.


In addition to our other core areas of work, the focus on locational disadvantage -- working with the most disadvantaged people in the most disadvantaged communities I have referred to represents a new and exciting opportunity for Red Cross. Few, if any, other agencies have adopted this approach, despite the research findings over decades that demonstrate the intractable, multi-faceted and inter-dependent nature of disadvantage in specific geographic locations. The evidence is incontrovertible that there are large areas of concentrated extreme disadvantage impacting on whole communities which is intergenerational in character. To put it graphically, currently children born in these communities today are statistically doomed to low level educational outcomes, unemployment, poor health, interaction with the criminal justice system, and a life of poverty. Of course there are heroic individuals who can fight their way out of this predicament or who do so by life's good fortune, but the chances of doing so are extremely low and it is obvious that our work should have a major focus in these communities.

Of all these communities Indigenous communities rank as the most extremely disadvantaged, and our successful involvement in Indigenous services over the last three years, for the first time in our 94 years, has shown that we do have the capacity to reinvent ourselves to meet this challenge. This challenging and inspirational reform agenda was underway when the economic crash occurred and undeniably this has made the challenges for all of us in this reform process just so much harder.

As you would be aware from media reports there is barely a major charity which has not been adversely impacted in some way by the economic climate or by other sector changes causing major organisational challenges whether it be changes in the Job Network (which does not impact on Red Cross), loss or income from donations or investment or other major external factors.

Our response to the external changes is to maintain our commitment to the structural reform which is so fundamental to coming out of the downturn in a strong position. Obviously reform is often harder in a harsher economic climate but conversely these external pressures are a brutal reminder that in no sector of our economy can or should we sustain practices and structures which do not optimise efficiency and effectiveness. For us with the objective of maximising the resources getting to those in need and the most disadvantaged, the more we can cut down any unnecessary overheads and drive organisational efficiencies as we are committed to do, the more we can do to improve the lives of vulnerable people. So by way of example as some of you may have read in the media we have had to undertake a necessary restructure of our Fundraising Marketing and Communications funding which will have as a major outcome the reduction in our cost of fund raising.

The board and senior management of the organisation are deeply committed to our workforce and as we work through the comprehensive reform processes I have outlined above we seek to put in place best practice in human resource management.

To explain the budget context for you, the annual expenditure for Australian Red Cross (excluding the Australian Red Cross Blood Service) is around one hundred sixty million dollars. At its November meeting last year, our Board properly decided that we would need to have a rigorously balanced budget effective 1 July 2009. This has necessitated a thorough review process during the 'budget build' over the last few months.

No doubt many of you have been involved in similar discussions within your own organisations. Like you, we have been conscious of balancing the short and long term interests of our organisation. We have been determined to avoid arbitrary budget cuts without an appreciation of the implication of such decisions on our clients, volunteers and staff. In this context, we have worked hard to see redundancies as a last resort. We are also conscious of the research -- including that from AHRI -- which shows that organisations that reactively cut too many positions are putting at risk their longer term sustainability.

Managers have been encouraged to consider a range of ways to manage costs while still maintaining service delivery. Wages and salaries account for more than fifty percent of our overall budget. Through our HR department, we have provided advice to managers on ways in which they can control their labour costs. Where practicable we have aimed to provide win-win solutions for employees; for example, by changing from full time to part time status with agreement or by approving extended periods of leave. Regrettably we have still been in the situation where some positions have been declared redundant and I have found these decisions personally challenging and confronting. Where practicable we are exploring redeployment options and providing training and development support so that we can maintain employees within the organisation. As you would expect, we also offer various support and assistance in situations where employees leave the organisation, including employee assistance and career transition programs.

To further build the capability of managers, staff and volunteers to navigate the challenges we face over the next twelve months our HR department is currently designing a suite of training and development programs on change management, as well as preparing a manager toolkit on 'change management'.

From late last year, we instituted tighter controls on the recruitment approval processes. In addition to sign off by the line manager, state /territory manager, and HR, I now also personally sign off on recruitment approvals. As a result of this review process, we have not proceeded with around 40 positions, leading to an annual saving of approximately $3 million. While this process has led to some opportunistic savings based on which vacancies happen to occur at a point in time, we have also reviewed our staffing profiles against the seven strategic priority areas for our services and programs. Yes, I know you are wondering how that works in practice, and how we can ensure that the organisation meets its operational needs in a timely manner. In fact, we are now streamlining the administrative processes to enable approval to occur more quickly for operational roles that are required under our service contracts with government, where the staffing profile has been approved in the 09/10 budget.

Starting yesterday we have invited all employees to participate in our first comprehensive employee engagement survey. I am personally committed to this initiative and the actions that we will implement based on the findings. I am confident that this will provide a robust source of information -- to be considered in conjunction with other HR data - on which to lead and manage the organisation through this period of change.

Over the last 12 months, we have developed a remuneration framework, using a widely regarded methodology that a number of you may also use in your organisation. We now have a 10 grade classification structure, and robust data by which we can compare our remuneration levels to benchmarks including the general market, not for profit market, and specific job families such as IT, finance and HR. Our Board and management team are keen to provide competitive remuneration to our staff, although this has become more challenging given the global financial crisis. We are currently considering our remuneration position for 09/10. As well, we are reviewing other ways that we can reward staff, such as by expanding the range of benefits available under our salary packaging program.

In summary, HR has a key seat at the strategic and operational table in Red Cross -- by assisting me, the national management team, and the organisation in general -- as we pursue our mission and vision, and implement our strategic plan.

May I conclude by acknowledging that these are tough times, and no Government, corporation or not for profit can be isolated from the impact of the economic climate in which we are operating.

But for Red Cross we are on a mission to come out of this downturn positioned for what we predict is a renewal of our organisation as the most contemporary, outcomes focused and cutting edge service delivery agency in the country focusing on the most disadvantaged in our communities in Australia and in our region.

We are on track to achieve that objective.