CEO Report to 2009 Annual General Meeting
Saturday 5 December, Melbourne
Mr Chairman, Board and Council members and Red Cross people one and all,
I am delighted to talk to you today about our achievements over the past year - the 95th year in this history of our great organisation - and to reflect on some the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead of us.
2009 has been a momentous year for Red Cross, and has included our significant response to the Victorian bushfires - the largest peace-time disaster in the history of Australia, the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, and our ongoing work to strengthen our organisation for future generations. The backdrop to all of this has been the greatest financial crisis since the great depression which I will also touch on today.
I would also like to begin by placing on record my deep appreciation for the leadership and contribution of all the National Management Team, who are now more than ever before working in a collaborative and entrepreneurial way to achieve the goals of the organisation.
I will try not to repeat what I anticipate Christine Nixon will talk about here this morning but I do want to give you a sense of the scale of the Red Cross response during and after the February bushfires, as well as highlighting the unique and distinguishing role Red Cross holds as an auxiliary to government.
Before I commence, I wish to acknowledge and pay my respects to the 173 people who lost their lives, their families in coming to terms with these tragic losses, those recovering from terrible injuries, the 7,000 people made homeless by the fires, the many primary producers and other businesses that suffered significant losses and the communities that have been irrevocably changed. I also wish to pay tribute to those that stood with them on the day and continue to stand with them.
May I also take this opportunity to place on record my appreciation for the outstanding work undertaken by the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, led so ably by Christine Nixon, and the work of the Victorian and Australian governments. As Auxiliary to Government it is important that the good work of our partners be acknowledged across the political spectrum.
The events of January and February of this year are well branded into our psyche. Strong leadership and contributions from all levels of government, the emergency management sector, the wider community and, most importantly, the affected communities themselves, have all assisted in the recovery of individuals, households and communities. But it is still tough for them and will be for a long time to come.
From an operational perspective, Australian Red Cross responded to the bushfires in three key ways:
- providing a wide range of direct support activities in affected communities
- enhancing the overall response and recovery effort by providing critical advice to a wide range of forums and agencies, drawing upon our experience and expertise in emergency management within Australia and internationally
- as the operational partner in collection of funds for the Victorian Bushfire Appeal.
Red Cross was involved in a whole-of-organisation immediate emergency response with more than 1,000 volunteers deployed, undertaking a range of roles from first aid and personal support outreach through to emergency catering and evacuee registrations and inquiries. There was barely any part of our organisation that did not swing into action to meet the needs of those affected by the fires.
Volunteers and staff initially worked in more than 20 relief centres and five emergency call centre locations during and immediately after 7 February.
The National Registration and Inquiry System (NRIS) was immediately set up to help families separated by the fires. Volunteers took more than 22,000 registrations from people in the affected areas and we responded to more than 21,000 telephone enquiries from people in Australia and abroad, wanting to know about the safety of family and friends.
Red Cross teams were deployed wherever they were needed, providing first aid in some locations, emergency catering in others and a reassuring presence for many.
In the days and weeks after the fires Red Cross volunteers visited homes with our partner agencies to provide personal support and to ensure people had access to services. Red Cross also deployed volunteers to provide personal support at key community gatherings, including the Bushfire Memorial Service and the Bushfire Royal Commission community hearings.
As a member of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority's Expert Advisory Group, Red Cross has also provided support and advice in the wider recovery planning effort and provided personnel with specific expertise on a range of issues, from community recovery to management of relief materials.
In addition, recent funding approved from the Victorian Government will enable Red Cross to continue playing a significant role through the recovery phase over the next three years. These activities include continuing outreach personal support services, the development of practical advisory information for young people and facilitation of a bereavement support group.
The community has particularly high expectations of Red Cross in times of adversity. All our volunteers and staff strive every day to meet and exceed those expectations and I believe they can be justifiably proud of their contributions to the wider bushfires response.
Victorian Bushfire Appeal 2009
As you will be aware, our role in the bushfire response and recovery was broad and extended into the important arena of public appeals.
On 8 February, the Premier of Victoria announced that the Victorian Bushfire Appeal 2009 would be conducted in partnership with the Australian Government and Australian Red Cross. The response to the appeal was unprecedented in Australia, raising in excess of $379 million. Red Cross had responsibility for all aspects of fundraising for the appeal, with the community trust in Red Cross and the organisation's significant experience in public appeals providing an important foundation for the appeal's success.
All funds raised from the appeal were transferred to a Trust Account established by the Victorian Government. All interest is attributed back to the appeal and no funds have been used for appeal-related administration.
Distribution of assistance is undertaken by the Department of Human Services, under the oversight of an independent advisory panel of community leaders jointly appointed by the Victorian Government and Red Cross.
The Panel, of which I am a member, has established clear criteria for the use of all funds and continues to ensure all appropriate checks and balances are in place to guarantee public and donor confidence in the disbursement of funds so generously given.
Over $220 million has already been distributed to individuals and communities affected, with the majority of remaining funds thus far allocated for a range of individual assistance. This is a carefully planned and iterative process designed to ensure these generously donated funds are used to meet needs both quickly and accountably.
Red Cross, for its part, has drawn on our considerable domestic and international expertise in public appeals in both the conduct of the appeal and in providing advice on disbursements. Red Cross experience in recent years has included the Asian Quake and Tsunamis Appeal, distribution of funds from the Queensland Premier's Fund on three occasions in response to floods, an appeal for bushfires in north-east Tasmania, and the current appeals for disasters in Samoa, Tonga, the Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Auxiliary to government
All this would not have been possible were it not for the unique role of Red Cross as an auxiliary to government, and our response to the bushfires provides a clear example of the auxiliary role in action. While it is important to note the broad range of agencies from civil society that played a range of roles in this disaster, it is apparent that no other singular element of the not-for-profit sector in Australia had the combination of capacity and diverse experience to play the role in supporting the state and federal governments and public authorities during this emergency.
The combination of being part of a world-wide global network (the Movement) as well as having a profound 'grass-roots' relationship within the Australian community (the network of Red Cross volunteers across Australia) provided clear evidence of the unique nature of Australian Red Cross. The public's expectation that Red Cross would assist during such an emergency and the high level of faith in the institution was evidenced in the overwhelming and unprecedented response to the appeal, which came from state and federal governments, private businesses including many of the countries largest corporates, and of courses thousands of individual donors.
As you know Australian Red Cross today delivers a wide range of services, but events like the Victorian bushfires remind us of the important role of Red Cross in responding to emergencies and I think we can all be tremendously proud of the way in which we worked together to rapidly mobilise and respond.
OTHER AUSTRALIAN EMERGENCIES
While the bushfire response was undoubtedly our largest response this year our emergencies team around the country continued to provide outstanding services in responding to local events.
South Australian heatwave response
Less known perhaps is the incredible devastation caused by the South Australian heatwave in January/ February this year where 75 people died and more than 600 people were hospitalised.
Red Cross was activated by the State Government in response to the hottest period on record in South Australia. South Australia experienced temperatures in the low 40s for seven consecutive days, and for more than a fortnight, temperatures above 35°C, resulting in daily power outages due to load shedding and infrastructure failure. During this period, overnight temperatures did not drop below 30°C, hence little respite was possible.
This record-breaking heatwave had a severe impact on the community at large, but most particularly on those most vulnerable - older people, carers, those with existing chronic health problems, children, those from culturally diverse backgrounds and people with a disability.
The scale of the disaster and death toll meant that the South Australian Government had to establish a temporary morgue as the state's main facility reached capacity, as the heatwave conditions more than doubled the number of bodies (72) it usually handles at any one time.
Our role was to provide a state-wide expanded Telecross response as an emergency service. Additionally, we used our Emergency Services personal support component for outreach to those unable to be contacted, and where other agencies were unable to assist.
Red Cross response included:
- Increased calls to existing 700 Telecross clients to 3 times per day;
- Over 6,000 new "vulnerable" people contacted up to 3 times per day to check on their welfare and safety;
- Over 200 cases required urgent escalation, case management and /or active assessment and follow-up.
- Over 581 new Telecross clients have now been registered, bringing the total number of Telecross clients to over 1200
522 additional volunteers provided 3052 hours of assistance throughout this time. This was in addition to the current Telecross volunteers (400), who also assisted.
As a result of Red Cross' tremendous work in responding to the heatwave,we have partnered again with the State Government this year to provide similar support. Unfortunately, we have had to activate our Telecross emergency plan early in November this year and in the last 3 weeks we have already assisted 1749 clients with the support of 251 volunteers and 63 staff, including some supplementation from other offices coordinated through the National Emergencies Team.
It is planned to leverage off the South Australia experience (pending evaluation of the model) to roll out similar programs in other States and Territories for future seasons.
Other State/Territory Responses
Brisbane Storms November 2008
Overall, more than 7,000 homes were visited and 15,500 people were assisted through the Recovery Centres. Staff and volunteers from every state and territory were involved in what was one of the best-executed operations Red Cross has had in recent times. At the height of the activity, in excess of 180 staff and volunteers per day were assisting at the 6 Recovery Centres and provided Outreach to affected community members. Red Cross was also asked to distribute funds from the Premier's Appeal. In total, 92 staff and 350 volunteers drawn from across the country were utilised during the operation.
Coffs Harbour Floods April 2009
A slow moving low pressure trough off the northern NSW coast resulted in heavy rains, in excess of 400mm in some areas, leading to major flooding around Coffs Harbour. The Pacific Highway and the Corumba Highway were cut off as well as the railway line, isolating Coffs Harbour from both the North and the South.
Red Cross responded to assist in evacuation centres and the Police Inquiry Centre, and also with outreach operations and recovery centres.
NSW Northern River Floods May-June 2009
A complex low off the southern Queensland coast bought very heavy rain, gale-force winds and large waves to northeast NSW. A combination of high rainfall, high tides and strong winds caused major concerns along the far North to Mid North NSW Coast.
Over 190 Red Cross volunteers worked in 14 evacuation centres providing personal support in late May.
South East Qld flooding - May 2009
Severe weather caused flash flooding in many parts of South East Qld, resulting in house inundation, property and infrastructure damage.
Red Cross worked for over 4 weeks with Department of Communities and Lifeline providing targeted outreach to over 700 affected community members in the Ipswich, Brisbane and Sunshine Coast areas.
H1N1 Influenza April-June 2009
With the arrival of the H1N1 virus to Australia, most divisions were approached by state governments as a nationwide pandemic level 4 was declared.
The National Coordination Centre was activated to ensure consistency of communications during this time of alert. Red Cross continued liaison with partner agencies, and identified what services could be offered in the event that the pandemic escalated.
The bushfires, heatwaves and floods we have responded to in recent times reminds us of the important issue of climate change, recognised by the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement as one of the greatest challenges facing humanity.
This year the Board endorsed an Australian Red Cross Climate Change Adaptation policy that clarifies our role and commits us to ongoing work in helping vulnerable people and communities better prepare for and adapt to changes in climate.
Australian Red Cross has been active in responding to the impact of climate change and extreme weather events by strengthening our disaster and emergency services, by building on our responses to extreme temperatures in South Australia and Victoria, and by partnering with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre to help reduce the Pacific region's vulnerability to climate change.
The new policy will support the further development and integration of climate change responses into our core programs, particularly our emergency services, international operations and our work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, many of whose communities are likely to be adversely affected by climate change.
Our climate change response is closely aligned with our new Environmental Sustainability Strategy which will ensure that our humanitarian services and operations are delivered in sustainable ways.
As we are experiencing greater and more extreme natural disasters here in Australia, so too are our neighbours in the region, with much more devastating and long lasting consequences.
Just within the month of September alone we witnessed three major disasters in our region requiring us to launch an unprecedented three public appeals in four days.
The first of these was typhoon Ketsana that hit the Philippines and Viet Nam.
Typhoons Morakot and Ketsana struck the Philippines in quick succession on 26 September and 3 October respectively, wreaking havoc, including in the capital city, Manila. The same Typhoon proceeded further to cause significant flooding in the centre of Vietnam on 30 September. Typhoon Parma again impacted the Philippines over 4 - 5 October, and a 'state of calamity' was declared. In this hammer fall of disastrous events more than 30,000 houses were completely destroyed, and over 170,000 significantly damaged and over 9 million people across the country affected. Australian Red Cross responded immediately by sending delegates, including experts in shelter and water and sanitation.
Days later, an 8.3 magnitude earthquake struck the Samoa and Tonga Islands region. This Tsunami affected 1 out of every 6 people in this very close community in Samoa, which was hardest hit. Australian Red Cross delegates were again called on to conduct an assessment to provide Psychosocial Support, for Water and Sanitation needs and to assist in Restoring Family Links (tracing). Our pre-positioned stocks meant we were immediately able to send relief items, including water bladders and tools.
Utilising the expertise of our Blood Service we were able to support Tonga Red Cross in procuring blood testing equipment for the Ministry of Health.
Then at the end of September, a 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck 57km southeast of the city of Padang in West Sumatra. The earthquake was felt in the capital of Jakarta over 200 miles away. In the densely populated farmlands near the epicentre, an estimated 60,000 families were left homeless.
We again called up health delegates and our Indonesia Country Manager was mobilised to support relief efforts in Padang. His role was to set-up transitional shelters, including training locals to assist the community in building temporary earthquake resistant shelters while the catch their breaths before beginning the longer task of rebuilding homes and livelihoods. Again our pre positioned stocks, including tarps and jerry cans were distributed by Red Cross volunteers.
Australian Red Cross Blood Service was also able to supply blood components and products to the Australian Defence Force (ADF) for use by ADF personnel and local population in need during relief efforts. Our Domestic Emergency team reciprocated the support of the Victorian bushfires by lending one of their staff from the NSW Division - Kirstie Meheux, to support our International Team while they were responding to four, near simultaneous, natural disasters in the region.
INTERNATIONAL AID & DEVELOPMENT
Our disaster response is just one aspect of our international work and I'd like to briefly tell you about some of our other achievements.
Australian Red Cross continues to play a key role in contributing to the broader Red Cross/ Red Crescent Movement both at the governance level and through our programs. Our active participation at the recent General Assembly and Council of Delegates meetings in Nairobi is in large part based on the quality of our program delivery and our recognition as a strong, engaged and innovative National Society.
In June of this year, the Board endorsed the new International Strategy which sets a clear, ambitious and coherent direction for our international work. It aligns with both our domestic priorities as well as the Federation 2020 Strategic Plan. Lead by our International Committee Chairman, Michael Legge and Michael Raper, the development of the new strategy involved extensive consultation with wide ranging internal and external stakeholders including ICRC, Federation, National Societies, volunteers, governance, staff and NGO partners in Australia.
I am pleased to report that our international and domestic teams continue to strengthen the collaboration and integration across programs and services. In fulfilling our strong commitment and determination to build "One Red Cross", there are great synergies between our domestic and international work that we continue to build on. A fine example of this was our international team's assistance during the Victorian bushfires. We had international staff and aid workers provide their expertise in the operations centre and in providing psych-social support in the evacuation centres. By drawing upon the agency's experience and expertise in emergency management within Australia and Internationally, all State/Territory and International Emergency services staff contributed to the work in Victoria. In addition, we were able to offer partner ( Government ) agencies the expertise of our International staff in key areas such as logistics and management of relief. More than 22 International staff and more than 20 delegates staffed the Operations and Call centres and undertook outreach work in affected communities.
We continue to receive high level support from AusAID across our strategic priorities including disaster management, HIV, health programs and water and sanitation.
In addition we are well positioned to have AusAID recognise the special auxiliary status of the Australian Red Cross in the humanitarian field both, in the whole of government - Humanitarian Action Policy of Australia and in a new partnership agreement with AusAID, that recognises the unique and distinctive status of Australian Red Cross and the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement . This is the result of extended education and advocacy and collaboration between our International and International Humanitarian Law areas.
In recognition of great competence and humanitarian contribution of our delegates, AusAID has invited Australian Red Cross to commence the design of a new three year Delegates Program. Let me take a moment to reflect on the extraordinary work of these ordinary Australians - emergency specialists, water engineers, logisticians, nurses & medical staff, community development specialists, - who interrupt their ordinary lives to live and work in some of the most difficult environments in the world - feeding centres in a refugee camp in Darfur, Sudan where they work to bring malnourished children up to a weigh that will ensure their survival, people like:
- Phil Charlesworth who is the Country Representative for the International Federation of Red Cross Red Crescent Societies in Afghanistan, working to support the Afghanistan Red Crescent address the needs of vulnerable people in an environment where bomb blasts and mortar attacks are a regular occurrence.
- Katie Greenwood from our Queensland state office who is working in the Solomon Islands with the National Society to assist them to be better able to prepare for and respond to the natural disasters that occur with increasing frequency in the Pacific.
In a few weeks we will mark the fifth anniversary of the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami, so it is timely for me to acknowledge the many Red Cross people who have contributed to our response in the last 5 years.
A significant milestone for our international work this year has been the handover of the keys to the last of more than 2,500 houses built by Australia Red Cross for tsunami survivors.
After five years as a standalone unit, responding to our largest Australian international public appeal which raised in excess of $128 million, we have concluded the bulk of our work. Of this amount, we have spent a total of $111.4m or 86.8% on emergency relief and rehabilitation programs, including:
- clean water and sanitation to more than 125,000 people,
- built more than 2500 houses,
- helped people find new ways to make a living and start new businesses,
- started up new blood collection and ambulance services in Banda Aceh, and
- supported the building of a new island community in the Maldives - the biggest ever project undertaken by the International Red Cross.
The remainder of the appeal funds will be fully expended by the end of next year in line with our longstanding commitments.
Our Disaster Preparedness Program in the Pacific is going from strength to strength. There are now ten Red Cross Pacific Societies in the program making it a genuinely regional activity led by Australian Red Cross. With the support of AusAID, we have been able to pay salaries for full-time- Disaster Management Officers in Pacific National Societies who have never been able to fund these positions previously. When not responding to disasters, Pacific National Societies can focus on training, preparation, community hazard awareness and developing their logistics systems in preparation for the cyclone season and other disasters. This work is critical in our overall aim to minimise climate change impacts. We aim to leave a lasting legacy of stronger Red Cross Societies who are better able to respond to the needs of their own communities.
I am pleased to report that we recently received news of a two year extension of our Cambodian Landmines Survivors Assistance Program. In partnership with Cambodian Red Cross Society, the Program plays an integral role in assisting victims of landmine accidents to participate fully in society.
Australian Red Cross is working with 10 partner organizations who are providing physical rehabilitation (both centre and home-based), improving beneficiaries' health, improving disabled children's access to education, providing vocational skills and improving livelihoods (including helping beneficiaries to access micro-credit), and using self-help groups to build disabled people's capacity and self-esteem. Simple, cheap initiatives like building latrines increases disabled people's independence and dignity and ability to participate in education and employment.
In China - the world's most populous country, and one that is highly prone to many types of natural disasters including floods, hurricanes, droughts and snowstorms. Hundreds of millions of people are affected each year: lives are lost, homes and livelihoods destroyed.
Despite being the fastest growing economy in the world, China's boom is marred by considerable inequality and income disparity and around half a billion people (47 percent of the population) still live on less than US$2 a day. 20% of the world's poor can still be found in China.
Australian Red Cross has a presence in five provinces: Xinjiang in the northwest, Tibet in the west, Yunnan in the southwest and Guangxi in southern China following the devastating 2008 Earthquake Sichuan province.
Together with the Chinese Red Cross, in Guangxi Autonomous Region villages that are at highest risk have been identified. Red Cross will work with residents in each village to set up disaster committees and implement projects such as building bridges or levees, teaching first aid and how to reduce life-threatening risks. They will shape a disaster preparedness program which includes relocating housing or facilities, providing clean water and sanitation, taking measures to stop erosion, planting trees and running disaster education programs. The program also includes training on how to prevent and prepare for fire and flood. When there are floods, it is extremely difficult for students in these villages to reach their schools as fields flood and roads are so badly damaged. People are so poor they are unable to repair roads themselves. Part of the funding received will help students continue their education by repairing roads and bridges.
International Blood Projects
This year, in partnership with the Blood Service, we have agreed and are leading the implementation of an International Humanitarian Blood Strategy, although we are in the early stages of our work in this area. As well as our work in Indonesia re-building the 3 Blood Units destroyed by the Indian Ocean Tsunami, we are targeting countries such as Timor Leste, Solomon Islands, Samoa and Vietnam as priorities for support to the National Societies blood activities and for strengthening the blood systems of those countries by working with government and the relevant health services.
Australia has one of the safest and most effective blood services in the world. Imagine the lives that can be saved in our region by preventing the spread of disease by contaminated blood! I have personally visited the blood services of PNG and have been deeply appalled by the limited resources and expertise available to support this vital component of the health service. We can and will do something about this.
This brings me to a new and exciting policy contribution that Australian Red Cross has made to the Movement's approach to international aid work.
Over the last two years our international team have worked closely with the Federation to develop a Sustainable Programming Model.
This model emerged from our International staff reflection in early 2008 where we noted that our partnerships have not always been driven by the priorities of the National Societies we work with. Too often we have embraced the short-term and not focussed on building a stronger worldwide Movement.
Our new approach means that we will strive to promote downward accountability, introduce and share regular reflection events, communicate our learning, make sure our people have the best set of attitudes and skills possible to work with partner National Societies to ensure that the most vulnerable populations are benefiting from our cooperation.
Our commitment is further demonstrated in our new International Strategy, where among other points, we commit to work with a ten year planning timeframe and to discuss transition and handover at the outset of relationships.
The approach has now been shared widely within the Movement and is being trialled in 4 National Societies within the Asia Pacific Region and has been used as a case study on development effectiveness by the Australian Council for International Development.
At the recent General Assembly held in Nairobi this year our Chairman Greg Vickery presented on this initiative to great interest.
Our Parliamentarians Handbook has received similar recognition and we are seeking to develop similar resources within the Asia Pacific region.
I would now like to talk about our other services and our ongoing work to dramatically lift their reach, quality and impact.
At last year's AGM, I outlined the new Strategic Direction for Red Cross Services. After a comprehensive review of over 130 of our services across Australia, in June 2008, our National Board endorsed the new Strategic Direction for Red Cross Services, which sets an ambitious reform agenda focusing us on Seven Priority Areas:
- Providing bridges back into the community for marginalised people (Social Inclusion)
- Addressing disadvantage: working with the most disadvantaged people in the most disadvantaged communities (Locational Disadvantage)
- Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Disadvantage
- Addressing the Impact of migration
- International Humanitarian Law
- International aid and development
- Emergency Services
Challenges of Services Renewal
I am proud to report that under the leadership of Michael Raper as our Director of Services and International Operations, we have made significant headway in each of these areas. Having been with Red Cross for just over one year, Michael, together with our Executive Director colleagues and other senior managers, has not only developed new and expanded services but worked hard to transition out of existing programs that are not aligned to our new strategic direction.
In our three year plan, we considered the first year as the time for "laying the foundations" - establishing the Services Renewal team across the country, developing systems, tools and processes for implementing our work.
We have achieved much more than this. But before I report on our progress I would like to take some time to outline some of the challenges that we faced and continue to face in driving the reform agenda.
I am sure everyone here would appreciate that one of things that makes Red Cross so unique is the richness of our history. And yes, it may be true that our history has a place in shaping our future but we have to be careful that history does not make us complacent. The very reason that we undertook the Services Review in 2007-2008 was to ensure that we are relevant and responsive to current and emerging community needs.
To help us achieve this, we have had to make some tough decisions in either moving out of some long standing services or handing them over to other organisations.
In doing this, I want to assure you that we have established a systematic process by which decisions regarding service transitions are made and implemented.
We are all committed to managing all transitions in line with the clear guidelines set by the Board in June 2008, "Foundation Principles of Change". In essence, this sets out minimum standards which Red Cross will apply in implementing change and ensures that we do this in a considered and planned way to minimize the impact on staff and volunteers. Importantly, where a service is transitioned, we aim to ensure that alternative arrangements are at least equivalent to or better than those that clients currently receive.
If alternative arrangements can not be found, we will ensure that appropriate steps are taken so that all key stakeholders - our clients, volunteers and staff - are informed and supported throughout the process. This year we learnt some important and critical lessons from events in NSW and I promise you that we are very focused on ensuring that future transitions involve all key stakeholders in line with the Foundation Principles for Managing Change.
Progress in the 7 Priority Areas
When the Board endorsed the Seven Priority Areas in June 2008, it did so "subject to the necessary substantial further work being undertaken to develop the underpinning tools, frameworks and service models."
A key focus over the last year has been the development of sub-strategies for each of the Seven Priorities. We have engaged staff, external and Movement partners in all our sub-strategies. We want to maintain relevance and ensure that we do not revert to being internally focused.
This year, the Board endorsed five of the seven sub-strategies which clearly articulates the outcomes we seek to achieve, how we will achieve them and what will we measure our achievements against.
- International aid and development
- Addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander disadvantage
- Emergency Services
- Impact of Migration
- International Humanitarian Law
The outcomes in each sub-strategy focus us on starting from where the client is at. That is, in everything that we do, whatever the service or program may be, our actions must all relate back to measurable outcomes that we want to achieve in addressing disadvantage in our community.
These outcomes have forced us to be disciplined in not only our policy and program development, but also our allocation of resources. Each new and expanded service must address one or more of the outcomes across the Seven Priority Areas.
Together with Michael, in February next year, I will be presenting to the Board the final two sub-strategies - "Tackling Locational Disadvantage" and "Overcoming social exclusion by building bridges back into the community".
These two priority areas are arguably our greatest challenge - both for their complexity and because they represent the newest areas of endeavour for us an organisation.
For these reasons, I would like to take a bit of time to elaborate a little more on our work in the context of locational disadvantage. I think it is critical that everyone has a shared understanding of the complexities of the work that we have committed ourselves to over the coming 7-10 years.
At the heart of this problem is a planning issue. For example, the outer urban fringes of our capital cities are places characterised by limited public transport, high numbers of unemployed and low income earners, without important community infrastructure and job opportunities.
Areas of entrenched locational disadvantage are of course not limited to the outer suburbs. They may be as small as a neighbourhood or as large as an inland desert region stretching across State and Territory boundaries. The evidence is that such concentrations of disadvantage limit life choices and chances; undermine health and wellbeing and tend to trap people in intergenerational cycles of vulnerability and disadvantage.
Red Cross acknowledges that there are vulnerable people who face various and sometimes multiple sources of disadvantage living all around Australia and in the Asia and Pacific region. In addition, however, there are specific places where disadvantage is geographically concentrated. These are particular localities where problems occur with a much higher rate of incidence than in other communities, often referred to as places of locational or areal disadvantage, or socio-spatial exclusion. Characteristically, the nature and rate of social and economic difficulty has remained high in these places over decades, and therefore across generations, despite unprecedented economic stability and growth in Australia.
Nevertheless, research shows that living in disadvantaged areas and neighbourhoods is associated with a number of interconnected factors which cluster together:
- poorer outcomes for children, including behaviour outcomes and lower physical health status across life;
- poorer health in adults, including rates of infectious diseases, asthma, smoking, depression and diet, and shorter life span;
- reduced job and educational prospects;
- higher levels of family distress, including family violence, criminality, lower age on becoming a parent, higher rates of single parenthood and divorce
The term 'locational disadvantage' therefore refers to attributes of people and attributes of place, being areas or neighbourhoods where relative poverty is concentrated, infrastructure is poor and people living there experience higher levels of disadvantage than in other locations, across multiple aspects of their lives, with poorer outcomes across a number of domains.
In light of the geographic distribution of concentrated pockets of disadvantage throughout Australia, Australian Red Cross has committed to tackling entrenched locational disadvantage by carefully identifying such areas throughout Australia, and committing to work in these communities for 7-10 years building on community strengths, developing resilience and enhancing social capital to improve well-being and widen life choices. This commitment to extended time and focus on communities is an acknowledgement that these problems are entrenched and that quick solutions will not be found.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Disadvantage
The issues I have referred to above are even more prevalent and significant when we look at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. For this reason, following the Board leadership, Red Cross has a priority to focus on working in genuine partnership with indigenous communities to enhance health and wellbeing, build community capacity and train and employ local people, reduce social isolation, enhance resilience, create safer partnerships and work in sustainable and culturally appropriate ways. I want to place on record my appreciation to Olga Havnen, our Head of Indigenous Strategy, and to Executive Directors Sharon Mulholland, Greg Goebel, Steve Joske and Kerry Symons for their leadership in this area.
We are also placing a priority focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in rural and remote communities. A good example of our work here is our engagement in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands. The APY Lands consist of more than 103,000 square kilometres in the northwest of South Australia and are home to about 2500 Aboriginal people with title to this land.
Red Cross has been working on the APY Lands for just over two years. We have focused on building partnerships with the stakeholders on the Lands - including communities themselves, service providers, local council and government agencies.
Our work here to date has involved setting up nutrition programs with the involvement of community members and agencies including Good Start Breakfast Clubs in eight schools across the Lands. We have also delivered Save-A-Mate training to schools and the community.
Red Cross is involved in the Structured Training Employment Program (STEP) with financial support from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. The STEP program enables Red Cross to create training and employment opportunities for local Anangu people on the Lands.
To date, Red Cross has employed 6 people as part of this Program across the APY Lands, with another 2 local Anangu people to be recruited in the near future - this initiative has involved working closely in partnership with stakeholders including Bungala Aboriginal Corporation. Red Cross staff who are recruited through STEP are involved in supporting Red Cross initiatives on the Lands.
We have an office in Port Augusta where the team works closely with communities on the APY Lands (as well as in Coober Pedy, Port Augusta itself and surrounding regions). Equally important are a team of highly-dedicated Red Cross volunteers who support our work, together with other individual supporters within communities.
New services in the Kimberley
In August, I had the privilege of meeting with some of our Aboriginal staff and volunteers at the Broome Office opening and am encouraged by their calibre and commitment. I think one of the greatest parts of my job is the opportunity to travel across the country and witness the depth and breadth of our work. I am personally of the view that unless I maintain a real connection with staff, members and volunteers at the grassroots level, I am not equipped to do the best job that I can. Like my senior colleagues, we are determined to break down the "ivory tower" mentality and travel as widely as possible to hear and learn from those on the ground.
I was heartened to be part of the Broome Office opening where over 150 local people from the Kimberley region were in attendance, ranging from community Elders, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations and Government representatives. Our work in the region is going from strength to strength. This is in large part due to the wonderful local Aboriginal staff who, under Olga Havnen and Steve Joske's leadership, are making great progress in the region. Over the last year, we recruited eight local Aboriginal staff and expect to recruit more in the new year.
As I have put on the record many times, we will work in genuine partnership with communities and who better to lead and guide us than credible and respected members of those communities. I believe strongly that employment of Aboriginal staff is crucial to our capacity to learn, understand and thereby contribute to better health outcomes for Indigenous Australians.
Across the Kimberley, we will continue to build on our food security and nutrition programs, emotional and well being for young people and emergency preparedness.
Our commitment in this area is further reflected in the Board endorsed, "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Retention Sub-strategy" where we have committed to doubling the number of Aboriginal staff in two years.
I am pleased to announce that today we have in excess of 80 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff employed with Red Cross. Next week, we will be holding our Inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff Forum in Brisbane brining together staff from across Australia.
Expansion of our work in Tennant Creek
To further our work in addressing Indigenous disadvantage, Red Cross has secured funding of $600,000 over three years to establish a Red Cross presence in Tennant Creek. This will enable us to implement the following initiatives:
- deliver food security programs in the Barkly region and extend this to other communities who have sought Red Cross support;
- in partnership with Clontarf Foundation, establish a football academy in Tenant Creek; and
- in partnership with Julalika Council, Anyinginyi Health, Council of Elders and other town and regional stakeholders, deliver a range of Red Cross national programs such as Breakfast Clubs and "save-a-mate".
Getting results in Queensland
Working through local Indigenous agencies: Organisational partnering work in Queensland is achieving promising results by creating service partnerships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander agencies. Men's and Women's groups have been supported, a playgroup association created, a regional Indigenous housing entity supported and services provided in the areas of homelessness, family support, economic participation and living skills. Red Cross organisational partnering officers work to support local agencies develop and deliver these activities, while we focus on organisational strengthening in the areas of governance, strategy and business development.
Family Wellbeing work in remote communities: Red Cross' engagement processes in the community of Woorabinda have led in recent months to an extensive service partnership with Woorabinda Council, Elders groups and other local agencies. A family wellbeing centre, women's wellbeing centre and services for young people are under development, with funding support from state and federal governments approaching $1 million per annum.
Ending Indigenous homelessness: Our Heading Home program in Townsville is achieving excellent results successfully housing and supporting Indigenous men and women with long experience of homelessness. 16 people are actively engaged with the program, making positive lifestyle improvements - on their terms - and moving from rough sleeping into more secure living environments. A highly successful "retreat from the streets" program has also run throughout the year taking groups of rough sleepers away on wellbeing camps which offer time to reflect, eat well and make plans for the future.
Our Homelessness Early Intervention services in Ipswich, Townsville and on the Darling Downs are working with hundreds of households to prevent household issues escalating and tipping families into homelessness. Up to 40% of our client group are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander households.
Development of RespectED - violence prevention and education program
We are in the process of adapting the highly successful Canadian Red Cross family violence prevention and education program called RespectED. The program is essentially an education based model where community members are trained to deliver education programs to their own communities that address issues of family violence. Once implemented, it will be the only program of its kind in Australia where there is a genuine commitment to addressing inter-generational violence. It is a holistic approach that targets all age groups.
It does however, require a long-term commitment by Red Cross and a carefully and sensitively managed approach.
We have since met with government to explore funding opportunities and are now in the process of establishing a small team to begin the work in earnest. We have much to learn and do and we are a long way from delivering education programs on the ground, however our commitment to this work is unequivocal.
SAM "our way' Partnership with beyondblue
A new partnership with "beyondblue" has commenced and will adapt and expand our long-standing SAM program (known as SAM Our Way) to address the social and emotional wellbeing needs of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in selected rural and remote communities in South Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
This new model addresses issues of depression, violence, anxiety and problematic substance use in rural and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The outcomes this partnership is working towards include:
That young people and community based organisations have strengthened resilience through increased knowledge, skills and resources in respect to key health issues;
That stakeholder and community capacity for mobilising effective local responses to youth social and emotional wellbeing issues is improved and
That young people are better placed to inform decision making that affects them.
The program incorporates a community development approach which necessitates that young people are involved in every stage of this project, including identifying their needs and strengths; and gaps in services and resources in the communities. They will be involved in participatory planning exercises and this will help build their skill base in relation to future community decision making.
The program aims to maximize the active engagement and participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations (such as sport and recreation centres, women's and men's groups, mental health workers) to help support mental health workers develop and deliver health promotion, education and youth diversionary activities.
Building Connections, Reputation and Quality work in Kalgoorlie-Boulder
Red Cross has had a limited presence in Kalgoorlie for some time with a small office attached to the shop, a range of services largely provided through volunteers with high numbers of Aboriginal clients and some good reciprocal connections with government services. In 2007 this area was identified as one in which Red Cross could begin implementing new services and service models. The factors making this ideal included existing community supports and relationships; our capacity to reach large numbers of vulnerable Aboriginal people, including children through existing services; the opportunity to provide linkages between Red Cross services, in order to better cater for community needs; the opportunity to position this project as a springboard to providing new or enhanced services in the region; and its proximity to a number of other towns in the Goldfields, such as Coolgardie, for potential program expansion.
The success of our work in this area has led to the awarding of further funding for Kalgoorlie and some for Coolgardie. This includes the Personal Helpers and Mentors Program which we commenced delivering this year in Kalgoorlie and Broome.
The other area I referred to earlier was Social Inclusion, one of our 7 Priority Areas, and one that takes Red Cross is some exciting new directions.
Addressing social exclusion is a major area of reform for the Rudd Government and we have been working closely with key officials. Just 2 weeks ago, for example, we had the opportunity to address the Australian Government Social Inclusion Board during their visit to Bridgewater in Hobart, where earlier this year we established a new office from which we will be working with people in this highly disadvantaged community. The meeting provided an excellent opportunity for Red Cross to outline our New Direction for Services and Ways of Working, and was used to 'road test' the outcome areas in our Social Inclusion strategy.
As part of our work in this area we will be developing new program models to help connect extremely isolated and marginalised people back into their communities, including
- people with mental illness
- homeless people, and
- isolated older people living alone and other highly marginalised people.
Prisons Program in Victoria
Our work with prisoners and their families includes the peer support model in Risdon Prison (Tasmania) and the Prison Visitors' Resource Centre model in two private Victorian prisons, which Red Cross is implementing in partnership with the Victorian Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (VACRO). The Victorian program provides volunteers to support families who are visiting loved ones in the jail.
In June, we secured three year funding to extend our work in Victorian prisons. The majority of prisons in Victoria do not have dedicated Prison Visitors' Resource centres or any kind of waiting area for families. Families are often exposed to the elements and frequently seek refuge in cars or under any available cover or wind barrier on prison grounds. In addition, amenities for children are commonly not available. The Prison Visitors' Resource Centre (PVRC) program is designed to provide a dedicated area for families visiting prisons where they can access personal and practical support and information to help improve their prison visit experience. The program is operated by Red Cross volunteers who provide information, reassurance and emotional support to ease the emotional distress and anxiety often experienced by families and friends when visiting a family member in prison.
VACRO has offered to broker the development of relationships with prisoner support organisations in other States and Territories and is also keen to work with Red Cross around other areas of common interest, including the plight of criminal deportees in Immigration Detention Centres.
A number of State and Territory offices are now exploring the potential to implement these models in their prisons. Evaluations of both programs will be used to help inform any further expansion.
The MATES program seeks to build companionship and friendship between Red Cross volunteers and people with a mental health issue. It aims to enhance the quality of life of people at risk of social isolation, by alleviating feelings of isolation and helping maintain links with the community. The program commenced in Tasmania but has now been extended to South Australia, with a focus on people in boarding houses, and the ACT.
People with mental health issues are another of the four key target groups Red Cross has identified as being particularly excluded from society and MATES is an existing program that has potential to be further developed as a Red Cross response in this area. Further development of the MATES model is currently being considered, including review of the Networking Model being used in the Norwegian Red Cross, which would see the program broaden to focus on people who have left prison, those with drug and alcohol issues and people who are homeless.
In the ACT, Vodaphone has provided funding for one year to implement a MATES program focussing on people with a mental illness. A structured trial and evaluation is currently being prepared and if successful will lead to on-going applications for funding to further implement the program in the ACT.
In South Australia and Tasmania, the MATES program is so well regarded and well used that we now have waiting lists.
Impact of Migration
Red Cross responds to the expanded focus on migration in the Movement, through a suite of core and highly regarded programs that assist refugees, asylum seekers, immigration detainees and other people vulnerable as a result of migration. This includes a core commitment to Restoring Family Links in Australia and internationally.
There are some key successes I would like to report on this year:
Support for Victims of People Trafficking Program
This year, Red Cross successfully secured funding through a competitive tendering process with the Federal Government to provide support to victims of people trafficking.
The program responds to a gap in our current programs for people who are vulnerable as a result of migration. It provides an entry point into this difficult area of social policy, enabling us to both act now and consider appropriate future responses.
The program has a total budget of around $800k in the first year, and employs caseworkers in Victoria, NSW and Queensland, but is required to respond wherever the need is found. The program works closely with the Australian Federal Police, Department of Immigration and Office of Women but Red Cross plays no compliance or legal role - rather this is a care and support role similar to that undertaken in our other migration support programs.
This program provides support to people who are giving evidence in judicial proceedings against their alleged traffickers. The majority of clients have been trafficked through the sex industry with a small number involved in other forms of labour trafficking. There are currently 42 clients on the program which is managed nationally and has caseworkers in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and WA.
People involved in the program are predominantly from Thailand, Malaysia, South Korea and China. The issues they face are complex and include accommodation, physical and sexual health issues; complex mental health issues, sometimes arising from torture and trauma with a consequent risk that court trial process can cause re-traumatisation; complexities of legal and visa status emphasising the need for sound information and clarity as to the implications of giving evidence at trial; and finance and income issues.
This is an important but very difficult area of work and I am delighted that Red Cross has embraced this opportunity which many other National Societies undertake, particularly across Europe.
As has been highlighted recently in the media, the number of asylum seekers on Christmas Island has increased in recent months, with over 1,000 people now awaiting visa determination processes on the island.
Red Cross has increased its presence during this time, with a current team of three caseworkers and a recreation officer providing support to people in community detention arrangements, and regular trips every five weeks of two humanitarian observers to visit people in the North West Point Immigration Detention Centre to monitor the conditions and treatment of detainees.
In response to Red Cross requests, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) has now approved funding to enable a tracing worker to accompany humanitarian observers on visits over the next few months to respond to the high need for Restoring Family Links identified particularly by recently arrived Tamil detainees.
Community Care Assistance program rolled out nationally
After three years of delivering the Community Care Pilot (funded by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship), we were delighted that the Federal Government decided to continue this pilot into an ongoing program with national roll out. Red Cross has played an integral role over the years in helping to shape public policy regarding the way in which we support people who are awaiting an immigration outcome. The Pilot was established to test whether or not provision of health and welfare support to vulnerable people assists them to make more informed decisions about their immigration future as well as better cope with a negative outcome.
Community Assistance offers health and welfare support to people awaiting an immigration status resolution and who have complex needs. The Pilot has been run for three years in Vic, NSW and QLD and has demonstrated a new way of caring for vulnerable people while their immigration status is resolved.
Red Cross provides the community assistance aspect of the pilot (income support, access to health services, housing referral, casework). Red Cross has played a pivotal role in the development and implementation of this and other community care options for vulnerable people in the migration process. The national rollout of this model is a significant and sustained change in the care of vulnerable people in the immigration system. Red Cross can be justifiably proud of the role it has played with other sector agencies in bringing about a more humane system and undermining other failed models of status resolution, in particular forced destitution.
A great demonstration of the value of Red Cross contribution in this area of work is the recent appointment of Noel Clement to the Immigration Minister's Advisory Council. The Minister has established a Council which will act as an independent advisory group to the Minister. The Council will cover a broad range of issues including: policy, services and programs, appropriateness and adequacy of services to assist people whose immigration is unresolved, and detention matters including suitability of facilities, accommodation and service arrangements.
This does not in any way compromise our Humanitarian Observer role in immigration detention centres. Since the establishment of a new working model in 2008 we now have teams of trained observers who visit each detention centre every 5-6 weeks and prepare a confidential report to the Minister for Immigration. The value of our role in raising humanitarian concerns is demonstrated in us receiving letters of reply directly from the Minister. This is testament to the strength and value of our private advocacy approach.
IHL and 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions
The last of our 7 Priority Areas I would like to report to you on is International Humanitarian Law. This is so much more than just a service as it goes to the very heart of the unique role of Red Cross internationally and involves engagement with a wide range of stakeholders including government, the military and the international Red Cross Movement.
We have made some much needed changes to program this year, and to lead that task we have been fortunate to welcome back Dr Helen Durham who is known to many of you for her long and distinguished association with Red Cross and the global Red Cross Movement.
2009 was particularly significant for the 60th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions, which saw a range of outstanding events being held across Australia whilst internally understanding of IHL and the work of the Red Cross Movement continued to gain momentum. This year Government not only implemented the third Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions (bringing to life the new emblem) but also agreed via the Joint Standing Committee of Treaties that it would ratify the new Cluster Munitions Convention. In both these areas Australian Red Cross was active in using 'humanitarian diplomacy' to demonstrate our technical knowledge in the area of IHL and also our focus on humanitarian matters. Indeed in a recent speech in Parliament the Minister for Foreign Affiars made particular mention of the work of Australian Red Cross in the area of mine action in Cambodia, which demonstrates the level of respect we enjoy with decision makers.
Our strong government support was clearly displayed when all Parliaments across Australia, including both Houses of Federal Parliament, passed resolutions or statements re-affirming Australian support of the Geneva Conventions and acknowledging the work of Red Cross in this area. In Canberra, the House of Representatives witnessed 17 members of Parliament speak in favour of the motion including the Attorney-General, and the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. On this topic the Secretary of Defence noted "the extraordinary contribution made by many individuals, including Australian Red Cross members, volunteers and staff, in carrying out the humanitarian ideals expressed in the conventions and their Additional Protocols". During the week of the 12th August, Australian Red Cross flags bearing the cross, crescent and crystal flew along Kings Avenue Canberra under the banner 'emblems of humanity'.
Added to this were the broad range of events which saw Australian Red Cross spreading its IHL message across Australia with events held in every State and Territory.
These diverse events, as well as the poll commissioned by Australian Red Cross 'People on War' dealing with Australian's attitudes to IHL, attracted significant media attention with over 30 radio interviews and a number of television appearances that allowed us to raise the continuing relevance of IHL with the general public. Australian Red Cross also continued to produce the high quality "International Humanitarian Law Magazine' with the August edition focusing upon stories of Australians who had personal experiences of the Geneva Conventions in action.
Another successful set of events occurred across Australia during this year on the theme of 'Women and War'. Any of you who had the pleasure of attending the launch of this exhibition in every capital city could not have helped being moved by the subject matter and work of Red Cross in promoting the dignity of women during times of war.
This year also saw increased engagement with those who report on armed conflicts and in line with the IHL strategy, journalists at all levels are being exposed to IHL. An essay competition for journalists students was launched to promote an understanding even before they commence their careers and at the other end of experience, training of ABC and SBS war correspondents commenced. Australian Red Cross also continues to work with the armed forces and host the 'train-the-trainer' 4 day workshops and undertake pre-deployment presentations for the Australian Federal Police. A number of IHL presentations were also given to the NGO sector to ensure that humanitarian workers understand not only the importance of IHL but also the specific role Red Cross has to play in this area.
Our IHL team has also been working on matters such as creating a clearer understanding of our specific 'auxiliary status', and ensuring that the red cross emblem is used correctly by the Australian public. Whilst continuing to promote the IHL Handbook for Parliamentarian, the IHL department has also been developing further documents for use by Parliamentarians on understanding the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. Senior level training in IHL (both at the Board level and National Management Team) was implemented and at a State and Territory level training courses and dissemination activities continue to attract strong support of staff and volunteers.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved in the IHL program through-out the year, in particular members of IHL Committees and the increasing number of young volunteers who dedicate time and effort to ensure that everyone knows 'Even wars have Laws'.
Building Our Knowledge Base
A critical element of Services Renewal has been the establishment of a research and policy function to ensure our services have an evidence base and provide a strong platform for advocacy.
In just over 12 months, Red Cross has developed a number of research partnerships and collaborations to support Service Renewal goals. We are currently working in partnership with 10 universities, various research schools and private companies on a range of research projects which will deliver practical, applied outcomes in support of our work: The research is funded by a mix of Australian Research Council Linkage Grants, State/Federal grants and donor money. Some of our current projects include:
Long term Community Capacity Building
Macquarie University (Centre for Research on Social Inclusion)
4 year partnership including 2 PhDs and 4 major research projects in the areas of Organisational and Community Capability (Indigenous people and communities), Youth, Volunteerism and social cohesion, and Food Security
Social networks, belonging and active citizenship among migrant youth in Australia
Deakin University, University of Queensland, Centre for Multicultural Youth
Expectations and motivations of spontaneous volunteers
James Cook University
Youth Mental health promotion and Services in NSW
Mental Health Coordinating Council
In addition we have commissioned 4 major program evaluations. A range of secondary research papers have been developed internally through internships/student placements, to assist the organisation in understanding key concepts underpinning our new direction for services, and to provide the evidence base to inform the work of the Locational Disadvantage and Social Inclusion Sub-Strategies.
This greatly enhanced research capacity also provides an opportunity for greater engagement with the sector through conferences, high level forums and other events. Together these various activities all contribute to the development of a 'knowledge environment' within Red Cross, which enhances our transparency and accountability to beneficiaries and donors alike.
This is an exciting new direction for Red Cross and one that will grow and develop significantly in coming years.
To support Services Renewal and our seven Strategic Priorities, we have set about strengthening our engagement with government, and in this regard our Executive Director in the ACT, Di Jay, is playing a key role in her capacity as Manager of Parliamentary & Government Relations.
Australian Red Cross already has strong relationships with governments at all levels however there is much more we can do to improve understanding of our work, build our profile, establish partnerships, maintain and grow funding and influence policy to assist us in effectively addressing disadvantage and vulnerability.
Our new Parliamentary and Government Relations Plan will allow us to be more coordinated, focussed and deliberate in engaging with Parliaments and Governments to help us achieve our humanitarian goals in the short, medium and longer term.
STRENGTHENING THE ORGANISATION
I would now like to talk briefly about what we have been doing to strengthen the foundations of the organisation so we can deliver on the ambitious but worthy goals we have set for our services. Our work in this regard has been made much more difficult by the global financial crisis but this has made the reform process even more essential.
Responding to the financial crisis
In Australia, there has barely been a major not for profit which has not been adversely impacted in some way by the economic climate or by other sector changes causing major organisational challenges. Our response has been 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 harsh economic climate but conversely these external pressures are a brutal reminder that no sector that can or should 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, the more we can do to improve the lives of vulnerable people.
As a recent survey of not-for-profit organisations has identified, 90% of fundraising-dependent organisations in Australia are reviewing their operations and taking action in the light of the Global Financial Crisis and consequent economic downturn. Australian Red Cross is no different and we have recognised the need to drive internal reform, uncover new fundraising streams, strengthen our existing donor base, improve our budgetary planning and reserves policy, increase our volunteer pool, focus strategically on our core strengths, reduce duplication and identify more cost effective ways of doing business without sacrificing the quality of our work for the vulnerable and disadvantaged.
Governance and Management Reform
I will not talk at length here about our historic governance reforms which of course form an important part of discussions today, but I do want to stress that our sustainability as a major humanitarian player is dependent on us being nimble and efficient in the way that we operate. It is to the everlasting credit of all of you who are committed to this organisation that we will be adopting a new Charter and Rules at this historic meeting today.
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. We are embracing the concept of 'One Red Cross' within our own work. However the consequence of this 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 re-organisation has also been proceeding over the past 4 years and understandably has created huge challenges but the rewards have been there for all to see.
We are already starting to see the dividends from these reform processes and it was fantastic to be able to show case our valuable lessons and achievements with other National Societies when we met last month in Nairobi.
Supporting and developing our People
Throughout all of what will very soon be 100 years of service to the Australian community, it is the magnificent contribution of our people - members, volunteers (including spontaneous volunteers), staff and international aid workers - that has allowed us to achieve so much.
Today I would like to record my sincere appreciation - and the indebtedness of the whole organisation - to the extraordinary contribution of our 28,000 volunteers and 25,000 members.
Voluntary service is a fundamental principle of Red Cross, and to each and every volunteer and member I say 'thanks for demonstrating this principle every day'.
Secondly, I would like to provide an update on the significant transformation that is occurring in every aspect of our human resources polices, procedures, frameworks, systems and tools. Previously, each state and territory had their own policies and practices related to most aspects of human resource management. For example, payroll, salary packaging, employee assistance programs, recruitment practices, induction programs and training and development activities varied considerably in their nature, scope and coverage.
The Board supported a new common People and Learning strategy in 2008, which provided a framework for this transformation process. This will ensure that Red Cross has the capacity and capability to meet its organisational objectives now and into the future, especially given the seven strategic priorities for our services and programs.
In the last twelve months, significant progress has occurred across the People and Learning function. For example, we now:
- pay all employees from a common payroll system
- offer a contemporary salary packaging program from one provider
- provide a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program
- deliver training programs in OHS, equal employment opportunity and workplace behaviours for all staff
- manage remuneration from a common framework
- have a national framework for our learning and development initiatives
- use a standard process for performance management and development planning
- are implementing our new Behavioural Capability Framework.
Providing a safe and healthy workplace for all staff and volunteers is one of our key commitments and obligations, and earlier this year we launched our new OHS Management System. Based on the relevant Australian Standards, this policy and system is supported by a wide range of procedures, checklists, tools and audit processes. The real challenge, of course, is to ensure that we use the system all day, everyday, in everything that we do. Therefore we have expanded our OHS specialist resources to partner with all staff and volunteers in the roll-out of our OHS management system.
A major new initiative this year was our first ever national survey of employee engagement. We were very pleased with the high response rate, which ensured that the results have a high degree of credibility and statistical validity. We can measure engagement by three criteria:
- What staff think
- How staff feel
- How staff act
In particular, the survey highlighted the favourable responses on the think criteria - with staff indicating an extremely high level of commitment to the objectives, fundamental principles and services and programs of Red Cross.
To further discuss and understand the feedback received through the survey, in recent weeks a series of information briefings, focus groups and action planning sessions have been held in all states and territories.
In October/November Michael Raper and I visited capital city offices in all states/territories to give employees the opportunity to have open dialogue and share their views. I am pleased to report that with the support of Executive Directors all these sessions were well attended and generated excellent practical ideas on how we can improve our culture and workplace. Separate communications have been sent to regional office employees who were unable to attend these sessions.
Our Director of People and Learning, Chris Steinfort and I are absolutely committed to acting on the results of our first national staff survey and this commitment is shared by all members of the Board and the National Management Team.
We have identified 4 key priority areas for the whole of Red Cross- leadership, communication, change management and training and development. As well, each workplace or program has identified a local priority. The NMT met this week to consider the ideas put forward by each of the teams to improve our performance on these areas and we have prioritised a number for immediate response, as well as identified some longer term work. A communication will now be sent to all employees informing them of the agreed actions.
We will conduct the survey annually, and are implementing a strong focus on improvements to ensure that Red Cross is best placed to achieve its objective through an engaged and retained workforce.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
As I have indicated here today the past year has been one of considerable activity as we seek to implement the many changes which we have undertaken to make Red Cross more effective. However our job does not end here and I'd like to share some ideas about the period ahead.
While the Australian economy is showing clear signs of recovery, the next budget period poses challenges for all of us. The Board and all of our National Management Team are committed to maintaining the cost savings and efficiencies which we have worked hard to achieve, while at the same time progressing our vital work in Services Renewal so that our services have a real impact on the most disadvantaged people in the community who we are here to serve.
We need to recognise the importance of investing in critical infrastructure so that our future sustainability is ensured. Our IT platform is one area which needs a radical overhaul, as many of our systems are way past their use by date and can no longer effectively support our day to day business operations, let alone our plans for growth and development. Refreshing our IT systems is a significant whole of organisation project and we are fortunate to have the leadership and experience of our Director of IT Warren Don to lead us through this work.
Strengthening our Membership base
Another area where we are focussing our attention is strengthening our membership base. Our organisation would not be what it is today with out the unparalleled commitment and hard work of our members over many years. Our capacity to support local communities around Australia and in the region will be greatly eroded unless we can find new ways of engaging people to support our work.
As many of you will know our membership has declined over the years and continues to do so. Like the general population our membership is also ageing - 77% of members are over 60 years and only 10% under 50 years. Our volunteers are significantly younger but the majority are still aged over 50 years. This in no way undervalues the older generation to whom we are so indebted, but to state the simple fact this situation is not sustainable for any organisation that is committed to being relevant and effective into the future.
In order to attract a broader cross section of the Australian community, including younger people and people from more diverse backgrounds, we must increase the pathways for membership and provide a range of new opportunities for engaging people as humanitarians and Red Cross supporters.
Late this year we have undertaken our first ever national survey of members, in which we have sought your views on how you want to contribute to Red Cross and what we can do to keep you better informed, involved and engaged. We are genuinely interested in hearing your views and if you haven't already responded I encourage you to do so.
The governance reforms which are being addressed today provide a timely opportunity to strengthen our membership and supporter base, and this is an area of our work I am personally committed to as a priority in 2010.
Developing our new Strategic Plan
Development of our new strategic plan - Strategy 2015 - allows us to build on the significant achievements we have made in the last 5 years whilst looking ahead to where we want to be.
As part of the planning process we asked Red Cross people what Strategy 2015 should help us achieve over the next 5 years. The common theme was that we need to pull together all the changes that have happened over the last five years to make sure they achieve the benefits we are seeking. As part of this period of consolidation, Strategy 2015 will drive us towards a shared 'One Red Cross' approach, with operations that enable us to work more collectively, efficiently and sustainably, so that we can be more effective in improving the lives of the most disadvantaged.
Some of the themes of our new strategic plan include:
- greater impact on vulnerability through the New Direction for Services 7 Priority Areas
- shared values and 'One Red Cross' culture
- building the capability and capacity of our workforce
- improved diversity of our people, with much greater engagement of young people and culturally and linguistically diverse people
- valuing, supporting and finding new opportunities to involve our volunteers and members
- strategic engagement with government and use of advocacy /humanitarian diplomacy to affect change
- focus on effectiveness, transparency and accountability - to measure, evaluate, report on and improve organisational performance
- a commitment to evidence-based practice
- strong and effective fundraising and profitable commercial operations
- fit-for-purpose IT solutions
- more efficient systems, structures, processes and procedures
- minimising our impact on the environment
To support this work we are establishing a National Planning and Reporting framework that will link our operations to our strategic goals and drive accountability for achieving those. We will be seeking Board approval of the plan in early 2010 so that we can align next year's budget to our strategic goals.
Leveraging our Red Cross Reputation
Another priority is to ensure we are getting maximum benefit from our strong standing in the hearts and minds of people across Australia. The response of the Australian public to the Victorian bushfire appeal and other appeals throughout the year is testament to the remarkable strength of our brand and our reputation as the leading humanitarian organisation in Australia.
A further insight in to this was provided by our bi-annual survey conducted in August 2009 to measure awareness of Red Cross and our work, quantify attitudes towards Australian Red Cross and assess how those measures had changed since the last survey.
Key findings were extremely positive:
- 70% surveyed felt Red Cross was very important in Australian Society, an increase from previous
- There was an increased awareness and respect for Red Cross - Unprompted awareness of Red Cross is now nearly double that of the next recalled not for profit and had risen from 47% to 57%.
- The greatest increases in awareness was in the 18-30 year age group (up 50%) and the 31-50 year age group
- The younger 18-30 year age group also had the highest respect for Red Cross, higher than all other age groups
- Red Cross ranked first by a significant lead when Australians were asked to name three charities who they 'respected and admired the most'
- 80% of those surveyed believe that Red Cross is the best organisation to collect money for major disasters
Honouring our history and preparing for our Centenary
I spoke last year about the extensive work we were doing to improve the care of our valuable collection of archive material and memorabilia. The care of our heritage collection would not be possible without the tremendous work of our volunteers and this year we have been able to provide them with additional training and support.
I mention this because it closely relates to our Centenary year which we will be celebrating in 2014. The Centenary provides not only a time to honour and celebrate this important milestone in Red Cross history in Australia, but to also continue our work in the areas of priority mentioned above while making further, significant contributions of enduring community benefit.
We are actively starting to prepare for this event and I look forward to sharing our ideas with you next year.
Dear Red Cross people, I hope that has given you an insight into our many achievements this year of which we can all be proud and also highlighted some of the important initiatives we are working on to ensure we remain relevant and effective into the future.