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Red Cross launches Centenary book

Joint speech on behalf of the President Michael Legge and CEO of Australian Red Cross on the occasion of the launch of the Centenary book, The Power of Humanity: 100 years of Red Cross in Australia.

Tuesday 12 August 2014, Government House Canberra

Delivered by CEO Robert Tickner due to the unavoidable absence of the President caused by cancelled air flight.

I'd like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people as the traditional owners and custodians of land on which we meet.

At the outset I would also like to thank Their Excellencies, the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove and Lady Cosgrove for generously hosting us here today. I am delivering this speech jointly including on behalf of Michael Legge the President of Australian Red Cross who has been kept in Tasmania due to a cancelled airline flight.

A warm welcome to you all - distinguished guests and Red Cross people one and all, and just too many of you to acknowledge individually as I am sure you will appreciate.

However, just to give you some indication of the breadth of this Red Cross family reunion, guests include John Newman Morris, whose father and grandfather led the Governance of Australian Red Cross for 27 years. Even Greg Vickery could not match that!

We also have representatives of the Stubbings family with us today, Julie and Kerry, and as you know Leon Stubbings held the office of Secretary General for 33 years, making the tenure of Jim Carlton, Martine Letts and myself barely passing footnotes by way of comparison.

It's an honour to be with you today to celebrate the Centenary of Red Cross in Australia and to reflect on a century of service to the nation - 100 years of people helping people, and the great big humanitarian footprint Red Cross has left among this wide brown land and internationally.

This year not only represents a major achievement for Red Cross, it is truly a significant milestone in the social history of Australia itself.

Our Red Cross identity was forged by the voluntary service of millions of people in caring for others in need and the commitment of so many people over the course of a century has earned Red Cross the trusted reputation it enjoys today.

As we know so well Red Cross was born during wartime and just nine days after the outbreak of World War One Lady Helen Munro Ferguson, wife of the then Governor General chaired the first meeting of Red Cross in Australia and tomorrow some of us will return to that very room at Government House in Melbourne.

The rate of growth of Red Cross, as a result of the war, was phenomenal. Hundreds of thousands of volunteers were inspired to sign up to help and many hundreds of branches were quickly formed throughout Australia.

By World War Two Red Cross had become Australia's largest charitable organisation. From a population of seven million, nearly half a million people were Red Cross members, many of whom went on to give a lifetime of service to Red Cross.

However as the Centenary History highlights, Australian Red Cross as we know it today has been shaped by adapting and responding to changing community needs.

So as we celebrate and respect our wonderful rich history and recognise the magnificent contribution of members and volunteers, we also look the future, and the next centenary.

We now operate as one Red Cross and as result together with other reforms we will be entering our next century as a renewed and reinvigorated organisation ready for the contemporary challenges which confront us.

Some critical things remain the same however including our commitment to our fundamental principles including our Neutrality and our Impartiality. This means that we don't involve ourselves in party politics and we are there for all people irrespective of race, religion or political views. As members, volunteers, staff and supporters we are increasingly all Red Cross people committed to the humanitarian ideals of our global movement.

Today whether it's providing comfort for elderly people at home, installing clean water in communities overseas, providing services for refugees and asylum seekers, delivering a world class blood service, or advocating for a global convention to outlaw nuclear weapons - Red Cross is there. We also work with families and communities across Australia including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and young single mums proudly working to raise their children and people who have lost everything after a flood or a bushfire. It is all part of our great Australian story which you are all part of.

As in the beginning, we continue to rely on generous public support to carry out our vital everyday work and in our centenary year we are reaching out to new generations of Australians to join us to help continue the story as we enter the next century of our work.

Before I call on the Governor General to launch the Centenary History I want to share a well kept secret about the origins of this wonderful historical work which Melanie has written. Back on Sunday 23rd February 2008 I received an email from a very enthusiastic historian who had seen me on the 441 bus to Balmain by chance and who then wrote to me expressing her interest in writing a Centenary History of Australian Red Cross. I proposed a meeting in a Balmain Coffee shop and it was there that a plan was cemented and finally delivered after a lengthy gestation period of some six and a half years. Red Cross undertook a public selection process, arms length from me, to choose our Red Cross historian. Sue Vardon and Lauren Nelson chose Melanie and it was unanimously reaffirmed by our Red Cross Board. Melanie got the gig and has delivered a wonderful history which bares the inspirational title which inspires us all -THE POWER OF HUMANITY.

Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the President of Australian Red Cross Michael Legge please welcome his Excellency, the Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove who will officially launch the book.

Thank you.