Main Navigation

Michael Legge opening address

Address by Michael Legge, President Australian Red Cross, to the Joint Grand Opening of the General Assembly and Council of Delegates, Sydney, 12 November 2013.

Distinguished guests, visitors and friends.

It's my pleasure to be addressing you here today at the formal opening of these Statutory Meetings, held for the first time in Sydney.

It is also the first time that our young humanitarians have met at the Global Youth Conference immediately prior to the General Assembly and Council of Delegates and are staying to participate with us now.

It was invigorating to see the discussions that took place and to see the enthusiasm and passion our young people have for shaping the world for future generations.

To our youth delegates here today - we are listening, we want to hear your contributions and we want you to have a strong voice in the deliberations of these meetings, and beyond.

I can report that we had impressive digital reach and participation during the Global Youth Conference, with physical and digital delegates participating in blogs, and in a lively discussion on facebook and twitter. Over two days there were more than 1,400 tweets with 3.1 million impressions and 560,000 twitter accounts reached. What a fantastic way to reach new audiences and spread the voices of young people outside of these meetings.

And just a reminder that all delegates can join the online discussion using the hashtag #rcrc2013 throughout the meetings.

This year, marks 150 years since the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement was founded. Henri Dunant could barely have predicted the world we live in today.

But despite the years, the very real challenges of finding lasting solutions to alleviating humanitarian suffering remain. And no doubt they will remain for the next 150 years.

For me, these meetings are about living up to our promises to vulnerable people and the communities that we serve. We must look back on these meetings and know that we seized the opportunity, made the most of our global knowledge, shared our expertise, and promoted our points of view in the best interests of humanity.

In the short term, we need only look three years ahead to 2015 and the future landscape beyond the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals. What influence can we have on building safe, healthy and prepared communities?

As the IFRC uniquely enjoys observer status at the United Nations and the ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, the Movement is uniquely positioned to influence the new goals for global development.

We meet this week, in the shadow of Typhoon Haiyan which has wreaked havoc across the Philippines and Vietnam, tragically causing the deaths of so many. Australian Red Cross stands ready to support our neighbouring National Societies and to do what we can to help those affected.

In Australia, we know only too well the impact natural disasters can have on our population and environment. Just weeks ago the skies of Sydney were thick with smoke as fires raged in bush areas close to the city. Although this emergency has now passed, Red Cross continues to have a critical role to play in helping communities rebuild, in providing practical and emotional support to people who have lost everything. It is a vital role that National Societies play across the world.

These meetings will also see an emphasis on social inclusion and the adoption of a further resolution to increase the involvement of people with disabilities in the movement and in the broader community. Here in Australia, Red Cross is working to consider the needs and desires of people with disabilities and ensure they have equal participation as staff, as volunteers and as members.

Every National Society around the world is made up of dedicated hardworking volunteers, staff and supporters who are linked by the fundamental principles. As leaders, we must ensure our movement fosters inclusion and engages with a diversity of people.

Australian Red Cross is increasingly looking at new opportunities to engage with our volunteers recognising that voluntary services create social capital that benefits and builds resilience across our whole community.

Across the globe, our people should be able to go about their work without threats to their safety. Yet we know this is not always the case. It is a sad and shocking reality that violence against health-care and other aid workers and the people they seek to help continues.

I am reminded of the crisis in Syria, and the challenges in for many other National Societies, where so tragically humanitarian workers have been kidnapped, injured or even killed as they went to the aid of people in need.

We must speak out with a united voice and raise awareness of international humanitarian law through programs such as health care in danger in order to protect our people.

So while we can not possibly predict the next 150 years, we can uphold our Fundamental Principles bringing the Power of Humanity, our goodwill, our expertise and our wisdom to help shape humanitarian action for years to come.

Download this speech as a pdf document.