This year has been like no other, and Australian Red Cross has risen to the challenges to meet humanitarian needs.
Firstly, I want to thank all our Red Cross volunteers, members, staff and donors for responding so magnificently this year and delivering with such dedication and resilience throughout. Together you’ve made an incredible difference for so many people doing it tough.
We began the year with some pretty intense reflection on the work we do, taking into consideration our rapidly changing world and what we want to be known for in the future. We made the decision to focus our work in a smaller number of key areas where we can have the greatest impact. By concentrating on what we’re best at, and moving away from areas where there are many other providers, we can make the biggest difference to the lives of people experiencing vulnerability.
From the start of the year, we were busy dealing with the humanitarian impacts of drought. Then as early as July the first of the season’s bushfires started, culminating in some of the worst fires in history. And very soon after, the global pandemic hit.
Our people are on the ground in communities and this allows us to be ready to act, at a moment’s notice, and understand what is needed.
We’ve spent much of the year in disaster mode, at home and internationally. But disaster response and recovery is what we are known for. Our national and global network, decades of experience, specialist skills and extensive capabilities make us the go-to humanitarian organisation when it comes to emergencies.
We know how to be there for people impacted by bushfires, floods, cyclones, and drought. As well as for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, people who have been trafficked, and people in detention. We exchange knowledge and expertise with community–led organisations to grow their capability to take action and lead change. We’re walking alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, acknowledging local cultures, and amplifying community voice and decision-making.
We are a volunteer-based organisation. Our people are on the ground in communities and this allows us to be ready to act, at a moment’s notice, and understand what is needed. Governments turn to us because we can respond with speed and scale.
President Ross Pinney visits Bairnsdale in Victoria during the bushfire emergency. Photo: Mathew Lynn
People give to Red Cross because they trust us to deliver, and we do. Last summer, there was negative media about charities holding on to money for their own benefit and charging high admin costs. This resulted in us, along with other charities, receiving criticism from the public.
We listened, learned, and focused on communicating honestly and regularly, being completely transparent on how donated funds are always set aside and used only for the appeal purpose, and what the disbursement strategy was. We also kept our costs as low as possible working with partners and spending so far less than what might have been considered reasonable.
We drew on years of experience responding to fires, and while we were getting grants out to people quickly, we also know that recovery is a long haul and support is needed at different stages, in different ways. People reach out to us when they are ready. This can be immediate, or it may be months after disaster hits. Many bushfire-impacted people have approached us for the first time regarding grants, since June 2020. We know recovery support will be needed for years, and we are organised to help. I am proud of Red Cross people’s response, staying true to our principles, and not being distracted.
President Ross Pinney visits volunteers and people evacuated from the raging bushfires at the Bairnsdale Emergency Relief Centre in Victoria. Photo: Mathew Lynn
This year we also saw the power of being part of a global Red Cross movement when almost a third of all individual bushfire appeal donations came from overseas, and our sister National Societies contributed $12M to 30 June, $20M by 30 September 2020. We are never in this alone.
It was an honour to be of service at this time, from the boardroom to the bushfire communities. In Cobargo NSW, I visited a response and recovery centre and met a woman who’d lost her home, yet she was still volunteering, determined to help others. We hugged, such a simple way of expressing support, yet so very powerful.
We never thought that within months we’d find ourselves in a world of physical distancing. For now, we can’t have an evacuation or recovery centre full of people. We are finding new ways to reach out and support people, especially in disaster zones where internet and telephone services, and road access, are often unavailable. We’re inventive and pragmatic, we’re finding solutions.
As we have seen in recent years, and with the scale of the bushfires, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is increasing. Emergencies and disasters can impact anybody. We must all adapt and better prepare for the impacts of climate change, especially in Australia and the Asia Pacific region. And we all need greater focus on the recovery phase.
Emergencies and disasters can impact anybody. We must all adapt and better prepare for the impacts of climate change, especially in Australia and the Asia Pacific region.
The pandemic has affected everyone. Red Cross staff, members and volunteers have responded across our country, by supporting hundreds of thousands of people through phone calls, wellness checks, emergency grants, and other support. And the work continues.
I am very fortunate to serve with so many wonderful Red Cross people. Thank you to Board members, who are volunteers, and to staff, who have adapted so well to working remotely. Thank you to our members and volunteers, who contribute so much, and found new ways to work. Thank you to all our donors and supporters, who have given so generously to enable what we do.
Lastly, I want to acknowledge CEO Judy Slatyer as she steps down from the role. We are extremely grateful for her dedicated service, strong leadership and many achievements, including leading us successfully through the crises of 2020, resulting in Red Cross meeting humanitarian needs and being in a sound financial position. Judy is admired and much loved across our organisation and networks. She will leave a lasting positive impact on Red Cross and our humanitarian movement.