The Board met on Friday and Saturday. It was a jam-packed two days. I am always impressed with their knowledge, expertise and dedication and this meeting was no exception. We also had our newest Board participant, Tariq – it was a joy to have him involved.
We covered a lot of ground. Here are a just a few snippets.
Floods, fires and climate change
Photo: Conor Ashleigh
The Board members were briefed on the current situation. In North Queensland, floodwaters are receding and electricity supplies are mostly restored, but more than 3,000 homes sustained damage. Ten people have been diagnosed with melioidosis, a bacterial disease common in wet conditions, and one person died.
An estimated 500,000 cattle have been lost to flooding in farming regions of North West Queensland. We are supporting people as they start to recover. On Thursday alone, our volunteers supported more than 1,400 people in the Townsville and Cloncurry areas. In NSW, around 40 bushfires are still burning. Red Cross teams are supporting people in evacuation centres. In Tasmania and Victoria we are also supporting impacted people.
While we’re not running a specific appeal for these events, Australians are giving generously to support Red Cross work in these and other disasters through organisations like Coles, CBA and others with over $2m raised so far. This will ensure Red Cross is able to respond to disasters like these throughout the year.
We are in the midst of a series of weather events that have broken all-time records and been described as unprecedented. Our predictions about the increasing intensity and frequency of weather events were of course why we set Strategy 2020 outcomes on preparedness, disaster risk reduction investment, responding 100% of the time and shifts in our international strategy. We have clear strategies on each, ranging from advocacy to business engagement and on-the-ground community-based work.
However, given the intensity and the silent, multi-faceted impact of heatwaves and drought on communities and individuals from all walks of life, perhaps we need to do more to shift gears. We need greater traction at scale (particularly on disaster risk reduction). We need to galvanise different financing mechanisms for mitigation and adaptation and we need a stronger voice on the humanitarian impacts of natural events. We had a good discussion on this with the Board.
Our Detention Monitoring Program
This is definitely one of our ‘unsung’ heroes as a program and the Board members really engaged in the session we had.
Red Cross is the only humanitarian organisation that visits all Australian detention facilities on a regular basis. With the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) we also conduct detention visits offshore to Manus Island and Nauru. Our staff and volunteer Humanitarian Observers assess the general conditions, access to services and the treatment of the people detained.
We engage directly with authorities to provide a humanitarian perspective on the impact of immigration detention and advice on how to minimise harm and promote respect for humanitarian values. Our visits also provide an opportunity to identify people separated from family members who may need support from our Restoring Family Links program.
Our impact has been demonstrated by an overall decline in the use of immigration detention (and the creation of alternatives to detention), improvements to living conditions and supports available to people who are detained, and discreet resolution of individual situations. We’ve developed Guiding Principles that have been adopted by ICRC, maintained relationships with Home Affairs and other stakeholders (with 27 years of continued access to places of detention), and helped build the capacity of others across all Red Cross Red Crescent offices. Given the recent announcement of the reopening of Christmas Island Detention Centre and the passing of the Medevac bill it appears that immigration detention is set to dominate politics in the lead-up to the election making our humanitarian work as important as ever.
How Australians perceive us today
The Engagement and Support team has been researching how we are understood by Australians today. The insights they have are comprehensive and well put together. Belinda went through them with the Board. Here are a few, but please reach out to Belinda or Katrina if you want to know more.
- We are very well trusted, but not consistently understood. Red Cross enjoys extremely strong name and brand recognition and high levels of trust. We are overwhelmingly perceived as an organisation that does good. However, many struggle to articulate clearly what we do.
- Helping people through ‘blood’ or ‘disasters’ is most common. However there are a multitude of things we are known for across different people, groups and areas
- After the Blood Service, helping others who are going through tough times and without discrimination, particularly in the area of disaster (response and recovery) would be the most common perception of our core purpose.
- We are seen as being local – delivering value at a community level. Our reach and scale is also one of the differentiators that people associate with us. Our support for those caught up in international disasters is also important.
There was so much more that the Board covered including how we are going generally (the good, the bad and the ugly), reviewing our Strategy 2020 results and next steps, our international program, and, of course our commitments on important matters such as child protection and work health and safety. The Board also spent time on how they will fulfill their commitments to reconciliation and how they will keep improving their work as a board, to the benefit of the whole organisation.
We are lucky to have them volunteering their hearts, minds and time.
Closing the Gap Report
Last week, the 11th Closing the Gap report was handed down with only two of the seven targets being met. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must have greater input for real and genuine positive change. Red Cross supports a coalition of First Nations peak bodies who will have shared and equal decision making on closing the gap to refreshed targets that include Families, Children and Youth, and Justice. We will partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and organisations to build strong families and communities.
A lovely story to finish on
In November last year, in another part of the world, a mother and her young son got separated as they sought asylum from violence and persecution in their homeland. It was a simple error – the train they were travelling on separated with one part going to one country and the other going to another country. I can’t comprehend the distress for them both.
The global Red Cross Red Crescent family tracing team (which we are a part of) got involved earlier this year and jumped into action. Using the improved Red Cross Red Crescent ‘Trace the Face’ Initiative and the already-existing unbelievable support of volunteers, the mother and her young son were eventually reconnected on 1 February.
It’s a wonderful story and a demonstration of how we are using new approaches and technology to help families find each other much faster. Congratulations to our family tracing team who have also been involved in developing the new ‘Trace the Face’ initiative.
That’s all for now. As always, feel free to email me with any questions you have.