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Wins of the week | Florence Nightingale Medal recipients | Working with Australia’s national science agency

27 November 2019

  • Wins of the week from the IHL team. 
  • Get to know Cristina, Yvonne and Denise - this year's Florence Nightingale medal recipients.  
  • Find out the main themes that we'll be discussing at the International Conference and the Red Cross Red Crescent Statutory Meetings​.
  • We're working with CSIRO to identify vulnerability in Australia​.
  • We're releasing our annual report at the Annual General Meeting today and talking about the major initiatives underway for the current year.
  • Blog takeover: Creating disability inclusive change.  

Wins of the week

Hi everyone,

70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions and the 'laws of war'

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions. We’ve marked this occasion with activities around the country led by our amazing International Humanitarian Law Advisory Committee volunteers supported by our IHL staff.

The final nod to this anniversary took place this week in Federal Parliament. Thanks to the great work of Rob McLaughlin, as well as Leanne Joyce and Tara Gutman, this week, a motion was adopted in the House of Representatives. The motion was put by Jason Falinski, MP and was seconded by Graham Perret, MP. Nine Members of Parliament from across the political spectrum spoke for an unprecedented 45 minutes with many references to the work of Australian Red Cross and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Here are some of the quotes:

Andrew Laming (Lib Qld) – spoke to his experience as a ADF officer in Afghanistan and his first account of the work done in an ICRC hospital near Kabul, “it is one thing to ratify these things and another to actually respect the fundamental elements… Australia has deeply ingrained it in both our military and our society. That work needs to be continued”.

Patrick Gorman (ALP WA) "The history of building international institutions to ensure global peace is something which Australia is proud of and something which Australia must continue to do. We can never take peace for granted and we can never assume that other nations will automatically share our values or see things the same way that Australia sees them. We don't live in a perfect international system. There are many injustices have not been addressed, but the international system we have has, on the whole, made the world a kinder and fairer place and it's a system we should embrace, as we do when we pass motions such as this​."

You can read more here (from the bottom of page 29 onwards).

Speaking of the laws of war, the IHL team have had a busy couple of weeks with a particular focus on promoting protections of medical personnel and objects and of humanitarians. We finished a substantial survey of Australia’s domestic legislation to see how it stacked up against recommendations to protect health care workers and facilities in times of armed conflict. This is a major contribution to the work of the Red Cross, Red Crescent Movement across the world on Health Care in Danger. It will be a powerful resource for Governments and National Societies alike. 

Last week we also presented the Medical Officer Basic Course at the Army School of Logistic Operations. This course is the initial corps specific training for Army medical officers (including doctors, nurses, physios etc) and is a gateway course which captures all medical personnel entering the Army. It is run twice a year. 

Finally, we are also now engaging with Australia’s judiciary as a number of counter-terrorism laws that conflict with the ‘laws of war’ are now being tested by the courts. We want to alert judges and court staff to the tensions between these areas of law and promote the universal ideas that speak to our common humanity under the laws of war. Our Victorian IHL Advisory Committee member, David Harper (a former Victorian Supreme Court Judge) has been greatly assisting the IHL team and last week, he and Yvette Zegenhagen (who leads our work on the ‘laws of war’) presented to a group of Victorian Supreme Court judges, registrars, Associates and other court staff.

We hope that this will be the launching pad for further engagement with the judiciary across Australia; and it’s fabulous to have volunteers that can use their networks and professional expertise to open these doors for us and ensure we are a credible and practical voice to this new audience.

Meetings with the Movement

We're preparing for meetings of the global Red Cross Red Crescent Movement which will take place in Geneva in December.

These are important sessions focussing on what all 191 Red Cross Red Crescent societies can do together on subjects like: embedding international humanitarian law; supporting mental health and psychosocial needs arising from conflict, disasters and emergencies; the growing humanitarian impact of climate change; the role of data and digital transformation in humanitarian work; and, building even better ways to bring families back together who have been separated by war and conflict.

Our delegation, led by Ross Pinney (our President) includes four Board members Lyndal Moore (Deputy President), Anne Macarthur OAM (Chair, VIC DAB), Rose Rhodes PSM (Chair, SA DAB), Evie Kuang (Youth Member). They are volunteering their time to contribute knowledge and expertise. Jane Munro (National Coordinator, Movement and Engagement) has led the preparations and under her leadership we have worked for many months to ensure we can work constructively with our Red Cross Red Crescent peers to maximise the humanitarian outcomes from the meetings.

Honouring the Florence Nightingale Medal recipients

(Pictured from left) Ross Pinney, Denise Moyle, Her Excellency Linda Hurley, His Excellency Governor General David Hurley, Cristina De Leon, Yvonne Ginifer and myself. 

I had great pleasure attending a very special event in Canberra on Friday. Three of our international aid workers were presented with the Florence Nightingale Medal at Government House by Australian Red Cross Patron, His Excellency David Hurley, the Governor General of Australia.

The Florence Nightingale Medal is the highest international distinction a nurse can receive and it was wonderful to see Cristina De Leon, Yvonne Ginifer and Denise Moyle bestowed with their awards in front of their close family and friends.

Internationally, 29 outstanding nurses from 19 countries were awarded the Medal, which recognises exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict or natural disaster. It also recognises exemplary service or a pioneering spirit in the areas of public health or nursing education. The Medal recipients are selected by a commission comprised of the ICRC, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Council of Nurses.   

Governor General Hurley with Denise's daughters and their very own medals.

I was particularly touched by the role that family played in the event, with the children, parents and lifelong friends of the recipients in attendance and warmly greeted by their Excellencies. Both Governor General Hurley and Ross Pinney acknowledged in their respective addresses that while it was the Medal recipients who were celebrated on this occasion, that family and community play a critical role in enabling our humanitarians to deploy and do the essential work that we ask them to do.

Over coffee and afternoon tea, Governor General Hurley and her Excellency Linda Hurley made time to speak with each of the recipients and their family and friends, even finding time to lead the group in song (‘You are my sunshine’) and present the four and seven-year-old daughters of Denise with their very own medals as a memento of the occasion.

It was an honour to read the citations for Cristina, Yvonne and Denise and present our medallists to His Excellency. Have a read of the citation and get to know our 2019 medallists better. As part of the ceremony we were also able to show our appreciation for our International Deployments Team, who were represented by Mat Orr and Andree Girardau who work tirelessly behind the scenes to support all our international delegates – supporting their wellbeing, safety and health when they are overseas.

Working with Australia’s national science agency

Against the landscape of more frequent and intense disasters, and building on work we have done with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) we’ve had recent talks with the CSIRO about their interest in bringing data, science and communities together to help identify vulnerability in Australia so we can better target initiatives to build resilience and preparedness.

Like us, the CSIRO is focussed strongly on impact and have similar values and priorities, and is looking to Red Cross to help connect the voice of people with lived experience. We are now exploring how best we can work together to further initiatives like CSIRO’s Vulnerability Profile.  

One of the interesting parts of the report was about understanding people’s values, knowledge and the ‘rules’ of society and how those play out before and after disasters. We talked about how we could jointly use neuroscience to support our work on helping communities to prepare and adapt within Australia and also within the Pacific. We also talked about how we can build greater community prevention in the event of pandemics and epidemics.

We look forward to where these discussions take us to enable us to better prepare people and communities for disasters, to respond to disasters 100% of the time, and in harnessing the power of frontier technology for good.

The long road to recovery

While the images of the fires might be off the front pages and news bulletins for now, as is always the case, the long road to recovery begins for those communities so badly impacted in recent weeks. And while we know we are only at the beginning of summer and that more heat and fires will be coming our way, we also know how focussed communities are in getting back on their feet and having some level of normality back in their lives. Our role is to support that work which is being led by the communities themselves. 

Our members and volunteers in those communities continue to play a critical role. Since the fires began there have been some 200 Red Cross people involved in supporting communities. Our support will always be there. We have also had some great support from other organisations.

Blog takeover: Creating disability inclusive change

By Jess Hall (Disability and Inclusion Coordinator)

International Day of People with Disability is one of the key significant dates that my role supports and creates awareness around. However it is not just about my role as a Disability and Inclusion Coordinator for Victoria, it is also important to me personally.

Seven years ago I applied for a nanny/babysitting job working privately for a family. The job was actually to be a support worker for the family and their daughter with multiple disabilities.

I got the job, but had absolutely no experience with disabilities, no qualifications in disability and really no idea what I was doing. For the first couple of shifts I had with the teenage daughter I barely spoke a word. How could I have a conversation with someone who was non-verbal? How would I know if she understood what I was saying? How could I support her when I didn’t even know what to do?

I had three amazing years supporting and walking alongside her, and by the end I had my answers to all those questions. There are multiple ways to have a conversation with someone who is non-verbal, you don’t need verbal words.

Give people a chance, time, patience and a safe place and they will find a way to let you know what they do and don’t understand. You don’t have to have all the answers to support someone, you don’t have to know it all.

You do have to be willing to learn and grow. You do have to be willing to be out of your comfort zone and face challenges.

Unfortunately, she is no longer here today, but she showed me how my place as an ally can make change, how my voice can help give a platform for those with lived experience. She showed me how if we take chances, give time, have patience and provide a safe place we can make a more inclusive community.

I am now doing a call out to you. We all have a responsibility not just as Red Cross people but as people in our community to learn, to grow and to actively participate in creating disability inclusive change.

Join me in celebrating International Day of People with Disability on Tuesday 3 December at 9.45am. Take a moment out of your day to attend the celebrations and support Speakers Bank. 

Our annual general meeting

It is that time of year. Today, we will hold the Annual General Meeting of the Australian Red Cross Society. We have Red Cross people from across Australia attending – people who have contributed throughout the year and who represent the thousands of others who have also contributed. 

Chaired by our President, it is the meeting where we report on how together we supported Australians and others through times of vulnerability and where we celebrate what Red Cross people achieved last year across Australia and internationally. It is also where we release our annual report (which will be available on the annual reports page from 4.10pm) and talk about the major initiatives underway for the current year. We also hold elections for critical positions. So it is an important meeting for all of us.

Importantly, it is also a time for saying ‘thank you’. Wherever I go, committed humanitarians are bringing their expertise, knowledge, hearts and minds to Red Cross in support of the people we support. Thank you for the year we have had, thank you for your ongoing commitment, thank you for what you do.

Chat to you soon.