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I was asked to give a congratulatory speech to new recipients of the Order of Australia award in 2010. This is the transcript of that speech and it touches on issues of our national future.
Address to the Order of Australia Association (Victoria Branch)
Andrew McLeod CEO, Committee for Melbourne
Wednesday 22 September 2010 Melbourne Town Hall
Thank you very much and it is a great pleasure to be here today, but I have to say this is without doubt, one of the most imposing audiences I have ever been asked to speak in front of – this is not a room full of boring people. This is a room full of people who have achieved and given back to their community, their country and their people in many different incredible ways and it is indeed humbling to try and somehow speak to you about things that we can do in achieving in the community when all of you in this room have far exceeded anything that I have done or given. So for me it is a very humbling honour to speak in front of you.
For the new awardees, allow me, in my small way to also add my congratulations to you. You have been honoured by our community as a point of thanks for the work that you have done in very many different fields and I would like to also, as an Australian, extend my thanks for the work that you have done in your communities.
But given the introduction of my background, one of the questions you may be asking may be ‘Why Melbourne? Why have you come back here?’ And indeed I took on the role of Chief Executive Officer of the Committee for Melbourne back in January and this very question was asked of me by the Board, when interviewing prospective candidates for this role and they asked me ‘Andrew, why do you want to come back to Melbourne?’ and I said ‘Honestly, there are two reasons. One, you can drink water from the tap and two, you have the MCG.’
And the Board said to me ‘You’re being a bit flippant, aren’t you?’ and I said ‘No, think about it for just a second. Drinking water from the tap. Eighty per cent of people on this planet – can’t.’ The fact that we can walk up to a tap in our apartments or houses and turn it on and get fresh, potable water every day, puts us in the wealthiest people in the world. It says a lot about our infrastructure, it says a lot about our community, it says a lot about our governance. At the end of the day, this country works. And I find it completely bizarre that people go to restaurants and ask for a bottle of San Pelligrino and pay five bucks when, you can go to your tap and you can get the world’s greatest luxury.
And I got my water bill the other day and do you know what it cost me for three months’ of potable water pumped to my apartment? Fresh, clean, on demand whenever I wanted it? Thirteen dollars. For three months. It’s insane. We don’t price our water right, it doesn’t reflect what a luxury it is, and I always make a point and I ask you too, from now on as well, whenever you are in a restaurant, don’t ask for San Pelligrino – ask for tap water, because that’s a luxury and we really need to appreciate those common, everyday things.
The second thing – the MCG. Now I’m a Collingwood supporter so I’m really scared about Saturday. And there’s a difference between the older Collingwood supporters and the younger ones. The younger ones have got the lid off. ‘We’re going to win, we’re going to win.’ The older ones just list you dates: 1970, 1977, 1979, 1980, 1981, 2000, 2002, 2003 – we know how to lose Grand Finals.
But the thing about the MCG is, where else in the world can you put 80, 90, 100,000 people into a stadium, mix them all up together, and at the end of the day, someone wins and someone loses and everyone will go home without violence, without flares and without riots.
I was sitting at the Collingwood Geelong game about Round 3 or 4 this year – and it was round about the time of the Super Profits Tax – now I’m not going to talk about whether that’s a right thing or not a right thing, but I was with a group of Collingwood supporters and the row in front was a group of Geelong supporters. So of course during the first and second quarter we’re having that friendly banter with each other – ‘No, it wasn’t a push in the back.’ Oh yes, he had it…etc, etc..’
Then at half time the bloke in front turned around and said to me ‘What do you think of the Super Profits Tax?’ And I gave my view. We had a great discussion. Then the third quarter started and we were back hammering each other again.
Where else in the world, does that sort of thing happen and the greatest thing about the MCG if you ask me, is not during the game but it is at the end. And if you go this weekend, at the end of the game, have a look around as people are leaving. Have a look at how many 12 –13 – 14 year olds are in groups – unsupervised. Where else in the world, could a 14 year old girl, rock up to Mum and Dad and say ‘I’m going to a mass public event with a hundred thousand people and no adult supervision’ and Mum says ‘See you when you get home.’
So – the MCG says a lot about our community. How we relate and interact with each other. The respect that we pay for each other and at the end of the day what a great society and community, Melbourne is.
So those two simple things, drinking water from the tap and the MCG say a lot about our community, our governance, our infrastructure and how well we get on – and at the end of the day, all of us in the MCG, or in this room, are in the top half of the top 1% of wealthy and privileged people in the world. The thing that makes you special is you’ve recognised that and you’ve given back to your community – and what we need to continue to do, is spread that knowledge of how good a life and society that we have in Melbourne and what an obligation that imposes upon us in whatever way we can, in whatever strengths we have, to give back to our community around us.
Which brings me to the Committee for Melbourne. What is the Committee for Melbourne and why would I come back for this role? The Committee for Melbourne was founded in 1985. It brings together the biggest businesses and organisations of Melbourne to do networking activities and gives policy advice to government to keep Melbourne the world’s most liveable city. It is 100% private sector funded. It is a way of businesses and organisations, collectively, giving back to the community around them.
Historically, what have we been doing, what are we involved with? Well we brought the designers of London’s docklands out to Melbourne, back in ‘85 to have a look at our docklands which brought about the redesign and the reconstruction of Docklands, the free City Circle tram came from the Committee for Melbourne, some green roofs programs – for gardens on the stop of our CBD buildings came out of the Committee for Melbourne, the bud lighting on Collins Street and Swanston Street came out of the Committee for Melbourne. So I’d like to say that the Committee for Melbourne does everything from changing light bulbs to changing suburbs and everything in between.
It is an organisation which allows us to sit around a table and turn the ‘they’ into the ‘we’ – instead of talking about ‘they’ (whomever that is) doing something about this or that problem, we say ‘No, we’ll do it.’ Bringing the collective views, opinions, knowledge and capacity of the private sector and its staff, to get things done.
So what are we doing at the moment? What is important for us, looking forward to the future?
Well, we believe that Dick Smith is the greatest threat to the future of the ability of major cities in Australia. Why? He promotes this vision that we can cap the population growth of our cities, and we should cap the population growth of our cities. Why do we see this as dangerous? Not even the most autocratic governments in the world can cap their population. Many have tried. The fact that whether you want it or not, whether you think it is a good idea or not, you can’t actually do it. It is not possible, particularly in a free and democratic society, to cap our population.
Our population growth comes from three places. Interstate migration, international migration and natural reproduction. Let’s have a look at these three – for to cap our population, we would need to cap all three.
Can we cap interstate migration? Well, our Constitution guarantees freedom of movement between States. The only way we could cap interstate migration is if we made Melbourne ugly, and that’s not a good idea.
International Migration: Can we cap international migration? Well, technically, legally – yes, we could. Is it a good idea? No. Hands up – and bear with me for a moment – who here is not Australian born? Noow just take a look around the room at the hands. Do we really want to exclude future generations of this sort of percentage of people who give to our community from all over the world by capping, stopping international migration? Absolutely not.
And thirdly, natural reproduction. 0.6% of our population growth which is about 1.9% in Melbourne, comes from natural reproduction. Pray tell, how do we cap that? Therefore it is a fiction to say that we could cap our population growth, no matter how attractive an idea it may seem.
So why is Dick Smith such a threat? If he wins the public discourse debate and somehow we get the general population to believe that you can cap population growth, how do we invest in roads, public transport, hospitals and schools we need for the future if every time a politician says we need to spend ‘x’ number of dollars on this piece of infrastructure and the general population says ‘Hang on, we didn’t want to grow.’ We would find ourselves in twenty or thirty years time with a city that does have a growing population because we can’t cap those three factors but we haven’t built the infrastructure, the roads, the schools, the hospitals and things we need.
For the Committee for Melbourne, one of the most important things for us to have on our agenda is that it is much better to plan for growth and slow that implementation down if growth doesn’t happen than it is to pretend that growth isn’t happening and then try and catch up afterwards.
If we want to give our children a more congested and a more polluted future let’s pretend we’re not going to grow. If we want to give our children a less congested and a less polluted future then let’s plan for the challenges that growth brings – and this is what the Committee for Melbourne is doing.
I’ve put up on the table just a sample of the current series of reports we are doing on shaping Melbourne. There are only five or six copies up there but it is downloadable from our website if you are interested in the policy debate about the future for Melbourne. Very easy website: www.melbourne.org.au but we are also, as the Committee for Melbourne, one of the guardians of brand image ‘Melbourne’. We look out for threats to brand image Melbourne, and opportunities for brand image Melbourne, and let me touch on each of those, just quickly.
Under the idea of threats, clearly one of the biggest threats to brand image Melbourne at the moment is the issue around violence and international students. Melbourne is not a violent city by any stretch of the imagination and I will go back to my comment about fourteen year old girls going to a mass public event and mum saying ‘See you when you get home.’
We have a perception of violence in Melbourne that we need to fix. Part of it is that there is more violence than we would like in our community but by any global measures, we are one of the least violent societies in the world. And think about it, we see a lot of non-lethal violence on the front page of our newspapers and there are two reasons we have non-lethal violence on the front page of our newspapers. One is we have non-lethal violence, and we need to fine-tune our community and our society, to reduce that. The second reason we have non-lethal violence on the front page of our newspapers is that there is not enough ‘lethal’ violence to keep it off.
It’s actually a measure of success of how mild an event makes the front page of our newspapers. Would non-lethal violence make the front of The New York Times? No. Would it make the front page of the London Times? No, let alone the Islamabad Gazette, let along Kigali, let alone Manila, let alone Colombo. So we sometimes need a bit of a reality check and do something that Australians are very, very bad at: that is self-congratulation.
We have managed to build a very good society, while we must fine-tune to keep improving, we must congratulate ourselves on what we’ve done well.
There is a very good line in the ‘Shaping Melbourne Report’ up on the table that starts, that says this ‘Melbourne marks the beginning of its current rate of improvement from 1990 when we were voted the world’s most liveable city.’ Now I love that line, because it says a lot about how we measure ourselves. We don’t measure ourselves against the top ten, we don’t even measure ourselves against the top one. We mark the beginning of our improvement from when we were voted the world’s best. In other words, we got there and said ‘Right. Now how do we get better?’
And that’s the on-going challenge we have in this society is to build on that strength that we have and continue to get better by being realistic about what we need to improve, and being realistic where we’re already good.
So let’s go back to the international students. We did a bit of a study and we noticed that most of the acts of violence against international students happen between a point of public transport and a point of part-time employment. And generally because people were walking across parks at midnight in Footscray.
Now in any major city in the world, you just don’t do that. And one of the things that I have learnt in my life is, when you are living and working in someone else’s culture, you always, not sometimes, you always inadvertently make some sort of cultural faux pas that increases your vulnerability.
For me when I moved into Islamabad I found a gym around the corner from home and I thought ‘Ripper!’ whacked on the shoes, shorts and t-shirt and I went to do a jog to the gym to do a workout. I got half a block before the abuse turned me round. Because men didn’t wear shorts in Islamabad. I knew women didn’t but I didn’t know that men didn’t.
As my mother used to always tell me ‘Andrew, everyone needs to be told everything at least once.’
So, who’s telling these kids where it is safe to walk and where it’s not in Melbourne? They’ve read all this bumpf that it is safe and friendly with Melbourne being a wonderful city, which is true. But who’s told them ‘Don’t walk across the park at midnight.’
Truthfully, the only person who can is the employer, because it must be site-specific. A safe access between point of public transport and point of employment must be done by the employer. So, together with the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, we’ve called in the main employers of international students, 7-Eleven, McDonalds, Woolworths, Taxi Association and said ‘What do you think about this? We should do it.’ And the employers said ‘You’re right.’
So we’re creating a voluntary Code of Conduct for the employment of international students to incorporate security and cultural awareness training as part of staff induction programs, flexibility around scheduling around exam periods and an undertaking to respect employment legislation.
That is a very good collaborative and cooperative approach to a problem. Here is a problem, identify where the real solution is, pull the people around the table and solve the problem. This is what the Committee for Melbourne is. It’s a collection of bringing people together to solve problems but also to look out for opportunities.
Here is a really good one – Melbourne is the philanthropic corporate responsibility and humanitarian hub of Australia. We have just never said that.
We like to say we’re Number One for sport, we’re Number One for culture, we’re Number One for food, we’re Number One for shopping and if you listen to the Premier, he also says we’re Number One for romance, but I am yet to see that.
But we are also Number One for corporate social responsibility, philanthropy and humanitarian affairs. And think about this, the big NGOs of Australia: Save the Children Australia, World Vision Australia, Australian Red Cross, Oxfam Australia, are all in Melbourne, not Canberra. The big philanthropic funds: Pratts, Smorgans, Myers are all in Melbourne, not Sydney. And the global corporate social responsibility of Rio, BHP, ANZ, NAB, Optus, Telstra, SKM and others are in Melbourne.
And we have this really interesting confluence of factors in history coming together today. One, we have a growing understanding of ineffectiveness and inefficiencies of the United Nations and large NGOs in international development, I’ve been in that game for a number of years, I can justify that statement.
Secondly, we have a growing professionalisation coming out of community investment and corporate sociability programs and thirdly, a growing demand from Generation Y to have a social outcome as part of their work.
This confluence point of three things, growing dissatisfaction with the public sector delivery mechanisms, growing confidence in the private sector delivery mechanisms and growing demand from Generation Y, means that the people who can understand this, the city, the town, the companies, that understand this first, can take a genuine global leadership position.
Melbourne is so well placed for this, because we are that philanthropic corporate social responsibility and humanitarian hub of Australia. So why don’t we do something to make us a leader in the world at this. So we have. In the Committee for Melbourne, we’ve pulled together a little informal group, BHP, Rio, ANZ, NAB, Optus, Telstra, KPMG, SKM, Winston Young, Australia Post and the Myer Foundation. Between them there is 700 million dollars of annual development spending coming out of just those eleven organisations in the Committee for Melbourne.
BHP Billiton spends 1% of pre-tax profit on community investment programs globally, that’s two hundred million US dollars a year, making them the third largest development agency in Australia, bigger than the Red Cross. Five companies at the global level, the size of BHP spend one billion dollars. That’s the same budget as the United Nations Development Program. In other words, it only takes five big companies to spend the same amount of money on development as the international organisation we rely on to bring the world out of poverty.
The top one hundred in the world spend fifteen billion dollars. That’s the same budget as the entire United Nations system, including all peace keeping and security affairs. As a market it is estimated at being fifty-nine billion dollars a year.
Now, Miss World says that we want everyone to be friendly and peaceful and kind to animals, I think that we actually have a way of doing it. And I think we can do it in Melbourne.
I think that we can build off the goodwill that exists within the private sector, within our philanthropic organisations, within groups like the ones I’m sure many of you had participated in, and instead of just being the Australian leader, let’s be the global leader. Let’s, over the next few years, build Melbourne to be the private sector version of Geneva. Where we can have a meaningful impact on the world, into the future and have the same impact upon Melbourne as putting the Red Cross in Geneva in 1859.
And let me put this to you, why is the Red Cross in Geneva?
Many people say, when I ask this question, ‘Ah, it’s because Switzerland is neutral.’ Actually, it’s the other way around. In 1859 Switzerland, as we now know it hadn’t fully confederated and the fact that the Red Cross was in Geneva, created a mentality of neutrality that created the entire national culture that then brought the League of Nations to Geneva after World War I – that created the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva after World War II. That’s the impact of a vision.
If we get this right in Melbourne, what can we do for this city over the next fifty or one hundred years? It’s a great convergence point in history and we have an enormous opportunity to grab it.
Let me now, be just slightly self-indulgent for a moment. I would like to stray from what I was asked to talk about to pay my respects to a man who should have been here.
Many of you will know Tony Hewison AM. He received his Order of Australia for services to education. He died two weeks ago.
He was my best friend’s father. He was my headmaster, he was a life-mentor and a lifetime friend. In the last Speech Night that he gave as Headmaster of St Michael’s Grammar, he set a list of characteristics by which you should measure one’s life. Now I’m sure that many of you would agree with, and live by this list. The list that he gave to students should set their lives is this:
One should have: personal integrity, total honesty, love for others, moral courage and a courage to speak out when others are silent, you should take responsibility for yourself and for your actions, you should have perseverance and endurance, the acceptance of the rough with the smooth, personal obligation, doing one’s duty as well as proclaiming one’s rights, maintaining enquiring minds, and seeking lives free of empty cant, a sense of community as well as a declaration of individuality, self-confidence and a healthy pride, respect for others and humility and above all, a willingness to learn.
It’s a very strong list of great characteristics that Tony lived by all of his life and passed on to many of the students that were under his care. Tony was a worthy Order of Australia recipient, and it is of great sadness to me that he is not here today when he should have been.
So I would like to finish by saying Tony was a great person, the characteristics are what we need in our citizens and they are the characteristics that many of you have clearly shown in your lives and your work. So in thanking Tony, I would also like to thank you for your work for Australia. Thank you.
More discussion like this is in: