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Wednesday 7 March 2007

Robert Tickner, Chief Executive, Australian Red Cross


Red Cross

In the last decade in Australia national and state governments have been having some intense debates about how best to achieve greater cooperation to address the national interest across diverse policy areas including water resources, education and gun control, just to name a few.

Out of the media spotlight, however, some parts of the not for profit sector have been having similar discussions and debates about how to organise themselves to more effectively meet the needs of the people they serve.

This is certainly the case for Australian Red Cross, which has been providing vital services to vulnerable members of the community for over 92 years. We've been very successful in what we do. However I am very proud of the fact that Red Cross in Australia is an organisation which has continually innovated and adapted to meet the needs of marginalised and disadvantaged people.

For 90 years our structure was based mainly on its state and territory divisions. This approach was effective in delivering local services but dramatically limited its capacity to respond effectively on a coordinated national basis to a range of major public health and other challenges.

Over the course of the last two years sweeping changes have occurred with the full support of the entire organisation. And the Board now has overwhelming responsibility for the work of leading Australian Red Cross, which, is as it should be. The organisation: now speaks with one voice on critical national issues; is able to effectively coordinate national programs across the country; and we are increasingly able to promote our identity and our ideals more effectively at every level of government.

These are just some of the real dividends of organisational reform.

Most importantly, we have achieved this without sacrificing the local connectedness which is essential for all the work we do. Our local members and volunteers continue to be our greatest strength.

However it is not only state and territory boundaries which present challenges to the delivery of effective health and community services by the not for profit sector.

Sometimes the boundaries we construct around our organisations are an obstacle to working effectively. There has to be a greater openness to potential new strategic relationships between not for profits and with government organisations, and also with the private sector in appropriate cases.

We can no longer afford to work in silos.

I have to admit that within Australian Red Cross there is a long history of going it alone, but we now realize that by working with others we can add value and deliver more effective services to vulnerable people.

Thus we are building strategic partnerships with Indigenous communities from Palm Island to the Tiwi Islands and the Pit lands in Central Australia. 

We are also proud of many other new strategic relationships with organisations like Beyond Blue in our mental health programs, the Victorian Foundation for the Survivors of Torture in our refugee programs and many others.

Recently we have also been asking some very tough questions about the extent to which we are meeting our core objective of targeting THE MOST vulnerable in our communities. For this reason we are now working more with particularly marginalised people who have been neglected in the past. People with a mental illness, prisoners and their families and Australia's Indigenous people where we have rarely gone before.

We also have to ask ourselves whether all our programs are reaching out to the whole of our client group or just scratching the surface.

Australian Red Cross and fellow not for profit organisations provide unique and significant contributions to meeting the needs of highly vulnerable people in Australia and internationally. But we cannot rest on our laurels. We are the custodians of scarce resources given to us by generous donors.

It is incumbent upon us to keep asking the hard questions about the effectiveness and efficiency of our efforts and to strive for best practice in every thing we do.

We must not deviate from this goal.


Robert Tickner  

Secretary General - Chief Executive Officer 

Australian Red Cross

Former Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Affairs