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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9263

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:01): I move:

That the House:

(1) notes that:

(a) 2014 is the Centenary year of Red Cross in Australia, a significant milestone in the social history of the nation and commemorating 100 years of humanitarian service to the people of Australia;

(b) most Australians have shared a personal connection with Red Cross, from its humanitarian role during two world wars, to preparing, responding to and recovering from natural disasters, or helping vulnerable people and communities overcome disadvantage, and through its world class national blood service; and

(c) for 100 years the Australian Red Cross has enjoyed a unique auxiliary status to the public authorities in the humanitarian field, working in partnership with governments of all political persuasions, in Australia and internationally, to alleviate suffering in a voluntary aid capacity whilst adhering to its principles of independence, neutrality and impartiality;

(d) Australian Red Cross is part of the world's largest humanitarian movement, with tens of millions of volunteers working in 189 countries, united by the fundamental principle of preventing and alleviating human suffering, without discrimination, wherever it may be found in times of war, conflict, disaster or personal crisis;

(2) recognises that:

(a) today the Australian Red Cross has a network of over one million volunteers, members, staff, donors, aid workers and supporters; and

(b) through this network, the Australian Red Cross mobilises the power of humanity to work right across the country in local communities in every state and territory, and further afield, to help transform the lives of vulnerable people in need, whoever they are; and

(3) calls on all honourable members to:

(a) join the Australian Red Cross in celebrating the 100th anniversary of its founding on 13 August 1914, nine days after the outbreak of World War I;

(b) congratulate generations of Australians for their extraordinary contributions through the everyday work of Red Cross; and

(c) continue to support the independent, neutral and impartial humanitarian mission of Red Cross to work with and assist the most vulnerable people in need, both in Australia and internationally.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Ewen Jones ): Is the motion seconded?

Ms Hall: I second the motion.

Ms PLIBERSEK: The Australian Red Cross is a remarkable community organisation that has served this nation with distinction for 100 years. Its work has grown and changed over the century, but its core purpose has remained the same. In the words of the motto chosen to celebrate its centenary, the Australian Red Cross is an organisation of "people helping people".

The Australian Red Cross grew from an international body, created as the International Committee for the Relief of the Wounded in 1863. Its founder, Henry Dunant, had been appalled by the terrible deaths and the appalling state of the men maimed in battles he had seen in the struggle for Italian unification. He was shocked by the inadequacy of food and by the lack of medical help. He enlisted women from Castiglione, a local town, and urged them to make no distinction between nationalities. The women responded with the phrase "tutti fratelli"—all men are brothers.

In Australia, the Red Cross was founded in 1914, nine days after the outbreak of World War I, by Lady Munro Ferguson, the wife of the Governor-General, Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson. Lady Helen centred the work of the Australian Red Cross in her own home. She said it was women's work and she wanted the organisation to have women in leadership roles at all levels. The organisation has retained that character of being predominantly a women's movement throughout its history in Australia. Today, almost three-quarters of the staff and four in five volunteers and members are women.

During World War I, young women who had limited access to the workforce were able to participate more actively in the war effort. They were trained in first aid and home nursing and carried out domestic and nursing duties in military hospitals and convalescent homes. At the Red Cross headquarters in Lady Helen's home, Government House in Melbourne, the ballroom became the central depot, factory and warehouse—receiving, creating and dispatching food parcels and other goods. Hundreds of volunteers came to work there every day throughout the war.

Of course, the Red Cross's role expanded in World War II and, by 1944, towards the end of the war, the Red Cross had 450,000 members; one in every 12 Australian women were members. It was the largest women's organisation in Australia during the war years and probably ever. I certainly remember being a member of the Junior Red Cross in primary school, like I am sure many members of parliament were.

After World War II, the organisation changed its focus to providing humanitarian assistance at home and overseas, helping care for returned soldiers and their families, and for millions of displaced people throughout Europe. Today, again, we see a change in the role that the Australian Red Cross has set for itself. The leader of the Australian Red Cross, Robert Tickner, gave a terrific speech on 21 May, talking about wars, laws and humanity. He described the work of the Red Cross in Australia in addition to the fantastic blood service provided by the Red Cross. He said there is 'international work with a priority but not exclusive focus on the Asia-Pacific area'. Secondly, there is work on international and domestic disasters and emergency. Thirdly, they are working with asylum seekers and refugees—and he says that the Red Cross currently have approximately 12,000 clients in that area. Next, he said they are:

… working in programs in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; tackling the social exclusion faced by so many marginalised groups ranging from older vulnerable people living in the community to young offenders or former offenders and the families; and an increasingly place based focus on shifting our work to the most vulnerable communities where social problems have proven so intractable over time.

Robert Tickner also spoke very strongly about international humanitarian law, where Australian Red Cross has become one of the global leaders. Their work is raising awareness that even wars have laws, that civilians should be spared during conflict.

The Australian Red Cross has become a leader in arguing the case for the complete banning of nuclear weapons—some of the most destructive weapons known to humanity. He makes the point that 'As a global community we have acted against chemical and biological weapons, anti-personnel landmines and cluster munitions,' but that nuclear weapons still exist.

I give my congratulations to all of those volunteers and staff of the Red Cross for the wonderful work they do. It is very disappointing to note that this year, for the first time, the $5 million grant that the government has given every year to the Red Cross has not been paid to the Red Cross. This is an annual grant that started under the Howard government, was continued under the Rudd and Gillard governments and for the first time, this year, has not been paid.