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Australia Day Address 2006 by David Bussau

David Bussau delivered the Australia Day Address at the Conservatorium of Music on 24 January 2005.


David Bussau AM is an inspiring social entrepreneur who has been hailed for his innovative approach to solving world poverty. He challenged the conventional wealth redistribution model of development by pioneering a process known as micro enterprise development (MED), addressing the root causes of poverty through responsible wealth creation.

David is the founder of Opportunity International Australia, a partner organisation in a global network that provides small loans and training to budding entrepreneurs in 27 developing countries, empowering them to start or expand their own small businesses.


A Giving Nation

Thank you, The Honourable John Watkins, MP Member for Ryde. Deputy Premier, Minister for Trans- port, and Minister for State Development, Mr Paul Salteri, Tenix Pty Limited and The Honourable John Murray, Chairman of the Australia Day Council, representatives of the Eora people, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is a great honour to deliver the Australia Day Address on its 10th Anniversary. Over the past decade our world has changed at a startling rate, on the one hand creating amazing opportunities, while on the other new risks and anxieties for those who feel left behind or struggle to find their place. In the face of such rapid change and great complexity it can be hard to make sense of not only this world, but also to make sense of what it means to be Australian.

On this special day in our nation’s calendar, I’d like us to consider three things:

  • who we are as Australians

  • our place in the world, and

  • how we can make a difference.

Australia Day is rightly a moment of celebration, of togetherness, a time to salute achievement and progress, to affirm who we are as a unique people and place. At the same time, it provides a chance to examine what we can do better, and to reflect upon where we are going as a country in the 21st century global community. It is a time to be honest and self searching.

On a day like today we celebrate the beach, the barbeque, the tee shirt. In suburb after suburb there are street parties taking place of ordinary Australians honouring friendship among neighbours. We fly our flag with pride and hopefully feel good about who we are. But what does being Australian really mean"

I came to Australia from New Zealand in 1966 and with limited experience quickly found work as a builder. I saw Australia as a country where you could take a risk and excel. Having grown up in an orphanage and set up my first business – a hot dog stand – at age 16, I had a few dollars, but little else. For an entrepreneurial young man Australia was a land of unlimited opportunity. Within 8 years I had bought the construction company and employed 100 people.

Australia is still a land of opportunity, if you consider the following facts:

  • Our standard of living is among the highest in the world

  • According to World Bank, Australia contains four of the world’s top 10 most liveable cities

  • We have accumulated $742 billion in superannuation savings

  • Conde Nast survey of frequent flyers this year ranked Sydney as the world’s most desirable tourism destination for food and wine

  • The Australian economy has grown at an average of 4% a year for the past 10 years – the highest growth rate in the OECD

  • Australia is one of only three nations globally with an active program to resettle humanitarian refugees.

    We boast over a hundred years of liberal democratic government, a globally respected judiciary with barely a hint of corruption, a skilled and professional civil service, an active and vibrant civil society of voluntary organisations and charities.

    In matters of character and temperament, I see Australians as generous, warm-spirited people, open and relaxed. We are largely free of class distinctions and for the large part have an outstanding record of welcoming those from other nations and races as new migrants to our shores. Between 1947 and 1985, 4.3 million new Australians, representing 100 countries, arrived here.

    The society we are part of today was built on the hard work of struggling settlers, convicts, Aboriginal stockmen, immigrants and entrepreneurs. We have prospered as a nation and we have shown in our response to events around us – the Asian tsunami, East Timorese independence, the Bali bombings - that we can provide a ready response and are willing to share our resources.

    The Australian spirit - which emerges so powerfully in the sporting arena, our defence forces, our spiritual lives, and our pioneering ways - comes from our heritage as a land of battlers. It comes from the Christian foundation that shaped our laws and government. Our heightened sense of justice, of giving everyone a “fair go”, is linked to the fact that many convicts came to this country unjustly.

    From the Hills Hoist to the Cochlear implant, to recent developments by Australian of the Year 2005, Fiona Wood, in new techniques for skin grafting, along with recent Nobel Prize winners for medicine, Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, we have shown ourselves to be not only world leaders but also people who overcome obstacles.

    I’m not saying we are perfect, as we are all well aware there are many aspects of our society we need to address, but on any comparative basis, it is apparent that we are extremely fortunate and are still hanging on to our title as “the lucky country”.

    If we turn to the world around us we see:

  • Of 6 billion people, 2 billion living on $2 a day, one billion living on $1 a day - in what is described as extreme poverty.

  • There are currently 34 conflicts taking place in our world, 8 of which are considered to be major wars. 75 per cent of those killed or wounded in wars are non-combatants.

  • Almost 26 million Africans are currently living with the HIV/AIDs virus, with 3 million infections last year alone.

  • In world rankings, the infant mortality rate averages 128 per thousand live births in the 10 worst cases, all but two of which are on the African continent, compared to 3.68 per cent among the top ten.

So where does Australia fit into this world picture

In the past decade the world has become smaller – more interdependent, more connected, yet more tense. Australia still represents less than 2% of the global economy and on any given day you could read the papers in London and New York and Australia would barely rate a mention. Australia is just one small, resource-rich and flourishing part of a global economic system which has become an unstoppable force. We cannot stand like King Canute on the beach and tell the tide not to come in. We must, however, recognise that globalism has both winners and losers, at home and abroad. We can do better to cushion the blows of pain of loss that can follow from competition and change – to affirm the fact that we are in this together.

Pulling down the shutters when we feel threatened undermines the part of our national character that is open and cares for people in hardship. I believe we can find a balance between our identity as a generous nation and our need for security and protecting our borders. We have the opportunity to position ourselves as a positive influence to other nations, and we can do that from a place of strength given our economic and political stability, our multi-racial composition as a nation, our growing influence and credibility in the region.

In the world of 2006, our concern for others must extend outside our own shores. This means understanding and adjusting to the reality that the decisions and policies we make to protect our own standard of living have the potential to negatively impact our neighbouring countries. Our economic actions, values and ethics directly affect other nations, particularly our closest neighbours in Asia.

I believe the gap between rich and poor within developing countries, and between wealthy and poor countries, presents the greatest threat we now have to global stability. If we are not concerned about the welfare and well-being of those in neighbouring countries we risk widening chasms and bringing about greater political instability. I remember sitting in a steamy jungle in the Philippines, where a bunch of angry young rebels told me they would gladly lay down their guns to live in peace if they had jobs to sustain their families. Hope is a powerful driver.

By any measurement we are a wealthy nation, enjoying a relatively calm political climate and a vibrant democracy. What role can we play in ensuring that poorer nations can tap into the world’s resources, including access to technology, without which the poorest are further isolated?

Alleviating poverty is largely about giving people choice. The poor want education and good food for their children, job security, and access to the financial products we expect in our society. I am excited each time I meet a mother in a dusty slum area who, bursting with pride, tells me about a daughter who is now a professor at a university or a son who is an engineer. She may have spent countless hours on a small fruit stall to get them there, but she did it herself, and her educated children will break free of the oppression of poverty.

They can make choices with their lives.

In developing nations such as Malawi and Ghana, the Philippines and Indonesia, Opportunity International, which we founded 35 years ago, is experiencing huge demand for savings accounts, and health and life insurance products in addition to the loans we started with.

In thirty years of working in the developing world, I have seen poverty and suffering in just about every form. I have seen people buried under the rubble of an earthquake, people whose homes have disappeared in a mudslide, people whose living conditions are worse than those of some animals in this country. But I have also seen joy and celebration of life. People living in poverty are resourceful, motivated and appreciate living in dignity like anyone else. A poor entrepreneur who has struggled on $2 a day knows how to turn a 100 per cent profit on a bag of oranges, and knows how to turn a $100 loan into a business that will feed and educate a whole family.

Creative small business people are the powerhouse of all communities, and more so in developing countries. The challenge is to release the incredible potential in human beings, to enable them to express their creativity and drive.

Jeffrey Sachs, a development economist and advisor to the United Nations, said recently: “Our generation’s challenge is to help the poorest of the poor to escape the misery of extreme poverty so that they may begin their own ascent up the ladder of economic development.”

But can Australians truly make a difference on the world stage?

My answer is a resounding yes. My thesis is that staying connected with the problems of others, both in our own country and abroad, is one of the ways we stay human.

We can start by urging our Federal government to meet Australia’s commitment under the UN Millennium Development Goals to contribute 0.7% of GDP to official aid by 2007.

Revitalising initiatives such as the Virtual Columbo Plan to extend technology to the poor, has the potential to place Australia in a leading position in bridging the digital divide.

Programs like Youth Ambassadors and Antipodeans Abroad, where young Australians are reaching into communities in our Asia-Pacific region and beyond, are building strong bonds built on a first-hand, deeper understanding of our neighbours.

You might well ask: what about our own problems? We certainly have our struggles here in Australia when it comes to the consequences of poverty and isolation.

Mother Theresa was among the most decorated citizens of the 20th Century and close to my heart because of her concern for the poor. She was once asked “what is the biggest problem in the world?” Many in the audience expected her to say poverty. In fact, she said without hesitation, “loneliness”. We can combat the growing issues around isolation, loneliness and depression by staying open to the place of relationships in our lives.

In Australia many in our indigenous communities are locked into poverty. Yet there are some great examples of indigenous people who are prepared to break the mould and look at a model that creates an environment for others to be more productive and less dependent. Initiatives that promote independence and dignity, such as the Cape York projects, allow Aboriginal people to take hold of and determine their own future, to the benefit of the whole community. We can become involved by supporting leaders such as Noel Pearson and Gerhardt Pearson, who are at the forefront of this movement.

This Australia Day the suburbs of Cronulla and Lakemba must receive a mention. You have no doubt read the papers and watched the news and it is not my intention to go over old

ground. What we see is in some ways new to Australia but in another way, one of the most ancient stories of human history. It’s a story of legitimate grievances, one offence piling on another, of escalating anger and retribution, of insecurity, pride, ignorance and fear. Fear of loss of a way of life.

I don’t want to assume the mantle of wisdom to have the answers to some tough problems. But I do have the feeling that in every great problem lies a great opportunity. It is not in peace and comfort that nations forge their destiny but in their response to trouble and strife and challenge. If we can rise to this occasion, through wisdom and strength and hope and humanity, chart a way forward that creates space for difference but insists on a shared community, we will emerge stronger and richer and a source of hope to others.

These are some of the issues we must deal with effectively as we move forward to build a genuine multi-racial nation.

The late Peter Drucker, one of world’s most influential thinkers in business management as well as a mentor and friend, some time ago signalled a shift in the responsibility of caring for citizens within our societies. A decade ago he gathered a group of us together, all entrepreneurs working in the non-profit sector, to examine how we operated.

“Civilizing the city will increasingly become the top priority in all countries -- and particularly in the developed countries …However, neither government nor business can provide the new communities that every major city in the world needs. That is the task of the non- governmental, non-business, non-profit organization,’’ he predicted. He called the social development movement the most important in the past 100 years.

This concept has certainly caught on in Australia. We have a vibrant and growing social entrepreneurship movement which is harnessing the talents of creative people for the benefit of our wider society. Our social entrepreneurs use their time, money, contacts and creativity to address the perplexing social issues we face in our society, things such as poverty, homelessness, abuse, drug-related hardship and family fragmentation. They will manipulate their own and others’ assets on behalf of those with less and they bridge the gap between government, the corporate world and the social sector.

We have all the resources we need within our communities to tackle the challenges we face. I am constantly meeting impressive, passionate Australians with the heart to help build our society. We have a vast army of “half-timers”, those who have achieved success in their various fields and - approaching middle age - want to “give back”.

This is how I started my role in the non-profit arena back in 1974, when I was 35 years old. I felt I had built enough personal wealth and wanted to use my skills and money for the common good. Cyclone Tracy gave me the excuse to have a sea change which led to working in poor communities and I haven’t regretted it for a moment. The half-timers around us may still have two decades of productive output, a wealth of knowledge, great skills in negotiating and financial management that are often lacking in non-profit ventures. We can raise the bar by releasing this latent energy and incorporating high achievers into social ventures.

We have corporate citizenship well and truly on the agenda, though with some way to go, along with a rise in the conscience of investors and employees in regard to their social responsibility. Pro bono work, volunteering, matching gift schemes, cause-related marketing and social and environmental reporting are all part of the corporate landscape in Australia today. As I speak to people around Australia I find a yearning for involvement in something bigger than ourselves.

But perhaps our greatest resource is our youth: the millennial generation, who are hopeful and optimistic and confident they can fix some of the inequities they see around them. They will shape our society by expecting a high level of ethics and pro bono contributions from their employers, by shaking off old paternalistic notions of philanthropy and deploying their gifts for others.

Older Australians need to encourage and nurture the optimism of our young people. We can pass on the collective wisdom of generations through families and the respected elders of our society. We can affirm them in discovering their own uniqueness, their own identity, gifts and talents. We should respect their impatience for change – in the environment, in politics, socially, spiritually.

Today I’d like to assure you that you as an individual are not responsible to solve world poverty. None of us will end civil wars or stop the spread of HIV/Aids in Africa. But each of us can make a difference in the life of our neighbour. We all have something unique inside ourselves that is precious – that is not just for us. I believe that each of us was born with a capacity to give and we have to fight to keep that capacity alive. We change things by responding to the needs of others.

Feel free to start small. Most successful enterprises and activities start that way. My wife Carol and I started with a few small loans to villagers with our own money in Indonesia thirty years ago, and with the hard work of thousands of committed colleagues, Opportunity International now reaches over one million people each year. It was just a small-scale personal response to the poverty and unemployment we saw around us. We did not set out to solve the overwhelming problem of global poverty, we just wanted to help some people in need, and we applied our creativity to the problem we saw.

Many others joined in, and pioneers in other countries reached a similar conclusion about tackling the root causes of poverty. Thousands of groups are now engaged in this arena and micro credit is high on the list of ways to help people out of the worst poverty.

Bono, the well-known singer and social activist from the band U2, was quoted recently in the New York Times as saying, “Give a man a fish; he'll eat for a day. Give a woman microcredit, she, her husband, her children, and her extended family will eat for a lifetime.” Feel free to say no to some things. But let’s not harden our hearts to everything. Too easily we could isolate ourselves in a cocoon or simply give up and say it’s all too hard, too complex, none of the money gets to the people who need it, one person can’t make a difference. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

There is a part of us that is designed to help others. Find that part. Create some space for it in your life. It’s probably not going to be your whole life. But I guarantee you, when you get to the end of your story, you’ll be glad you did.