Firstly I’d like to thank Brett Charles for his introduction today, and what a great job on the Flag Ceremony by the YEP Students. I’d also like to thank District Governor Graham Koch for inviting me to officially open the conference today.
Can I extend a very warm welcome to you all to Cairns and the electorate of Leichhardt, to all those visiting from around District 9550 from Timor Leste, the Northern Territory, and other areas of Queensland.
I’m positive that the six Rotary Clubs here in Cairns itself are looking forward to being able to showcase their city, as will the regional clubs whose areas you’ll hopefully get to experience while you’re here.
I have to say, my electorate includes some pretty diverse country and communities but District 9550 even more so.
Covering 1.5 million square kilometres, with 50 clubs and about 1300 members, it extends from the coastal cities of Townsville and Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef, to the Tableland and the inland mining centre of Mt Isa, across to Darwin and the incredible Kakadu, up to the unique and challenging area of Timor Leste.
Now, the northernmost boundary of the Leichhardt electorate is just three kilometres from Papua New Guinea. I’ve visited PNG a number of times and while geographically we are very close, socially and economically we are almost worlds apart. That is why I think that you are very fortunate to have Timor Leste within your District, and the opportunities that that brings in terms of being able to make a real difference on the ground with your projects.
An issue close to my heart in PNG that doesn’t get the attention from our government that it deserves is the Tuberculosis situation. I’m currently working with a not for profit organisation on projects in the Western Province of PNG and there may well be a role for Rotary there. Sometimes it seems to me that Rotary can achieve things that governments can’t, or won’t, get involved in.
In Timor Leste, like Papua New Guinea, education is seen as the key in getting people out of the cycle of poverty and making them self-sufficient, giving them the skills to enable a hand up, not a hand out.
And it takes everyday people with courage, determination, integrity and a sense of adventure to make a difference, and I think that is what Rotary is all about.
I know there has been tremendous growth in Rotary since its inception, and people outside the organisation must sometimes wonder what exactly goes on here.
Doing some preparation for today’s event I found a front page of The Cairns Post, from 12 September 1950, an article headlined Value of Rotary to a Community.
The article reports on a visit by Mr Phil Lovejoy of Chicago in the USA the general secretary of Rotary International who addressed 70 Rotarians from Cairns, Mareeba, Atherton, Babinda and Innisfail at the Cairns City Council Chambers.
Back in 1950, Mr Lovejoy asked: “What is the secret of the success of this vital Rotary movement? What is the secret of this organisation which, as you all know, is reasonably difficult to get into, and so very easy to get out of? Why is it that men when they have become members of a Rotary club seldom leave the movement?
To explain it, he told them a little story:
He said that he was waiting for a bus in a little American town some years ago when he met the personification of the true worth of Rotary in the form of a frail old woman, about 70 years of age.
It was raining heavily and there were about half a dozen other people waiting for the same bus. It was 11.30pm. He was wrapped up in his own thoughts when he heard a timid little voice exclaim, “I see you are a member of Rotary”. He was wearing his Rotary emblem at the time.
“I turned around to meet an elderly lady, and I said to her: Yes, I am a member, but what do you know about this movement?
It was then that she looked at me and made this unforgettable statement:
“I know this about Rotary. When Rotary goes into a town it brings with it a finer and higher type of life for that community.”
Mr Lovejoy, back in 1950, said – and it is equally relevant today in 2012 that “every Rotarian present would appreciate the significance and the truth of what the woman said. Every Rotarian knew and appreciated the vitally humane service Rotary clubs throughout the world rendered their communities, be it small or large districts.”
From what I can see there is only one critical difference between 1950 and 2012, and that is that Rotary is no longer a men’s organisation. You now have a significant number of women Rotarians and I think that the organisation is all the richer for it.
Here in Leichhardt I’ve seen numerous times, first hand, how Rotary has taken ownership of campaigns that have done an incredible job in raising awareness of issues, raising money for causes, and generally making a huge difference especially to young people in the region.
Some that spring to mind include;
– The ‘Great Train Ride’ adventure on the Kuranda Scenic Railway
– Taking disadvantaged kids on a day out to Green Island on the ‘Dream Boat’
– The Cairns Rotary Duck Race is a must-do and a fantastic family and corporate event
– The Day for Daniel community walk, raising awareness and money for child safety and the Daniel Morcombe Foundation
There are of course many, many other events, driven by people working selflessly at a local, regional, national and international level to better the lives of others.
Most recently, I’ve been strongly supportive of Cairns Rotary’s relationship with the Cairns Men’s Shed to build myna bird traps. I was there when the 500th trap was made in April and they estimated they’d caught 10,000 mynas.
I was told earlier this week that they’re now up to 680 traps I hate to say how well they’re doing because they really don’t need any more publicity or more orders but it’s just a fantastic achievement. As you well know, it’s not just about making and selling the traps and getting rid of these pest birds, it’s about building up camaraderie between a group of guys, giving them an outlet to socialise, learn skills and be creative.
Lastly, we can’t forget the longstanding student exchanges that see kids from all over the world live and study for a year in their host communities, staying in the homes of Rotarians.
In fact, Mr Lovejoy back in 1950 had a comment about the exchanges too. He told the members that the success of the program was in the hand of the Rotarians themselves.
“Take the students into your homes,” he said ”Let them see how you live. Give them an inside view of your Australian way of life. They will not gain anything by remaining in the dormitories of their universities. Extend to them the hand of friendship that they may get to know your better.”
From the ranks of these students, he said, might emerge future world leaders.
I would be very interested in finding out just how many of those students did, indeed, go on to become world leaders.
Looking over the program you’ve got a fantastic line-up ahead of you over the next two days and an extremely interesting selection of speakers. A few which caught my eye
Dr Jaeme Zwart, who has done four tours of duty as an Interplast volunteer reconstructive surgeon to Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
Holly Ransom is an inspiration at just 22 she has taken on leadership opportunities with not for profit organisations that have seen her travel around the world, including drafting and presenting a Peace Charter to the Dalai Lama.
Just while we’re on His Holiness, this is another cause that is close to my heart. I only recently returned from Ottawa and the 6th International Parliamentarians Conference on Tibet, when I spent a weekend with the Dalai Lama and the Prime Minister of Tibet and members of the Tibetan government in exile, and just to do a little bit of name dropping, my good friend Richard Gere.
I’m very passionate about this cause and will be travelling to Dar Es Salaam in northern India the holy city of Tibet and the headquarters of the Tibetan Government in exile in early July at the invitation of the Dalai Lama.
Getting back to the speakers, I’d also like to mention our own Dr Scott Ritchie from the Tropical Public Health Unit in Cairns, who works to manage mosquito borne diseases such as dengue, malaria and Japanese encephalitis.
And I’ve long been a proponent for better mental health services so I also commend the work of Noel Trevaskis, adviser to the Centre for Mental Health Research at the Australian National University, and David Copley, who in 2008 became the first male Aboriginal Registered Nurse in South Australia to complete a Post Graduate Diploma in Mental Health Nursing.
In closing, I joined Rotary back in 1992 and was very proud to be involved in such an organisation. By the time I became the representative for Leichhardt in 1996 though, commitments meant that I was unable to meet my attendance obligations required by Rotary.
However I pride myself on the fact that my club, the Earlville branch, has always maintained my association as an honorary member. Whenever the opportunity presents itself I still attend Rotary meetings whenever I can as a Rotarian, not as a politician.
So finally, I thank you again for the privilege of giving me the opportunity to speak at this esteemed gathering, and wish you all the best for your time here.
I’d like you to consider spending a few extra days after the conference – be sure to take in the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree rainforest, head up to the arts centre of Kuranda and our beautiful Tableland, to the coastal village of Port Douglas or just enjoy the Esplanade here in Cairns while the sun shines.