Generous Australians? Forum Asks the Question
22 December 2004 at 12:12 pm
Can we call Australia a generous society? That was the debate at a Melbourne Forum recently which saw some fur fly as the panellists weighed in on everything from refugees to raffles.
ABC Radio National and The Asia-Pacific Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment at Swinburne University joined forces to investigate whether Australia has become ‘The Ungenerous Society’. It was also supported by the Lord Mayors Charitable Fund.
Four panellists tested whether notions of altruism and benevolence have been snuffed out by the combined pressures of fear born of the age of terrorism, a more uncertain financial future in an era of high mortgages and user pays, and an increasingly individually oriented society.
The panellists were
– Daniel Petre – philanthropist and former head of Microsoft Australia and the Packer Group’s e-Corp
– Michael Gurr – playwright and author of “Julia 3”
– Marie Fox – immediate past CEO of Volunteering NSW and
– Michael Liffman – Director, the Asia-Pacific Centre for Philanthropy and Social Investment at Swinburne University
The moderator was award winning journalist and author Peter Mares. Peter is the current presenter of the Australia Forum series.
From the opening discussion three out of the four panellists claimed that Australians are not generous.
Marie Fox who now runs her own consultancy doesn’t believe Australians are very generous because she said they only respond when confronted by need or when asked to by family or friends.
She said Australians don’t plan their giving –it’s not built into their lives.
Michael Gurr described Australians as selectively generous. He used the Tampa boat people example as a barometer of the nation where Australians were less than generous in responding to their plight.
He said Australians only softened their approach to refugees when they found out the name of the sole detainee on Manus Island and discovered he had a cat!
Daniel Petre weighed in saying categorically that Australians are not generous and giving as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was half a percent compared with much higher percentages in the UK and US.
Michael Liffman said his argument is less judgemental and Australians were generous and sentimental although their generosity is not sophisticated or strategic.
The panel discussed ways of improving philanthropy in Australia from changes to existing tax laws to a wide-ranging education program.
All agreed that both ‘sticks and carrots’ were needed to grow the pool of funds available for charities and foundations.
Daniel Petre urged for more pressure on wealthy individuals to ‘give’ saying it is a responsibility not a choice!
The discussion was recorded for broadcast as one of a new series of Australia Forums to lead the 2005 line-up for Radio National’s high profile “Big Ideas” program (Sundays at 5pm). The expected broadcast date is February 20th, 2005.