I am pleased to rise to speak on the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation Bill 2016.
This is a bill that primarily deals with governance issues surrounding the foundation, and I understand it is at the request of the foundation that these amendments are being made to effectively modernise what is really quite an old foundation.
The fund was established in 1923 by Sir John Swanson, who was a successful businessman and philanthropist in Melbourne. He worked to establish the Lord Mayor’s Fund primarily for metropolitan hospitals and charities, with a vision of coordinating and organising charitable giving in Melbourne. That indeed is what has taken place. He was seen as a visionary thinker. Not only did he fund the foundation but over the years many other bequests have been made and there are other foundations that are administered via that fund.
Over the past 90 years the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation has continued to be a connection for people who are able to give to charitable organisations and those in genuine need. In looking at this foundation, it is very pleasing to see that the bill actually extends the scope of its operation into regional areas, because previously it has primarily been used to fund organisations in Melbourne. It is not unusual for a charitable trust to be formed in this way, so I think it will be very pleasing for people in regional areas to be able to make applications to a fund such as this for the purposes that it has.
In looking at the issue of charitable funds, it is interesting to simply look at what motivates people to establish trusts of this kind. I would like to mention a few I know of that I have come across in my day. The first is the Hugh Williamson Foundation Trust. Hugh grew up in country Victoria, and he witnessed firsthand the difficulties of life in rural areas and how these difficulties were exacerbated by World War I, which stripped our towns of young men. They were really very long, hard years, so it was very important in his view to provide a fund to benefit those people. As a young man, he began his working life in 1916 at the Ballarat Banking Company. He worked his way up through the ranks of the ANZ bank and eventually became general manager, retiring in 1961.
The Hugh Williamson Foundation has been particularly important in my life because it has funded Leadership Victoria at various times. Leadership was one of the aims of the fund, particularly in rural areas. I had the great privilege of undertaking the Williamson Community Leadership Program in 2000, and from a leadership and an awareness-raising point of view and as a rural person I found that a remarkable and very broadening experience.
Perhaps the other trust that is one of the most important to my electorate, in particular to Greater Shepparton, is the Fairley Foundation, which was established by Sir Andrew Fairley and his wife Mineta only a short time ago, in 1965. That may seem like a very long time ago to some members but it does not to me! Sir Fairley was the managing director of the Shepparton preserving company SPC, and he created this fund to benefit the people of the Greater Shepparton area. My association particularly with that organisation is through leadership. The Fairley Foundation for the first 15 years funded the Fairley Leadership Program, a regional program in the Goulburn Broken area of Shepparton, and that has been a program that has brought forth many leaders in our region. You would rarely find a board or a committee that did not have a Fairley fellow on it. Leadership, particularly in rural areas, is such an important thing because of the lack of opportunity often to access those sorts of programs.
I myself was the chair of the Fairley Leadership Program for a number of years, and I spent many graduation dinners telling people at the end of their course how important it was that they should stand up if an issue troubles them or they think needs changing — stand up and do something about it. In October 2014 those words reverberated in my ear when I decided to stand in the 2014 election. So sometimes we have to do what we say and advise other people to do.
Sir Andrew Fairley was a prominent Victorian business figure. He arrived in Shepparton as a small child — one of six children — with his parents, grew up and started work in a number of areas. Fairleys department store was the only department store in Shepparton for many years, but it was really his time at SPC that was remarkable. He was at the age of 37 when he joined the board. Unfortunately SPC has had many struggles over the years. He was able to bring it through many of those, and his success led him to be in a position at the conclusion of that time to establish a foundation for the benefit of so many people.
The other foundation that I have had the great pleasure of being involved with is the Goulburn Valley Health Foundation, a great community foundation. What happened was that in 1989 there was a large fundraising community effort to find funds to build the children’s ward at Goulburn Valley Health. It was so oversubscribed that after the building of what was then a state-of-the-art children’s ward, the foundation was set up to hold the balance of the funds. Over the years that has grown into a reasonably substantial corpus, and of course the hospital now accepts donations and bequests from many other people into that fund for the benefit of the hospital, not unlike the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Fund at its inception in that it was primarily for hospitals and like charitable organisations. The Goulburn Valley Health Foundation trust deed was quite limited in that the funds had to be used for children’s ward purposes, and over the years that also has been modernised, as many trusts have to be, to deal with what is the current circumstance. So that has been broadened into being a trust that can allocate funds for mothers and children — a broader outcome than previously was the case.
One of the particular interests of the foundation at the moment is possibly the establishment or encouragement of the establishment of a mother-baby unit in Shepparton, something that is in fact entirely lacking throughout regional Victoria. That service, such as that provided by the Tweddle Child and Family Health Service here in Melbourne and the Queen Elizabeth Centre, enables mothers, fathers and their children who may be experiencing a range of difficulties to live in after the birth of their child. That is something that we do not have in Shepparton.
We have the lowest breastfeeding rates in the state in Shepparton, and that is so related, I think, to the fact that these days mothers, after giving birth, are discharged from hospital within 24 hours or 48 hours. The fundamental thing that I think is really wrong in all of this is the fact that if a mother and child are continuing to have feeding difficulties — in other words, the child is not feeding appropriately — that is not regarded as a reason for a mother and baby to remain in hospital. That has created significant disadvantage in our community in that we have a high teenage birth rate and of course these low breastfeeding rates, so charitable organisations play a very significant role in improving the quality of life of so many people.
Something such as a mother-baby unit is just a really good reflection of how a charitable organisation can address disadvantage or problems for people following the birth of their children. It can fund leadership programs and indeed many other programs that are so essential to the community and where government is unable to or fails to pick up the tab. Without these charitable organisations and foundations within our community, we would have a lot more disadvantage and so many areas of family life and community life would not be addressed in any significant way. So rather than speak to the bill, I simply commend the bill to the house. The detail has been gone through by others.