Every Dollar Given to Charity is A Dollar Wrapped In Love: Launch the One Million Donors Program

6th June 2014  |  Comments  |  Speeches

I'm really delighted to be here with Kelly to launch the One Million Donors Program. I'd encourage, since we're in Canberra, government departments to embrace workplace giving, for everybody to embrace workplace giving, and to introduce their own programs to that effect.  And well done JB Hi-Fi in that regard.

As a Government, we are very keen to support individuals to participate in, and to commit to, charitable giving. As Kelly noted, Lucy and I have supported the Australian Charities Fund for some time and we are passionate believers in the power of philanthropy.

A good question is, Why should we support charities, schools, libraries, hospitals, galleries and research projects? This altruistic impulse is often described as giving back. But, that seems a little bit inadequate to me.  After all, it's not like giving a book back to a friend from whom you've borrowed – although in my experience, most people don't give books back.  So, that's a kind of involuntary philanthropy.

But the whole point of philanthropy is that it is not reciprocal. It is the voluntary surrender of something that is yours, purely for the benefit of others. And it is a critically important part of our social integrity, of our social cohesion. It's a very conservative - and I don't use that in a political sense - it is a very conservative instinct because it seeks to conserve the strength of our society. And Edmund Burke, the great 18th Century conservative writer saw this very clearly when he wrote of society as being a partnership between those of the living, those that are dead, and those that are yet to be born - seeing that chain of continuity, that human continuity. And this is where philanthropy is very important.

Now, a lot of people will say to you well, don't we have a tax system to do this? Don't we have governments to do that? And there's no doubt governments have the deepest pockets because they, by force of law, can reach into your pockets. So there's no question about the scale. But there is a fundamental difference: a dollar from a private donor, whether it's a corporation or an individual, is of a quite different quality, even if of the same quantity, as a dollar from government. Because a dollar given by an individual is wrapped in love.

It is a personal commitment. It is not a bureaucratic grant, it is something that somebody has made out of an instinct, the most basic, most important human instinct of all: That of love. And, of course, from the point of view of a charity, hospital or a school, getting philanthropic support is so valuable not just because of the money, but because what it does is it builds up a community of advocates. Every single person who you raise money from as a charity will become your spokesman, your advocate, your ambassador. And that makes you stronger, it makes you better connected into the community. And, you know there are so many good examples, and so many examples that all of us have been involved with over the years where you can see that that is true.

I think that there are big cultural differences. Not all cultures in all countries are as philanthropic as others. I'll give you a theory -- I'll give you Turnbull's utterly non-peer reviewed theory on philanthropy and the cultural differences thereof, because I've observed it over the years.

A lot of people would say, why are Americans perceived as being more philanthropic, more generous if you like, than Australians? Well that is changing. Bob Hughes, if he were alive, here with us today, would say well it's very simple Australia was founded as a jail, and America was founded as a religious experiment. But while droll, like most of Bob's observations, I don't know that that's the answer.

In our country, which was founded as a government venture, if you like, historically the vast bulk of the money that has gone to support all of our social institutions has come from one of three top-down, hierarchical institutions: The government, the Catholic Church, and the Anglican Church. That has been the bulk of it. Whereas in the United States, and you see this very well in Alexis de Tocqueville's 1840s work Democracy in America, very different sort of social organisation: Very grass roots, bottom up.  And there is a tradition if you wanted to do something, then you had to - whether it was building a barn, or a school, or whatever - you had to get your neighbours to contribute.

And that is that that's part of a very different culture.  That's why, I believe, the American's are different. And if you want to see a local example of that, think of the extraordinary philanthropy of the Jewish community. If you took the Jews out of philanthropy in Australia it would leave a huge hole. Why are the Jews so generous?  My theory is it’s because there is no top-down hierarchical body. There is no Jewish pope or Jewish organisation that, with great assets, can make things happen. And so the Jewish community again has had that sort of grass roots approach, which inculcates a tradition of philanthropy.

It's really important for us to develop that. I'll give you another example before I sit down of changing attitudes. I was a Rhodes Scholar – a dime a dozen now in this Parliament, there's at least three of us and most people think it's got something to do with the infrastructure Budget nowadays – but anyway, I was a Rhodes Scholar, and the Rhodes Scholarships were set up by Cecil Rhodes over a century ago.  It was a massive bequest, and there it was. Throughout all of its history the Rhodes Scholarships which were run in the UK by a very British sort of committee, they had never asked one of their scholars for a cent. Never ever. So, totally un-American.

And then in the GFC they lost a third of the endowment. Whoops, that was a bit careless! And for the first time in their history they're actually starting to ask the Rhodes Scholars to support them, and they're getting a lot of support. And it's been a really terrific that all the Rhodes Scholars in this building have made contributions.  And it is an interesting example of that very British, and I think Australian attitude, that you don't actually ask people for support. But it's changing.

Now, this campaign, the Australian Charities Fund, the One Million Donors launch, is so important. It doesn't matter how much people give. It's handy to get money in big licks if you're raising it, but small donations matter. I've just had an experience of this just literally happening live on the internet now. I'll be in the CEO Sleepout for St Vincents, I do that every year, so you can donate online to the CEO of your choice. I posted on Twitter, sent it out to my email list, and I'm pleased to say, the donations are coming in. Not that I'm competitive or anything like that, but nonetheless it's competition and a good cause.

I’m so pleased to be here. I congratulate you Kelly and the Australian Charities Fund on your work, and I wish you every success. Because what you're really doing here, what you're really doing, is giving love practical form. And that is so important. Thanks very much.

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