In conversation with David Morrison, Australian of the Year 2016
Equality advocate and former army chief David Morrison AO with ABC presenter Jane Hutcheon , 20 November 2016
JANE HUTCHEON: So ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to welcome you here to the Visions Theatre at the National Museum of Australia for this wonderful in-conversation event with the Australian of the Year 2016, David Morrison. Thank you all for coming.
DAVID MORRISON: Thank you. Thanks Jane.
JANE HUTCHEON: David, you thought you were retiring from the army in 2015. What did you expect to be doing this year?
DAVID MORRISON: I think the first point I’d make is the person who really thought I would be retiring was my wife, who, several weeks ago, I think with love, described me as a fly-in, fly-out husband, which stung somewhat. What did I think I’d be doing? Well, I knew that I had been approached by the board of the Diversity Council Australia, which is a completely not-for-profit, client-focused organisation that advises both business and the not-for-profit sector on matters to do with diversity and inclusivity, as to whether I would be prepared to be their chair. And I thought ‘Gosh, if a middle-aged Anglo-Saxon white male can be asked to be the chair of the Diversity Council, clearly diversity does count.’
So I said yes to that, and at the same time I was asked by Natasha Stott Despoja, who’s the chair of Our Watch, the board set up to deal with particularly primary prevention in relation to domestic violence, whether I would be happy to be part of that board as well, and in both cases I said yes. I’m so glad that I did. I thought that I would make my contributions in terms of – I won’t say philanthropic but not-for-profit in those two areas – and then I thought I would also have some opportunities with corporate engagements because I had been given those opportunities. And then I thought I’d get out and do a lot of things that I hadn’t had a chance to do while I’d had a long military career.
JANE HUTCHEON: So throw in the Australian of the Year award and I’m guessing you’ve done a few extra things this year.
DAVID MORRISON: Just a couple, yes.
JANE HUTCHEON: Around how many engagements do you think you’ve participated in?
DAVID MORRISON: I have kept a tally, and I think by the end of the 12 months I will have given probably close to or just over 200 speeches. It’s meant that I’ve been away from home for about 100 nights this year.
JANE HUTCHEON: Have you travelled widely?
DAVID MORRISON: I’ve been to every state and territory. Now some of those have been for corporate engagements obviously, but what has been particularly advantageous from my point of view – in being able to be this thing called Australian of the Year – is that I can be in a particular part of Australia as part of a corporate engagement, but at the same time I can also then find the opportunities to be involved with both local communities or local not-for-profit or philanthropic organisations. So there has been a really great synergy in that regard, and it has meant that I’ve been given all of these fantastic opportunities to meet so many unbelievably committed and dedicated Australians.
JANE HUTCHEON: Is it hard as well? Because it’s, in a sense, a lot of people have called on your time.
DAVID MORRISON: Yes, to a degree. All of us all who were involved in the final panels for selection for Australian of the Year, so not just Australian of the Year but Senior Australian of the Year, Local Hero, Young Australians of the Year, were told that if selected, the year would be a momentous one. And you sort of hear that and think, ‘Oh yes, well, that’s probably the case,’ and then you don’t give it too much thought until the flag drops on you.
And it’s turned out to be momentous, as I said. There have been lots of requests, lots, and they’ve come from a variety of organisations through a variety of means, and it has been the absolute high point of my year in being able to engage with Australians, both in the corporate sector and the not-for-profit sector and the philanthropic sector. Just people getting about their business of being Australians, having the chance to see what they do and what they give to our communities.
JANE HUTCHEON: The 2012 Australian of the Year, Geoffrey Rush, we had a conversation about what being Australian of the Year meant, and he said that Quentin Bryce, the Governor-General at the time, had told him that it was an award for what he had achieved, and that it didn’t mean going forward he would have to become an instant activist. He didn’t want to be an instant activist. He wanted to continue acting. But I wonder: Did you have a view of how you wanted – I know you weren’t given a lot of lead-up time to think about whether you wanted it or not. I don’t know if you get an opportunity to turn it down, but did you have an idea of whether you wanted to be an activist and use your name and use your position, or did you just think, ‘I can somehow manage this with what I’m already doing’?
DAVID MORRISON: Well, you’re right that very little direction is given. In fact, none in my case. I wasn’t advised by the National Australia Day committee or by the Governor-General Peter Cosgrove or anybody else, for that matter, as to what I should make of the year. It was left entirely for me to decide. I don’t think I’ve been an activist, and I certainly don’t feel that I’ve been outspoken. I’ve just had a lot of opportunities to be engaged and to speak. And so when my name was read out, I was standing on the stage with just an incredible group of Australians.
JANE HUTCHEON: It was raining, wasn’t it?
DAVID MORRISON: It was. It was a really stormy night in Canberra, like Lear on the heath. Maybe to the same effect. No, that’s a joke. The last name that I thought was going to be read out was going to be mine. And I know that Australians have got a fairly sensitive metre around expressions of false humility. On this one hopefully that metre is not registering at all, because I didn’t think that I would be named. I won’t name who I thought, but I absolutely thought that there would be at least one or a number of people who would be much more likely than me. And that morning, very early before the day’s activities had begun, I’d got up and just gone for a walk by myself, just around the lake. Normally when I exercise I’m listening to an audiobook or a podcast or something. And that morning I just didn’t take anything with me.
I just walked for about an hour and 20 minutes actually, by myself. My wife had other things that she had to do. And I just framed my thoughts again about what mattered most to me. I didn’t think that I would be named. I just thought, ‘If I’m going to stay committed here, what are the things that really matter?’ Now, my long military career has shown me the extraordinary work and contributions made not just by our soldiers but by our sailors and our airmen and women. And in my acceptance speech, which I’m coming to in a moment, hopefully they heard the army family was acknowledged deeply there. I need two families in my life, my private family and my army family, and I am a soldier forever. But I thought look, ‘What am I committed to?’ I thought, ‘Diversity and inclusivity. I am the chair of the Diversity Council.’
JANE HUTCHEON: So it was a no-brainer.
DAVID MORRISON: And domestic violence was something that I was already doing and had been doing for a long time. I’ve been an ambassador for White Ribbon for years now.
JANE HUTCHEON: And the preceding Australian of the Year had been Rosie Batty.
DAVID MORRISON: Who is a friend of mine, one of the quintessentially great Australians who, by herself, changed a national conversation around a social cause. I mean, that is outstanding. And so I thought, ‘Well, look, domestic violence certainly,’ and I had only relatively recently finally had the opportunity to join the Australian Republican Movement.
Now I’ve been a republican since the – well, in fact the early 1970s. But as a soldier I didn’t feel that it was appropriate for me to join any particular movement, but I had. I had joined it, and with respect. And I absolutely know that many of my fellow Australians don’t share my views, and that’s why we have a democracy. I just felt that that was a cause that I was certainly going to be involved, an issue.
So when my name was read out, I had some notes. They were all written in ink, which is a really poor logistic decision because by the time I’d sort of got them out of my pocket they were a sodden mass. I had a very particular thought.
As Malcolm Turnbull handed me this incredible honour and privilege, I thought, ‘Look, there’s one of two ways to go here. You can see this as for services rendered and accept it, of course, and then just continue to lead your own particular life. Or you can take it and stay committed to the things that you want to be committed to, and use it appropriately, not in a way that creates dissension hopefully. Use it positively to give focus to those causes, particularly diversity and particularly domestic violence.’
I’ve only had three engagements with the Republican Movement this year and that was all that it was ever going to be. Look, I’m really sorry that my appointment or whatever I was perceived to say was seen as something that was divisive, and for those people who felt that, I am genuinely apologetic. No, I mean this. Genuinely apologetic, because I don’t think the Australian of the Year should be a divisive figure at all, and I’ve never tried to be. But you got to be true to yourself, and that’s what I’ve tried to be.
JANE HUTCHEON: That’s really interesting because there was quite a sudden, I suppose, reaction. Were you surprised by that?
DAVID MORRISON: Oh yes, I was. I’ve struggled in my own mind to try and work out why. But I didn’t struggle for too long. Because we’re all driven by our own particular views and that’s fair enough. And even my harshest critics would have to concede that for 36 years of my life I have been part of an institution that has protected Australia’s democratic way of life, intrinsic to which is freedom of speech. So there was no way that I was going to get overly defensive about this.
It’s unpleasant, of course. There is no easy way around that. And I was really sorry because I was concerned that, as the criticism sort of built, it would be seen as divisive for the award system. Now hopefully it hasn’t been. And whatever particular scars that I’ve had inflicted this year, well, none of them have been life-threatening. And it hasn’t stopped me from doing what I want to do. And in some respects, I guess if you want to sound a bit bloody-minded, it’s probably given me just a little bit more oomph to making sure that I do make what contribution I can make.
JANE HUTCHEON: You were really calling more for a national conversation on the republican issue.
DAVID MORRISON: Well, once every 20 years or so. I mean, is that beyond us? Really? Is it that much to be feared? We know that the majority of our elected representatives, certainly at a federal level, have expressed their support for an Australian republic.
I understand that there are plenty of other issues in our lives, and what focuses our political leaders as they go about their exercise of leadership is entirely as it should be, but I don’t think that there is anything wrong with us as a mature, democratic nation that recognises that while we may not agree with each other all the time, we still got to have conversations at a national level and that one of those conversations, I think periodically, should be: What is the form of our government?
JANE HUTCHEON: In hindsight – hindsight questions are great, aren’t they?
DAVID MORRISON: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
JANE HUTCHEON: Would you have left the republic off the list of three things that you gave at the acceptance speech?
DAVID MORRISON: I need to give a warning now, not just to the audience here but to anyone who watches this as a broadcast. Philosophy is just about to be mentioned. Okay, so if you want to turn down the sound I understand entirely.
JANE HUTCHEON: Just keep it short.
DAVID MORRISON: Yeah, I’ll keep it upwards. Look, Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, probably one of the early progenitors of the existential philosophical school of thought, observed that we all live life going forward and we understand it looking back. And another one of the existential philosophers, [Jean Paul] Sartre, his philosophy could perhaps be summed up in some respects as ‘no excuses’. We’re all responsible for our actions and our lives. So it’s not a question of hindsight, and it’s not a question of offering an excuse. I believe that Australia should have a rational, mature, sometimes robust and probably rambunctious discussion about its form of government into the future and its constitution, and I am not at all apologetic for saying with respect that that should be the case, as the Australian of the Year on the eve of Australia Day.
JANE HUTCHEON: So if we have a look now – if getting the Australian of the Year award is about what you have achieved, let’s talk a little bit about your time as Chief of Army. You came to the post, I think, in the middle of 2011.
DAVID MORRISON: That’s right.
JANE HUTCHEON: So a few months before that, that was the time of the ADFA [Australian Defence Force Academy] Skype scandal. When you came to take office, what were your beliefs about the treatment of women in the armed forces at the time?
DAVID MORRISON: I think my beliefs were in strong accord with every senior, in fact every leader that I knew of, that we had to treat our colleagues with respect. I don’t think that there was any even tacitly held view that these sorts of things could in some way be just explained away. But we had, as a leadership team, probably not had it as our greatest focus, and that is not to be critical of any of my predecessors.
There were just so many things that you have to deal with as a service chief, not least deployment to operational theatres and making ready our service personnel. I just think that for me there were a couple of almost moments of epiphany that changed my views around this matter. And because I was the leader of the organisation and I started to make some fairly strong commitments to this with my fellow service chiefs, with the Vice Chief, and certainly with the then-CDF [Chief of Defence Force] David Hurley, that we made this one of the real focal points for the tenure of our collective leadership, and the army had things to attend to.
JANE HUTCHEON: When did those epiphanies come to you, after you became Chief of Army?
DAVID MORRISON: Yes, and I’ve moved quite a considerable distance in my own mind. I mean, the actions that took place at ADFA were repugnant. Indeed, there were criminal proceedings that were carried through with regard to what occurred there, and I won’t make any other comment other than to say that my own perception at the time was that the actions of those young men, who had been part of our defence force for about 10 weeks, was far more reflective about them as individuals than anything that it said about a national institution like the ADF or particularly the army in my case.
Now I’m of a very different view now. I think that there were cultural aspects that probably influenced their decisions to join, and you can’t step away from that. More people will say, ‘You’re going too far with holding that view.’ I think I’m right on this. Culture ate strategy for breakfast, and if the culture of an organisation isn’t right, you’re never going to create the organisation that you need to create during your tenure of leadership.
Meeting incredible people like Elizabeth Broderick, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner who did the review into the treatment of women inside the defence force following what had occurred at ADFA, was such a moment of change for me. And I am on the public record and have spoken many times about meeting with victims of really awful behaviour and how that did fundamentally change me, not just as a general or as a leader but as a man, because I think I now see issues in a way I never saw them before, I think I hear voices that I never heard before. And for all of the pain that every victim has ever experienced, I am deeply grateful that I have been given the opportunity to see the world more completely and to still have a role to play, both in uniform and subsequent to it, that addresses some of these issues around how we respect others.
JANE HUTCHEON: And I suppose your key moment of fame, if I can call it that because –
DAVID MORRISON: Infamy.
JANE HUTCHEON: Or okay, infamy, but one and a half million views on YouTube. I don’t know, that’s not infamy. But let’s, rather than the sort of celebrity aspect, let’s talk about the intent behind that YouTube video, which came on the heels of another scandal which was known as the Jedi Council emails. And in the end I think around six people lost their jobs in the army. What was the atmosphere around making those types of decisions? Because some people would say you were absolutely uncompromising about that. Was there any, in a sense, room not to be compromising at that time given everything that had happened in the lead-up?
DAVID MORRISON: Well, understanding these matters more completely and seeing – look, I think that true leaders live permanently in three time zones. They’re always living in the past because they recognise that for the tenure of their appointment they’re the custodian, in my case of over a century of service, all that great military history but also the heritage and the ethos and the ethical foundations of the army. They live in the present like we all do making busy decisions from one sunrise to the next. But most of all, leaders live in the future. And they do that because they recognise that their legacy, for good or for ill, is going to have relevance and resonance well beyond the period of their tenure. And so decisions that I was making with my leadership team around defence force structure or that capabilities that we were bringing into the army or matters around how we dealt with personnel issues, particularly soldiers who were being hurt physically or psychologically as a result of their service, were all incredibly central to my focus, but so were these matters around the culture of the organisation and how we treated colleagues with or without respect.
And I thought that my legacy would hopefully be a positive one in the third or even maybe the fourth decade of this century, where we have the most capable army that we possibly can have, because we are opening ourselves up to all of the talent in Australia who will look at the army and say, ‘You know, that’s an organisation I want to be a part of.’
Now, we had made some really big inroads. We had increased significantly the number of women who were joining and staying in our army, the number of men and women of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage who joined the army and stayed. We had made some very significant commitments to how we judged merit and how we managed talent, and I felt that we were really starting to push the envelope if you like. And then early in 2013 I was informed about this matter that you referred to.
JANE HUTCHEON: The Jedi Council.
DAVID MORRISON: Yes, a very complex issue, and it had in the end involved probably several hundred personnel that had to be investigated, and there was a whole infrastructure set up to allow people to be given absolute fairness and right of reply and a whole range of mechanisms put in place, but it was incredibly complex. But at an emotional level when I was told about it, and then in discussions with David Hurley and with the then-Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, I was incredibly concerned about the, I think, really strong steps we had taken to improve culture and to improve opportunities for people joining the army, and that this would be seen –
JANE HUTCHEON: A kick in the guts in a sense.
DAVID MORRISON: Well, yes, and seen as sort of a ‘Well, yes, he’s saying these things but’ –
JANE HUTCHEON: Not really serious.
DAVID MORRISON: ‘He’s not really serious about them.’ Now, I want to give real emphasis here. This wasn’t about me as a person. This was me as a leader, and a leader living in the future. But when I learned about it, there was a conversation with David and with Stephen, and we decided that it would be managed and dealt with differently, that there would be a public face to this issue. It was a grave reputational crisis. Of course it was a crisis for the victims as well. I mean, I’m not setting that aside in any way, shape, or form. But there would be a public face to this and that was me, the leader of the organisation. And the message to the army that has played over YouTube was never intended for anybody’s consumption except those in the military.
And the language was very unambiguous, very. No nuance in it. And it was a, I guess, a senior military figure saying to, in my case his workforce, that treating your colleagues with respect is a precondition of your employment. Full stop. If you don’t like it, get out. And I will be ruthless in rooting out of the army those who can’t live to our values.
Now, I didn’t think it would play out into the public domain at all, but clearly it has and it’s achieved a lot of attention. But I was struggling with the fact that I was going to be the public face of this issue, and yet I have a workforce that couldn’t learn of it solely through interviews with journalists. They also needed to, as best I could, hear it from me.
JANE HUTCHEON: I know that is not that long ago in historical terms. That’s about three years ago. Do you ever replay that year, how things went? How you responded?
DAVID MORRISON: Oh, yes.
JANE HUTCHEON: Or do you feel quite comfortable in the actions that were taken?
DAVID MORRISON: All of the actions that were taken were correct in law, they were certainly reviewed enough, and they were right for the long-term health of the organisation, but if anyone thinks that I didn’t regret having to make in part those decisions or be part of the decision-making process as it was, they’re misjudging me.
I reflect regularly on how awful that whole event was, awful for the victims, awful for those who were held to account as well, and I mean that. It was awful for them. There were some very significant actions taken clearly, awful for the army that I love more than any organisation in the world. And yet out of it has come some good, in that we took a stand and we were seen as taking a stand, and if we were going to be criticised for being unequivocal in the stance that we took, then I can live with that criticism because I know that the right thing was done.
JANE HUTCHEON: And do you feel that the momentum in the army is moving in the direction that you wanted it to go even though you’re not there now?
DAVID MORRISON: Yes. Look, Angus Campbell was my deputy for two of the four years that I was the Chief of Army. He is an exceptional man and leader, and he is absolutely committed to all of the measures that we’re taking and more, by the way. He has a different style to me. That’s entirely understandable. But I had no doubt whatsoever, not one shred of doubt, that the army is continuing to move forward. If that is in part, in a very small way, something of the legacy that I’ve been able to leave, then I’m going to shuffle off this mortal coil very proud of that fact.
JANE HUTCHEON: Do you know what the percentage of women employed now is?
DAVID MORRISON: No. Well, it won’t be lower, I know that.
JANE HUTCHEON: Yes.
DAVID MORRISON: I’m sorry, I don’t know.
JANE HUTCHEON: No, fair enough.
DAVID MORRISON: You’ll have to get Angus on One-on-One.
JANE HUTCHEON: Let’s talk a little bit about some of the other issues that you’ve spoken about. So diversity. Diversity’s an interesting one because you can go around and talk about how important diversity is, but how is it actually achieved? I mean, it’s a big national conversation at the moment. How does it actually play out?
DAVID MORRISON: Right. Well, you’d think that the chair of the Diversity Council would have a ready-made answer for that, wouldn’t you?
JANE HUTCHEON: Yes.
DAVID MORRISON: Blast, I don’t. No, well, what I’d say is that if it’s diversity for diversity’s sake, it’s just box-ticking.
JANE HUTCHEON: What does that mean?
DAVID MORRISON: Well, having ‘x’ number of women. We’re going to increase our percentage of women in our organisation by this. That’s a good thing to do, naming a target. Absolutely essential. Growing the number of women in an organisation, particularly a male-dominated one, very, very laudable as an objective. But if women are simply going to be increased in number and not given more opportunities to excel or reach their potential, then diversity is just a box-ticking exercise. What really counts is building inclusive workplaces and inclusive societies, where, irrespective of gender or religious belief or ethnicity or sexual orientation or being judged abled or disabled physically or even mentally, you still get the chance to make your contribution to your workplace or your society.
And I don’t judge you as being less meritorious based on pretty questionable criteria. That’s inclusivity, and that’s where you get really creative things happening, diversity of thinking, where people are encouraged to offer a view. That may not be followed in every event, but they get a chance to make a contribution. Why not? I’m not the sole custodian of good ideas. No one is. We’re social creatures. We all function best when we are living in a society where people get an opportunity to contribute. That’s what real diversity’s about.
JANE HUTCHEON: It’s become quite popular in national debates and discussions. I’ll give you one example. Earlier this year the actor Helen Mirren gave an interview after there was a criticism about the lack of diversity, I guess, in the nominations for the Oscars, and she said to the interviewer that the focus should be on improving diversity within all aspects of filmmaking, not on the faces who are chosen at the end. Does she have a point?
DAVID MORRISON: Oh, absolutely she does.
JANE HUTCHEON: Is that more of a point than the actual faces that appear on the nominations?
DAVID MORRISON: Well, I mean, she’s someone speaking from within her work environment, if you like, and I would certainly accede to her expertise in this area which I don’t hold. But her broader point, as I understand it, is absolutely germane. I mean, we’re a great country. We’re the best country on earth in my view. I think a hallmark of our greatness is that we always know that we can be better and we, in our own way, fashion a world that works to that grand plan, if you like. When you look back through our history, we can see moments of crisis and moments where Australia’s tried to inure itself from the world with a white Australia policy or something like that, and that’s not when I think this country’s functioning best.
I think we are best when we are absolutely proud of fashioning a truly multicultural society that allows people to make their contributions. Let’s face it: apart from the first peoples of this country, our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, we are all immigrants, all refugees from somewhere else, and we’ve all come together and we are now Australians.
When you take that down to a workforce like an army or an acting profession for that matter, the same sorts of issues, I think, are germane. People wanting to join. People seeing an opportunity to realise their potential, and having a degree of confidence that they are going to be judged for their real and true merit, not because they look or sound like the status quo.
JANE HUTCHEON: Do international events like the Brexit vote and the election of Donald Trump, do they play on our psyche in a way? Do you think that will have an effect on how we view diversity in this country?
DAVID MORRISON: I hope not. Look –
JANE HUTCHEON: Do you fear it?
DAVID MORRISON: It would concern me, of course. But I’m not an expert in this area and I’m loathe to make anything other than the most general of comments. As a retired general, I guess I’ve got every right to do that. I think we need to look at our true history in this country. When have we been at our best? I think it is when we have been engaging with our world. We are absolutely enmeshed in the global trading system. We’re reliant on it. We want trade between countries. This is how Australia makes itself economically viable as a nation.
We want to be able to continue to build the strong multicultural society that we have in Australia, one that is by and large, as best we can as human beings, founded on respect and rubbing shoulders with all people from all over our globe. I think anything that would imperil that would have to be very appropriately debated in Australia, and in a democracy like ours, we will have the opportunity to do that. Clearly as the chair of the Diversity Council I’ll be out there speaking appropriately with respect about the advantages that come through being inclusive. And it will be up to our democratic system to decide whether the nation follows suit or makes another call.
JANE HUTCHEON: In your travels and discussions with people around the country, do you sense that there is perhaps a tiredness or even a push back to the notion that we need to be more diverse? I mean, as some people say, this has gone far enough.
DAVID MORRISON: No, some people do. Absolutely and indeed I think you can probably see that being played out in election results as well, of which I will make no other comment than to say that I have been part of the mechanism that has protected our democracy and democracy needs to be respected in all its rights, and sometimes democracies deliver decisions that individuals may not welcome but that’s how democratic societies function. So I think that there are certainly people with very legitimate concerns about how they are travelling, how their family is travelling, how their local communities are travelling. With all of the changes that are happening in our world, I absolutely understand it and I would never make light of it.
And that we’ll perhaps see arguments being put forward for slowing down our great social initiatives or taking a particular stance. That’s fine, too, in a democracy, as long as it’s done properly and within the law. My view, though, is that we do have challenges. We all face them. They’re economic, they’re societal, they’re environmental, and those challenges of the future will largely have to be solved by making the absolute best of individuals who want to make a contribution. And if we exclude them from making that contribution then I am not certain that we’re necessarily going to get the fully thought-through results that we want.
JANE HUTCHEON: What about the people who don’t really want to make a contribution, who want the status quo maintained? How do you bring them along?
DAVID MORRISON: Well, we’re talking now at a national level. In a democracy such as ours you need to involve them, and you need to explain and argue with passion but with logic and respect. I think, again, I’m loathe to make too sweeping a point here, but I think that if there has been some shortcomings in the exercise of our political system, it has probably been in the areas of not explaining enough, not finding the words to give people an understanding of why particular decisions are being made.
JANE HUTCHEON: Do you have a specific example?
DAVID MORRISON: No, and I wouldn’t – I want to be careful here, too, because I’m not trying to set myself up as some sort of expert on political commentary, but I think enough has already been said about certain phases of our electoral cycle, let’s say in the last five or six years, that point to where, and I say these as shortcomings, there has been a less than logical accounting for why decisions are being made. I think people respond to being treated with respect. No surprises there. That’s entirely what I believe in. And when you respect people by telling them why decisions are being made and the reasons for them, they don’t necessarily have to agree and indeed, in many cases they may not, but at least they will have been more included in the process than perhaps has been evident in recent times.
JANE HUTCHEON: I remember when I interviewed you for One Plus One I asked you, ‘How would you know if you had been successful in your tenure in your work while you were the Chief of the Army?’ And I want to ask you the same question about being Australian of the Year. I mean, I know a man like you is very goal-driven, you’re focused. Did you set any parameters for how you would know if you’ve been a successful Australian of the year?
DAVID MORRISON: Okay. I absolutely wanted to see the Diversity Council Australia prosper. I have a responsibility as the chair of the board clearly, but my thinking was broader than that, that if it was moving ahead, if its client base was growing, if it was having a greater voice of resonance in the debate on cultural or inclusive matters in Australia, that that would be at least something that I could contribute, too. That’s certainly been the case.
I think, too, following the extraordinary work that Rosie Batty has done, we have seen a continuing commitment at most levels in this country to trying to do something about domestic violence. Whether we’ve been successful or not is definitely a moot point, but there is an ongoing commitment here.
And while I would only claim the most peripheral of roles in that, I think that being able to speak on hundreds of occasions this year about domestic violence and why in part it happens because of gender inequality, which needs to be addressed in this country as well, that has been something that I have been able to do.
With regards to the republican movement, well, I gave three speeches, including, I must say, the republican address for 2016, and I think that that organisation is continuing to make inroads and that’s a very good thing as well. But when you’re the leader of an institution like the army, you can define your goals and your targets more accurately. I’m certainly an army of one at the moment, and I recognise that when my tenure as Australian of the Year finishes, my contributions will probably be judged and I will come up short and I understand why that happens.
JANE HUTCHEON: Why do you say that?
DAVID MORRISON: Oh, it would be great to think that we would’ve made more of an inroad, for example, into the gender pay gap in Australia. I mean, I spoke about that during my acceptance speech, and yet the latest findings on that are still, I think, of real concern. It would be wonderful to think that somehow you’ve made a contribution to see rates of domestic violence decreasing in this country. Well, I’ve not done that. We haven’t even seen a particular growth in the number of women holding executive positions or on boards either, despite that we’re the [inaudible] champions of change in many other organisations like [inaudible] Look, I do think that I will come up short, but it won’t be for not having a go, because I do think I’ve at least had that.
JANE HUTCHEON: So it sounds like 2017 is going to be an even busier year for you.
DAVID MORRISON: No. No, it isn’t. Look, I am absolutely passionate about these matters that we’ve been talking about here and that I’ve been identified for, and not just this year but in certainly my time as the Chief.
That passion doesn’t ebb away on Australia Day 2017. I will stay, as long as the Diversity Council wants me, I will stay the chair. I’ll remain committed to domestic violence. I’ll remain the patron of the Tara Costigan Foundation here in the ACT. I’ll remain a White Ribbon ambassador. I’ll stay on the board of Our Watch. And I will make contributions as a private citizen in a way that, I think, hopefully will have benefit for the communities in the society that I live in because I love this country so deeply and I just want to see us continue to be the country that we all want to live in.
JANE HUTCHEON: Well, David Morrison, it’s been such a pleasure speaking with you.
DAVID MORRISON: Thank you, Jane.
JANE HUTCHEON: And I think we can all agree it’s been a fascinating hour. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much.
DAVID MORRISON: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you.
JANE HUTCHEON: Thank you.
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Date published: 10 February 2017