Tribute to John Bannon

Stumps

The news of John Bannon's death was what his friends had feared for so long yet was somehow still a shock.  In the days following many images of John keep recurring in my memory:  a grim faced young Premier standing amidst the devastation of Ash Wednesday, very much in charge of relief and recovery efforts; being lowered on a line from a Navy helicopter on to the deck of a surfacing submarine off the NSW coast and then launching SA's audacious bid to build the Collins Class subs 500 feet under the sea; running the London Marathon in less than three hours the day after getting off the plane; addressing Frankfurt bankers in fluent German and then joining his staff and a couple of journos in an end of trip drinking session in a beer cellar doing brilliant Churchill and Hitler impressions!

John Bannon could have excelled in any profession. He could have become a barrister then Supreme Court Judge; a professor then Vice Chancellor, or stayed within the public service to become its head.  He could have entered Federal politics and ended up anywhere he wanted to go. But John Bannon was always destined to be Premier of South Australia.  In 1978 all of us on Dunstan's staff expected Don to continue and win the next election due in late 1980, and perhaps one more, and then hand over to John Bannon seasoned by a few more years as a Cabinet Minister.  It wasn't to be.  Don became very ill, stood down in February 1979 and a few months later Des Corcoran called a snap election and lost to the Liberals' David Tonkin, another good and decent man.  

So 36 year old Bannon became Labor leader.  Very few thought he had much of a chance to quickly return Labor to power.  John didn't waste time.  His winning mantra was simple: first the party, then the Parliament and then the people.  The first part proved the hardest with one group in the party working hard to undermine and defeat him at party conferences.  They did not want him to win.  But he did, and in one term Labor was back.

In government John didn’t want South Australia to slip into the lazy psychology of defeat that believed we could never prevail against the bigger states. That's why securing the submarine project was so important.  Sure, it was about building a new high tech industry but it was also important for South Australia's morale and self-belief.  Winning the submarines gave us the skills base to win the Air Warfare Destroyers, build Techport and hopefully secure even bigger projects in the decades ahead.  The same was true with the Grand Prix.  Winning and running an international event like Formula One gave us the confidence to successfully stage other world class events, from WOMAD and Clipsal to the Tour Down Under and a Mad March of arts festivals every year.

It wasn't just about projects.  There was Bannon's major drive to build affordable housing through the Housing Trust; the building of Golden Grove; the expansion of tourism infrastructure with the Convention Centre and Casino, a big increase in the retention rate in our schools, important law reforms, ground breaking native vegetation protections, Aboriginal land rights at Maralinga, the appointment of Roma Mitchell as Governor and sister-state agreements with Shandong and Campania.

Dr John Bannon was probably the most intellectual of SA's 45 premiers.  Many leaders are smart, clever or wily but John had that rarer commodity, wisdom. He applied reason to tackle problems and meet challenges and in so doing took the long view in decision-making.  Thirty years ago, in giving my Maiden Speech, I said John Bannon was rare in having the "courage to be cautious".  By that I meant he didn't govern day to day, act on impulse or lightly react to pressure from media, interest groups or opponents. In making decisions he wanted to do the right thing by our state for the long haul not just for the next election, let alone the next opinion poll or editorial.   In looking forward John, probably more than any other Premier, had the deepest understanding of our history and its currents, and why and how we had got to where we are.  And in making decisions I never saw him lose his temper, act unfairly or with prejudice or malice towards others.  Today's political toxicity was alien to John Bannon's nature. He was loyal to his predecessors, his successors, his colleagues and his friends.  It would never have occurred to him to gain personal advantage by leaking, undermining or backstabbing. His calm decency was not a pose. It was real.

John wasn't just principled, he was also courageous.  I saw that when he faced down an angry mob at the National ALP Conference to push through policy changes to enable Olympic Dam to go ahead.  He showed courage again in his handling of the State Bank crisis.  He wasn't to blame but took responsibility.  Instead of heeding calls to immediately resign he kept working tirelessly to confront the problems and challenges facing his government and community as well as front the inquiries and Royal Commission. It was not in his character to cut and run despite the tidal wave of abuse he copped for years through the media, at events and even in the street.  He didn't bend or break but the viciousness hurt him deeply even though he wore his scars silently and with great dignity.  That courage was never more evident than in his eight year battle against cancer. He wanted not just to stay alive but to keep on contributing right to the very end.  And he did, briefing Malcolm Turnbull on ideas to reform Federal-State relations and giving a brilliant speech at an auction and exhibition of his father's art in the days immediately before he died.

And through good times and bad times the wonderful Angela was always there for him. A strong, independent woman with an artistic career, she stood by John through the living hell of the Bank and his gruelling battle against cancer. His final marathon.  She was a superb First Lady.  Sasha and I were so privileged that John and Angela came to see us in London and Rome.  Together John and I had led the Labor Party in SA for 30 years, including almost 20 years in the Premier's chair.  We both also shared memories of the miserable, daily grind of being Opposition leader, and the hard yards of having to fight our way back into government.  There were many stories to tell and John was the best story teller, with dry wit and brilliant mimicry.  We would all end up convulsed in tears of laughter.

After the funeral and official wake today his old staff will reunite to honour his memory with, I hope, irreverent stories about John.  He would like that!

When they die the lives of most leaders are defined by their careers, their titles, their honours, the statistics of their time in office.  Many politicians have the word "honourable" affixed to their name in perpetuity.  John Bannon earned that description not by length of time served or positions held but by his character, his conduct, his innate decency, his grace under extraordinary pressure and self-effacing sense of duty.  His was a life much richer than politics.  He had a diverse hinterland that included being a loving father, planting thousands of trees in the Adelaide Hills, mentoring students at St Marks, chairing the National Archives, his commitment to public broadcasting, beekeeping, theatre and music, writing history, encouraging indigenous opportunity, running marathons and his beloved cricket. 

For John Bannon it is stumps, but "not out". His great legacy of service, his inspiration and his loyal friendship will live on forever in the memories of those of us who loved him.

 

It’s Time.

Gough Whitlam was irreverent.  He even joked about his own death.  Some years back he mockingly complained to me that he thought the ALP would try to turn his funeral into “a fund-raiser, some kind of raffle”.  As I sought to assure him that would not be the case, he interrupted saying “I’ve got news for them, my funeral will be bigger than Cleopatra’s entry into Rome”. 

I am sure it will be.

Gough’s irreverent humour means that we can best honour his memory in the way he would most like; by joyfully celebrating his life and its impact on every Australian.

He certainly had a big impact on me, even though I was still in New Zealand during the time of the Whitlam Government.  My first meeting with Gough occurred immediately after I had been interviewed by Don Dunstan at Parliament House in Adelaide when, at age 24, I was applying for the job as his Press Secretary and Speech Writer.  Gough was in Adelaide to give a speech at Glenelg and popped in to see his long-time partner in reform.  Years later he claimed credit for convincing Don to hire me.  What he actually told me that evening, however, was “Go East young man, go East”.  On this occasion, I’m glad I didn’t take his advice.

In the ALP, Gough was always there for us.  He came to our policy and campaign launches andtravelled the country to spruik for candidates, speaking at sub-branch meetings and barbecues.  Even when he was wheelchair-bound, as he was at Sasha’s and my wedding, Gough would still come, if invited.  He was a generous, kindly man of Olympian bearing, with his wife, Margaret, always there to puncture any hubris and bring him down to earth.  She was his anchor as well as his support and the two of them are inseparable in their contribution to Australia.

Inevitably, most of the attention on Gough Whitlam right now is about his brief but tumultuous three years as Prime Minister, that ended with his dismissal by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, the political equivalent of an earthquake.

But, let us remember that in 1967 new leader Gough Whitlam inherited a party that was dispirited and accustomed to defeat.  He understood that the ALP could not be elected with only the votes of its working-class union base.  To become Prime Minister, he needed to build a bigger coalition with middle-class, professional and university-educated support.  So Gough deconstructed and rebuilt the ALP, modernising, intellectualising, demystifying it, and exorcising from it the bigotry and racism that had soiled and shamed it from the earliest years with the White Australia Policy.  Whitlam embraced a multicultural Australia with the duller “melting pot” replaced by a richer, more colourful “salad”.  He also lifted our sights beyond the front bar and our quarter acre blocks, to the arts and a cultural renaissance.  As a result, we are a much different nation today.

In opposition and in government he forged an extraordinary partnership with Don Dunstan, even though Gough was fundamentally a centralist with little regard for the states.  Gough and Don were the Washington and Jefferson of modern Australian Labor politics in the 60s and 70s.  They were champions of change, maestros of the possible, leaders who incessantly summoned their party and the Australian people to move forward.

It’s true that in his first week in office Gough Whitlam ended conscription, brought the remaining troops back from Vietnam, banned racially-selected sporting teams, supported sanctions against Apartheid, while announcing that Australia would recognise China and seek equal pay for women.

It’s true that Gough’s abolition of university fees gave a generation of working class teenagers a hope of an education that would enrich their lives. 

It’s true that his championing of universal health care, legal aid, urban planning, the standardisation of railways and his commitment to equal opportunity, anti-discrimination and Aboriginal land rights were each a big leap forward for Australia. 

Kerr and then the voters got rid of Whitlam but most importantly his reforms remain.  That’s the real test.

But Whitlam was much more important than any individual policy or achievement.  Many people serve their country;  Gough Whitlam changed ours.  He lifted our individual horizons as people and made Australia more confident and more independent as a nation. 

He was a Colossus, a big man in every sense who helped all of us and our country walk taller. 

Rome, 21 October 2014

Albania, Australia and Asia

Albania, with just over three million people, is a Balkan nation in transition. It is a small (less than half the size of Tasmania) but beautiful country with snow capped alps and one of the best and most unspoilt coastlines in Europe.

For more than forty years, from 1944 until 1991, Albania was ruled by a bizarre and brutal communist regime that was first allied to Stalin's Soviet Union and then to Mao's China. Neither regime was pure enough for Albania's dictator Enver Hoxha. His human rights abuses included the persecution, torture and execution of Catholic and Orthodox priests and Moslem Imams, leading to his declaration in 1967 that Albania was the "world's first atheist state".

Things have changed. Last year Pope Francis, during a speech in Tirana's "Mother Theresa Square", praised the predominantly Moslem country as a model for religious tolerance. In 2015 modern democratic Albania, now led by Prime Minister Edi Rama, is rapidly trying to invite foreign investment, particularly in badly needed infrastructure, and open up its economy. Already a member of NATO, Albania wants to reform both its bureaucracy and judiciary, fight corruption and organised crime so that it can join the European Union.

Last year the EU granted Albania official "candidate status", a crucial first step before accession talks can begin. The Rama government is also actively seeking closer economic ties with Asia. Albanians first migrated to Australia in the late nineteenth century. It's now time to refresh and renew the relationship between both our countries, as we engage in different ways with the rising economic power of Asia. I discussed these issues in my address to the Albanian Foreign Relations Council in Tirana.

The Asian Economic Imperative: the challenge for Australia and for Italy

Three quarters of Australia's exports go to Asia, with nearly a third to China alone. Australia's economic embrace of Asia continues apace with the signing of Free Trade Agreements with Japan, Korea and, after the G20 in Brisbane late last year, with China. Earlier this month Trade Minister Andrew Robb led a strong mission of 450 business representatives to India and he is hopeful that an India/Australia FTA can be signed by the end of 2015.

The Renzi government in Italy has also placed business relations with Asia high on its economic priority list, along with major domestic reforms designed to "unblock Italy", reduce red tape and improve the timeliness of its approval and legal processes. Soon after he became Prime Minister Renzi visited China and Vietnam to boost trade and encourage investment in Italy's infrastructure. As we move towards a Free Trade Agreement with the EU, Australia could be an ideal "bridge" to Asia for Italian businesses.

Here are my remarks on the "Asian economic imperative" for both our countries in a lecture at the University of Udine.

No Greater Love: Memories of Black Tuesday

For me it was supposed to be a pretty quiet January day. But I looked out the window of my office on the 15th Floor of the State Admin Centre in Victoria Square and saw the ominous signs of smoke in the Adelaide Hills. And, as the heat of the day persisted, there were reports of more fires around our State, including a bad one on the Eyre Peninsula, north of Wangary, which had been contained by CFS firefighters. Tragically, the next day it was a different story.

Temperatures of more than 40 degrees and 70kmh winds had seen the fire jump its containment lines. Firefighters said the flames travelled at twice the speed of any recorded fire in South Australian history and was impossible to stop. Then the devastating news from CFS Chief Euan Ferguson: Eight people had died, including four children, caught in cars fleeing the holocaust heading towards them, and then a ninth, a local schoolteacher Helen Castle, whose body was found in the burnt out Shell Museum at North Shields. It was the worst fire tragedy in Australia since Ash Wednesday - local families, neighbours, a community and a State in shared shock and grief.

More reports came through. Around a hundred people injured, including some seriously who were flown to our brilliant Burns Unit at the RAH, where I had visited victims of the Bali bombing just over two years before. Other people with burns and smoke inhalation were treated by hard working staff at the Port Lincoln Hospital.

I flew to Port Lincoln, where the fire had threatened the airport. My first visit was to North Shields where I saw the devastation at the Caravan Park, with its burned out cabins and caravans. I was told that residents and visitors fled to the beach and even into the water. It was the same at Louth Bay where emergency services actually rescued some people from the sea. I was driven by the Chair of the District Council to see the devastation to local farm properties. We went to Wangary, Wanilla and other communities where volunteers were still going from house to house, searching for survivors.

More than 90 homes were destroyed, plus a large number of sheds, vehicles, farm machinery, 30,000 sheep and other animals both on farms and in the wild. There was massive damage to local infrastructure including to fencing, electricity, telephone lines and to water supplies, following extensive damage to the pipeline. Thousands of litres of bottled water were being trucked in.

The statistics told only part of the story. Buildings, cars, trucks, tractors and fences could be replaced but not the artefacts of memory; family heirlooms and albums, wedding photos and dresses, love letters, school reports, Dad's medals, grandma's brooch, footy and netball trophies and videos of the kids growing up. These were irreplaceable. Then there was the heartache of farmers forced to destroy injured animals that would otherwise have starved or died of thirst.

Driving from community to community I recall many things: the quiet; the eerie silence that reminded me of Ash Wednesday when I travelled with John Bannon to Greenhill Road, Mount Lofty and down to the pine forests in the South East. Once again there was no sound of birds, no sound of anything. The paddocks were covered by a carpet of ash, just as if there had been a snow storm. I remember the smell of burnt-out and burning eucalypts. I was also struck by the seemingly haphazard path of destruction with the fire wiping out one home then at great speed hopping over and sparing other properties before destroying the next.

Everywhere I went on that first, and subsequent visits I met good people rallying around; giving food, accommodation and helping their neighbours. That sense of community ranged a long way. Truckloads of hay sent by farmers hundreds of miles away; pots, pans, clothes, appliances, toys and money sent by good people from around our state and further afield.

Then there were the CFS volunteers. No wonder the fire helmet is up there with the slouch hat as a symbol of Australian courage and mateship. Hundreds of CFS, SES and other volunteers working tirelessly, back-burning, clearing up. Exhausted, and now being relieved by mates and strangers from near and far. At Wanilla I was told a crew from my own Salisbury CFS brigade had been through. Good people helping others.

Visiting with our wonderful Governor Marjorie Jackson Nelson, a great healer, we met and were deeply moved by locals, often hard hit themselves, putting their neighbours first. The spirit of volunteering was inspiring and some years later I again met West Coast SES volunteers at Adelaide airport on their way to help out with the floods in Queensland because "they had been there for us".

A Recovery Head Quarters was set up at the Port Lincoln High School where government, council and volunteer agencies met twice a day, morning and evening, to coordinate and measure progress. We appointed former CFS Chief Vince Monterola to become our Recovery Co-ordinator and a "duty Minister" system was invoked for the first time with Ministers sent over to Port Lincoln on rotation. First Rory McEwen and then others including Pat Conlon, the Infrastructure Minister, who was deployed for several weeks and given the power of the entire Cabinet to make decisions on the spot rather than go through the usual bureaucratic processes. When Rory, Pat, Vince and their committee made a decision that was "law" as far as I was concerned.

However it is the locals I most recall ten years on. I met many of them again at the memorial service, attended by two thousand people, including Governor Marjorie and Rob Kerin, at Wangary one year later. There were deeply moving speeches by young Meg McPherson, whose family lost their home and property, and by courageous Natalie Borlase, who lost her mother and two young children on Black Tuesday and who thanked people on behalf of all the affected families for the overwhelming love and support they had been given.

So, let us ten years on remember those whose lives were cut short and those who lost so much. Let us give thanks to the volunteers who risk their lives and then help communities heal and rebuild. There is no greater example of citizenship and no greater love.

Published in the Port Lincoln Times

From Kidney Stones to Roman Urns

I am posting this blog from the 22 acre site of an Australian ‘dig’ at one of Italy's most important archaeological sites; Carsulae, near beautiful San Gemini in the lush hills and mountains of Umbria, north of Rome.

Carsulae was established as a rest stop on the famous Roman road, the via Flaminia, several centuries before the birth of Christ. By the time of the Emperor Augustus, it had become a flourishing municipality and trading centre, with its forum, amphitheatre, temples, theatres, and thermal mineral baths, monumental tombs and the Arch of Trajan. It even became an early destination for prosperous "tourists" from Rome, no doubt drawn by the supposed healing properties of the baths.

Mystery however surrounds Carsulae's demise. Why was this wealthy, bustling town, rich in infrastructure and surrounded by fertile agricultural lands, left deserted? Various theories abound with majority opinion opting for a Pompeii-like solution, however instead of a volcanic eruption and lava flow, it is believed that a devastating earthquake caused Carsulae to be abandoned. As the centuries passed, it became a quarry for building material for nearby towns such as Spoleto.

Carsulae is not a new ‘find’. There were excavations in the 16th century under the direction of a local duke and in the following century on the orders of Pope Pius the Sixth. However it wasn't until 1951 that methodical archaeological excavation and documentation began. Today one of the lead universities working on the project is Sydney's Macquarie University, under the leadership of Dr Jaye McKenzie-Clark. Her 2014 team of students have just arrived and will gain enormous practical experience finding and documenting artefacts and analysing the site, much of which has not been properly explored and uncovered. They couldn't have a better tutor. McKenzie -Clark has 15 years experience working at Pompeii. She is an expert on ceramics, and pottery is an important key to understanding Carsulae's history. McKenzie -Clark says that while coins and swords can be recycled, pottery, like plastic today, remains to give us clues about the lives of Carsulae's citizens.

In an important breakthrough the Australian team, under the guidance of Professor of Radiology, John Magnussen, is using the latest medical imaging equipment to fast track composition analysis of the ancient pottery. It permits the scientific detective work to occur without destroying the artefacts. The dual energy CT equipment is usually used when dealing with kidney stones and gout.

The Australian team, working alongside Italian archaeologists, has decades of work and publishing ahead of them. In doing so, they are building enormous goodwill for Australia in Italy, giving Macquarie students a unique learning experience and introducing the latest developments in science to help the world understand its past.

Australian Leadership in Feeding World’s Hungry

I am surprised that so many people I talk with – in Australia, in Italy and in Britain – have never heard of the World Food Programme (WFP). I guess that’s because they’ve never been hungry.

Part of my role in Italy is to be Australia’s Permanent Representative to the WFP, the world’s largest and voluntarily funded humanitarian organisation. Its mission is to feed the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet – before, during and after crises strike. WFP’s leader, Ertharin Cousin, heads an agency with an annual budget of more than US$4 billion and a workforce of over 13,000 staff. Only a few work in the head office here in Rome. The majority work in remote and war torn places that the rest of us avoid.

Ertharin is extraordinary. A smart, charismatic woman from Chicago, who has been named by TIME as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Forbes Magazine has also placed her high on the list of the world’s most powerful women.

She has clear priorities – to save lives and to equip the WFP with the skills to provide the right assistance at the right time. She is also committed to delivering value for money so that voluntary contributors from governments and the private sector can have confidence that food is getting through to those in need.

It’s a big job. Last year the WFP fed 80.9 million people in 75 countries. This year it fed 4.17 million Syrians in August alone and nearly one million Iraqis since June. The WFP doesn’t only operate in war zones. It played a major role in responding to Typhoon Haiyan which devastated the Philippines in November 2013. WFP is now feeding Ebola victims while providing vital air transport for health professionals battling this disease on the front line. In so many crises WFP leads the logistics operations for other humanitarian agencies.

Australians can be proud of our involvement in the World Food Programme. We are one of the WFP’s biggest donors, contributing more than $1 billion over the past decade. We play a big role in the Indo-Pacific region, not just providing food but also building the resilience of communities to enable them to better handle future catastrophes like tsunamis, earthquakes and typhoons. We are actively engaging the private sector in development work, and championing the economic empowerment of women and girls, a high priority for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. The WFP also knows they can rely on Australia for management leadership, and to provide it with funding that is consistent yet flexible enough to enable it to deal with changing events.

Next year Australia assumes the Presidency of the Executive Board of the World Food Programme following the election of Sam Beever, a senior diplomat based in our Rome Embassy. This is a clear recognition of Australia’s preeminent role in the WFP over many years under successive governments.

One of Sam’s priorities is to engage the private sector more in WFP operations. He and Ertharin are also committed to lifting the profile of the organisation in order to secure more support from governments, companies and individuals. Sam has a strong practical background for the job; heading Australia’s aid team in Afghanistan, and leading HIV/AIDS, avian influenza and child protection programs in the Mekong.

Ertharin Cousin understands the importance of Australia in WFP’s future. She was the only UN agency head to address the B20 Summit in July in Sydney and while there connected with some of Australia’s leading business people about their joining the WFP’s fight against hunger.

Australia is currently supporting new technologies such as nutrient enriched rice in Cambodia and Bangladesh that can be made available commercially to local growers. Australia is also contributing to the rehabilitation and protection of millions of hectares of agricultural land in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. This involves improving irrigation schemes and repairing canals and embankments to protect against floods. Australia has also helped the WFP to plant more than 80 million trees in Afghanistan, Myanmar and Sri Lanka, and to construct and repair more than 400,000 kilometres of roads in Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan.

With so much criticism of multilateral aid agencies it is a privilege to work with the WFP; the UN’s quiet achiever, an agency that is highly rated by Australia and many other countries for action, not talk, and for rapidly and efficiently delivering the goods – literally. Managing such a large organisation operating in the most difficult circumstances imaginable is not easy. But the WFP is about saving lives not expanding bureaucracy.

Ertharin Cousin says the WFP is US$2 billion short at a time when the world is dealing with the highest number of refugees since World War Two and with multiple crises in different locations. Australia’s Presidency of the WFP comes at a time when it is under extraordinary pressure. Ertharin knows she can rely on Australia’s leadership as President in responding to the challenges of feeding the world’s hungry.

A Century of Sacrifice

On August 4th, we begin honouring the centenary of the Great War.

Here in Italy, which entered the war in 1915 on the side of Britain and France, the focus will be in the very north of the country, in places like Trento, where bitter mountain fighting cost more than half a million Italian lives.

On Monday in Britain there will be a service at Glasgow Cathedral the morning after the close of the Commonwealth Games, followed by a vigil at Westminster Abbey.

Across the Channel, at St Symphorien, near Mons in Belgium, leaders of nations that were on both sides of that conflict will gather in a beautiful cemetery that includes the graves of Allied and German war dead. Similar services will be held in cities, country towns and cemeteries around the world, including Australia.

On April 25th next year we will commemorate the centenary of the Allied landings at Gallipoli in 1915. People will gather at hundreds of dawn services at ANZAC Cove in Turkey; around Australia and New Zealand; in the steaming heat of Papua New Guinea; in the morning chill of a Flanders field; at Villers Bretonneux in France; at Souda Bay in Crete; here at the Rome War Cemetery, and at similar ceremonies around the world.

For Australians and New Zealanders, Gallipoli has a special significance. On ANZAC Day we honour a unique relationship between both countries forged in mud and blood. It was this conflict that helped shape our characters and define our identities as new nations, as well as enshrine a bond between us that can never be broken.

In April the New Zealand High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Sir Lockwood Smith and I visited Gallipoli with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  We crossed the Dardanelles by ferry and drove to ANZAC Cove, playing songs like “The Band played Waltzing Matilda” and “Maori Battalion” in the car.

Without crowds, speeches and hymns there was a quiet, poignant beauty to a glorious coastline with towering hills, a sea of deepest blue and beaches that reminded us of home.   Not the bloodstained hell that it was 99 years ago.  The only sound we heard was the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore.

We visited our sacred sites: Lone Pine, Shrapnel Valley and Chunuk Bair where the New Zealand memorial faces a giant statue of the Turkish leader, Kemal Ataturk.

We visited cemeteries that were once battlefields, our soldiers buried where they fell, but now ablaze with irises, pink flowering Judas trees and hedges of rosemary.  At the Nek we stood on a ridge where four waves of Australian Light Horsemen were mown down. It was where Charles Bean wrote that “the flower of the youth of Victoria and Western Australia fell”.  At Beach Cemetery we paid our respects at the grave of John Simpson, the digger with the donkey, who cared for his mates.

Further down the Peninsula we visited a cemetery where 10,000 of our French allies were buried, and a memorial at Helles Point remembering the 21,000 British as well as soldiers from India and Newfoundland who died there.

But more than anything it was the inscriptions on the headstones that are fused in my memory. Some said “died for God, King and Country”, but it was the more personal, the more intimate, that were most powerful. “My darling only son”, or “From your wife and four young children”, or “left us a boy, died a man”, or the last words of a dying Aussie solder to the mate who was holding him in his arms “God bless you, Cobber”.

Most of all I will remember the simple, plaintive cry of a mother, with her inscription “We miss you at home”, a sentiment of sacrifice experienced in recent years by so many mums, partners and kids of our soldiers lost in Afghanistan.

So at dawn services each ANZAC Day, Aussies and Kiwis say a quiet and humble thankyou to mark the everlasting companionship between the living and dead. And each year we are moved when the Turkish Ambassador recites the words of Ataturk now engraved on a memorial at ANZAC Cove.

Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
 You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore, rest in peace.
 There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours,
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears,
 Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well.

The World War One ceremonies will continue in 2016 at the Somme, a battleground which alone claimed more than a million lives. Among them the writers, artists and musicians, the great engineers and doctors, the farmers, factory workers, the husbands and fathers who were not to be.

They will not be forgotten. We will sing the hymns and read their names engraved on memorial walls and headstones; the lost company of cheerful mates.

The statistics tell a stark story. Staggeringly, the total number of military and civilian casualties in World War One was more than 37 million, including 16 million dead and 20 million wounded. A generation of young men were lost.

The impact on countries with small populations was also immense. Between 1914 and 1918, 38.7 percent of the total male population of Australia, aged between 18 and 44, fought with a casualty rate of 65 percent, the highest of any country.

But this year the commemorations are not only focused on the Great War.

In May, shortly after arriving in Italy Sasha and I attended the services commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Monte Cassino.

The Polish service was deeply moving. More than 1000 brave Poles died storming the German stronghold in the ruins of the once glorious 11th century abbey at the top of the mountain.

At the cemetery, high on the towering hillside and close to the rebuilt abbey, a Polish scout or guide stood behind each headstone, a reminder of the sacrifice that helped build their future. The inscription on the memorial is particularly poignant.

For our freedom and yours We soldiers of Poland Gave Our soul to God Our life to the soil of Italy Our hearts to Poland

There is also a message to visitors: “Passer-by, go tell Poland that we have perished obedient to her service”.

We also joined the New Zealand Governor-General, veterans and their families at the cemetery where 500 Kiwi soldiers are buried, many of them members of the famed Maori Battalion. We watched the spirited Haka challenge to Prince Harry and were moved at the sight of one old soldier searching for, finding and caressing the headstone of the brother who had fought beside him there in 1944.

At the UK ceremony the following day I thought of my own father who had fought in Italy with the British Army. At the Commonwealth Cemetery I was once again reminded of the importance of the word “ally”, so powerfully reinforced by the inscription on the Australian War Memorial at Hyde Park Corner in London: “Whatever burden you are to carry, we also will shoulder that burden”. It was a message from Australia to Churchill in 1940, when Britain didn’t quite “stand alone” because there were Aussie and Kiwi pilots in the skies over Kent and Sussex defending London.

And we must never forget the Eighth Army, in all its multicultural strength and diversity, who, on its long march across the deserts of North Africa and from one end of Italy to the other, took a step each day closer to home and to victory.

In June, of course, we remembered that 70 years ago on D-Day, the largest armada history has ever seen, left Britain in an operation that was as epic in scale as it was in aspiration.

Their purpose could not have been clearer. Europe was enslaved by the greatest tyranny. Proud nations were in chains. Millions were dying in camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau and Bergen Belsen.
Civilisation, itself, was in peril.

Their mission wasn’t simply to storm the Normandy beaches. It was to free a continent.

And the Allies could not have prevailed in Normandy without the intelligence coming from Bletchley Park where 9,000 people worked undiscovered in three shifts every day, year after year, breaking the codes that helped shorten the War, saving countless lives.

All these events were inter-connected at a time when history itself appeared to be racing.

There could be no D-Day unless the RAF, whose fighter pilots alongside those from Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Canada, had not won the Battle of Britain. There could be no VE-Day without D-Day. No VE-Day without the massive sacrifice of millions of Soviet troops and citizens. No VP-Day without the bravery of our American friends at Midway, Guadacanal and Okinawa and alongside Australian diggers in the jungles of New Guinea.

For those of us who had parents and grandparents who served their countries in both World Wars, the ceremonies will have great personal meaning.

Last year at Westminster Abbey I attended a service to commemorate the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Britain. I will always remember the faces of those surviving pilots as they looked up to see a Spitfire and Hurricane flying in close formation over Big Ben.

Today we look back to generations that possessed a quality of spontaneous decency and shared sense of duty. They were prepared to give everything, including their lives, to the next generation. We remember their talents, their promise, the years never spent with their children, their spouses or their sweethearts. They endured bereavement, privation, smashed cities, and prolonged separations from loved ones, that are unimaginable to us now.

In a time of terrorism, when the enemy is often unknown and unseen, we honour not only those who have fallen but also those who continue to bravely serve us in conflict zones and in peacekeeping operations around the world.

So, as we honour a century of sacrifice we will remember our fallen comrades as the best of our breed, the saviours of all we cherish and the architects of who and what we are.

Memorial for Aussie POWs with 96 year old Bill Rudd

 

Today I travelled North to Udine and to nearby San Mauro, the site of Prison Camp 57, where Aussie and Kiwi prisoners of war were interred during World War 2. We were there for a ceremony in a small church built by Aussies and Kiwis, many of them captured in North Africa. One of the former POWs was Melbourne's Bill Rudd, now a sharp and sprightly 96, a 'Sapper' who was captured after the Battle of El Alamein. On his way to Camp 57 the ship Bill was travelling in, was torpedoed by a British submarine. Many of his mates died and today we unveiled in the church a marble tablet listing the names of the Australians and New Zealanders who were killed. Bill was taken to San Mauro and later transferred to a work camp working in a rice field. Then he escaped to Switzerland where he met his future wife. Most Australians celebrate our tradition of mateship. Bill Rudd lives it and has built an extraordinary bridge of friendship to the local people of San Mauro who helped rebuild the church and preserve the story of what happened there. One of those local people presented me with a digger's helmet, letters and maps which I have sent to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Here are my remarks in the little church.

Dreamings exhibition comes to Rome

My experience with the "Australia" landscapes exhibition and the brilliant Namatjira play in London late last year demonstrated the extraordinary interest in Europe in Australia's Indigenous arts and culture. The Aboriginal section of the Royal Academy exhibition attracted the most positive comment and attention. People weren't just curious but genuinely fascinated. So I was delighted that, with the support of the Australia Council and the Australian Embassy, that the wonderful "Dreamings" exhibition was staged in Rome in a gallery amidst the beautiful gardens of the Villa Borghese. I was also pleased that many of the works came from the Pitjantjatjara lands of South Australia, where I spent a lot of time almost 25 years ago as Aboriginal Affairs Minister. The exhibition runs until late November and from the reaction on the opening night I am sure it will be a big hit.

Here are my remarks at the opening. 

A Thank You

I have received a number of approaches from the media in recent days, requesting interviews on the anniversary of my stepping down as Premier on October 21 last year. I have declined because I do not think it is fair to my successor, Jay Weatherill, or his Ministers for me to be involved in commentary on SA Government affairs, let alone daily local political issues. My predecessors afforded me the same courtesy during my 17 years as SA Labor leader.

On November 1 I become a Commonwealth Public Servant and from then on I cannot comment on partisan matters.  However, Sasha and I wanted to take this opportunity before I begin my new career simply to say 'thank you'.  The past year has been both difficult and busy, dominated by the discovery last November of Sasha's breast and lymphatic cancer, her tests, surgery, and the long months of chemotherapy and radiotherapy that followed.  We are immensely grateful to her surgeon Melissa, her oncologist Trevor, her doctor Megan, oncology nurses Jane and Lisa, other dedicated professionals and wonderful friends and family, who have helped Sasha in her recovery.  So many decent South Australians that we do not personally know have also been giving and sending their best wishes.  Many had faced and prevailed against similar challenges.  We thank them for their kindness which meant a great deal to Sasha and to me.  I am very proud of Sasha's positive, indomitable spirit and her good humour, even during the trials of chemotherapy.  She never missed a day's work at her job at Anglicare and kept going to the gym at 6.30am every day during chemo. She is now doing things to help the breast cancer cause and encourage women to be vigilant about tests and checks.  We are looking forward to attending the 2012 Pinkyellowblueball at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on October 27.  This spectacular cabaret will raise funds for cancer research at the new Flinders Centre for Innovation in Cancer.

For me, I have greatly enjoyed my work with Flinders University.  It has been terrific working with students and with a dedicated team of professional colleagues who realIy care about their students.  I thank them for their support.  The same is true at Auckland University's Political Studies Department, where I was a student in the 1970s.  I have also enjoyed my sessions with inspiring international students in public policy at Carnegie Mellon's Victoria Square campus and working with the Center for National Policy in Washington.  During the year I have also lectured at Sydney University, ANU, and the Australian and New Zealand School of Government.

I have been working with David Cappo on a book on social policy and the nearly ten years work of the Social Inclusion Initiative, in areas such as turning around the school retention rate, strategies to tackle homelessness and our Stepping Up mental health initiative, which resulted in an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars.  It is good to see so many of these initiatives, including Common Ground and the mental health reforms, being taken up by other states and nationally. 

I have enjoyed working with the UK based The Climate Group, a real bridge between business and governments internationally on climate policy, and being involved in the Rio Conference in June.  South Australia is now seen as an international leader in renewable energy with our wind power now exceeding coal fired generation.  Our 1 billion trees initiative through The Climate Group has passed the 550 million mark in commitments from governments as diverse as Scotland, Wales, Quebec, KwaZulu-Natal and Sao Paulo.  Interestingly there is also strong international interest in the clean tech development at Tonsley.    

It has been a privilege to follow former Howard Minister Robert Hill as Chair of Low Carbon Australia Limited.  LCAL is essentially a green bank, providing loan finance to companies to allow them to invest in new technologies to become more energy efficient, while at the same time saving them money and cutting their emissions.  Low Carbon Australia has a great relationship with banks, industry and local government around the country.  Many thanks to CEO Meg McDonald and her terrific team. I also enjoyed chairing the Australia-Canada Economic Leadership Forum in Toronto.  We have so much in common and, while generally regarded as medium sized powers, Australia and Canada are actually major global players when it comes to food exports and mineral resources. 

I leave Australia in December to take up a new position as Australian High Commissioner to the UK.  I thank the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister for this great privilege.  Sasha will join me in January.  Apart from the deepest historic and migration ties, Britain remains one of our major trading and defence partners and is the biggest investor in Australia.  In addition to political, diplomatic, trade, investment, defence and other activities I will also become Australia's Commonwealth War Graves Commissioner and a Trustee of the Imperial War Museum.  The Commission honours sacrifice by caring for 1.7 million graves in 23,000 cemeteries in over 150 countries.  There will be some important events coming up soon that both organisations will be heavily involved with: the Centenary of World War One conflicts, including the Somme and ANZAC Cove and the 70th anniversaryof World War Two, in which my father fought for Britain’s Eighth Army.  Australian High Commissioners to the UK also have other roles, including that of Permanent Representative to the UN's International Maritime Organisation and, of course, with the Commonwealth.    

Being Premier of South Australia was the greatest privilege of my life and I owe thanks to former Ministerial and Parliamentary colleagues, dedicated staff and so many others in our team who worked so hard.  When we return to South Australia Sasha and I look forward to seeing the completed new RAH, attending the launch of the first Air Warfare Destroyer, watching Port Adelaide win at the revitalised Adelaide Oval, travelling on the electric train to Seaford, and yes, driving on the two way Southern Expressway to watch the mighty Panthers.  We also look forward to attending all those yearly festivals we love and having that holiday at Arkaroola we were forced to postpone mid year during Sasha's daily radiotherapy treatment.  

I wish Jay and his Ministers every best wish in building South Australia.  From December I will be in a completely different role, representing our country in Britain.  But Sasha and I look forward to returning home to Adelaide a few years from now and we both have great confidence in South Australia's future.

What States Can Do - Part IX: Head towards zero waste

My rationale for this series of blogs has been about how different states in different nations can learn from each other by sharing policy ideas that work. Adopting and adapting policies from other jurisdictions has certainly paid dividends for South Australia over the decades. In Australia, the state of South Australia is often seen as a policy and reform leader but for many of our initiatives we have borrowed ideas from around the world.

One of those areas of leadership is waste management and recycling. South Australia has now achieved a recycling rate of nearly 80%. This means that last year 4.3 million tonnes of materials were diverted from landfill to recycling. On a per capita basis, this was the best result of any state in Australia. In an era of climate change this is important, preventing the equivalent of more than 1 million tonnes of carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere. Environment Minister Paul Caica recently put this achievement into context saying our recycling efforts equate to taking about 300,000 passenger cars off our roads or planting 2 million trees, in a State with only 1.6 million people.

Back in the mid 1970s we were the first state in Australia to introduce container deposit legislation. We borrowed the idea from Oregon. We are still the only state, even though it has been a spectacular success.

It is not complicated. Consumers are given a 10 cent rebate on each bottle/can/drink container they return for recycling rather than throw away into the garbage. This has stimulated a strong local recycling industry. It has also proved a popular fundraising tool for sports clubs, community organisations and charities who send members out to collect cans and bottles that are taken to depots to exchange for cash. Most importantly, these incentives have resulted in much cleaner cities, roadsides and waterways.

In 2009, South Australia became the first state in Australia to ban the non-reusable plastic bags used in supermarket checkouts. Around Australia, 3.93 billion plastic bags are used and discarded every year. South Australia's share was about 400 million.

These bags can take hundreds of years to break down and can end up in the litter stream causing harmful effects to aquatic and terrestrial animals. Discarded plastic bags are also a highly visible, ugly blight within communities. They make cities and suburbs look shabby.

Banning plastic bags is a world wide movement. On July 1st, Pasadena joined other Californian cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco, in banning the bags. On the same day Seattle embraced a city wide ban on carry out plastic bags. In Canada, Toronto recently decided to eliminate its unpopular 5 cent levy on plastic bags, replacing it with a total ban from January 2013.

When I announced our ban, the retail industry piled on the political pressure. We were told it would be a disaster for shoppers and for shops. It would make it very difficult for national retailers to have a different regime in our state rather than have a uniform approach across the continent. Jobs would be lost. Consumers would be angry.

None of this happened. We went ahead with the legislation even though all other Australian states caved in to retail pressure. Given plenty of time to prepare for the day when cloth 'green bags' replaced non-reusable plastic bags, the changeover went ahead without a hitch.

I was also warned by colleagues that there would be a political backlash from South Australian voters. This didn't happen either. In fact, the ban proved immensely popular. People were proud to do the right thing for the environment. Polling shows 80% of South Australians support the ban and the figures for young people were even higher. There is also a high level of compliance by shoppers bringing their own 'green bags' to grocery stores. It has now become a habit and shoppers have proven smart at estimating how many bags they need for larger shopping trips. Stores that resisted the move now boast about their green credentials.

Electronic waste is becoming a real problem around the world. Yet much of what is used to make computers can be recycled. Around 1.5 million computers are dumped in Australian landfill each year. Their reusable material includes ferrous and non ferrous materials, glass and various types of plastic. Computer cases are 90% steel while CRT tube monitors are 95% glass. Flat screens are made of glass, plastic and metal. All this can be recycled.

In December 2011 our state government agency Zero Waste SA, in association with a group of local government councils and a major brand owner Apple, coordinated a two day metropolitan wide E-Waste collection event. 607 tonnes of E-Waste was collected from almost 10,000 participants. Zero Waste SA is now working with a large number of councils to encourage E-Waste to be recycled.

The Southern Hemisphere's first television and computer glass screen recycling and processing plant has also been established following funding from Zero Waste SA.

In 2002 South Australia's local councils diverted only about 20% of kerbside collected garbage from going to landfill dumps. Through incentive grants provided to councils by Zero Waste SA, kerbside recycling has increased dramatically to around 50% with some councils achieving much higher rates.

In 2008/09 ten South Australian councils participated in a comprehensive pilot project designed to encourage the recycling of household kitchen waste. Householders in the program were given a bench top container for food waste such as peelings, vegetables and meat scraps. These were then transferred into the garden 'organics bin' for kerbside collection and processing. The pilot achieved diversion rates of up to 71% and strong householder support for food waste recycling. The program is now being expanded to help 155,500 householders increase their recycling efforts.

Zero Waste SA, again with the assistance of local government, is also undertaking free household hazardous waste drop off days. This is helping householders dispose of unwanted chemicals that are dangerous if not stored or disposed of safely.

In 2010, the work of Zero Waste SA was commended by a UN Habitat report entitled "Solid Waste Management in the World Cities'" which examines trends in waste management. Our linking of landfill revenue to Zero Waste SA funding was described as an integrated and innovative strategy and the plastic bag ban was mentioned as an excellent example of South Australia's leadership. Our three bin kerbside collection system was also praised by international experts.

Describing our waste and recycling system as best practice, the UN said South Australia had demonstrated "a high level of political commitment to 'stick its neck out' and implement policies and legislation upon which other administrations take a more conservative position".

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

 

What States Can Do - Part X: Better Planning For Our Cities

 

In Australia there is renewed national interest in cities after years of neglect.  The current Federal Government, in office for less than five years, has already invested more in urban public transport than all previous national governments combined since Australia's Federation in 1901.  It has also doubled its road budget during difficult economic times.

Australia, despite its outback image, is one of the world's most urbanised nations.  Just over half the world's population lives in cities. In Australia it's a massive 75%. 85% of Australians live within 50km of the coastline. Cities are also our biggest economic generators accounting for 80% of Australia's GDP and three out of every four of our workers.

And while four of Australia's cities - Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney - routinely rank in the top ten of the world's 140 most liveable cities, they are under increasing strain with growing but ageing populations, serious housing affordability problems, increasing congestion and urban sprawl.  Congestion problems alone, if not addressed, will cost the Australian economy some $20 billion a year in lost productivity by 2020.  That's not surprising given that freight movements will double by 2030.

So Australian governments - Federal, State and Territory - have committed to a reform process where city planning systems must meet nationally agreed criteria.  They must show how they are providing for nationally significant economic infrastructure such as transport corridors, airports and ports, intermodal connectors and utilities.  They must also show how they are providing for an appropriate balance between infill and greenfield development.  And they must demonstrate how they are planning for population growth, housing affordability and climate change mitigation. They must also show how they can better connect people to jobs given that working closer to home is better for everyone; more productive, less congestion, cleaner air and more time for families.

There is a significant carrot for States and cities to improve their planning systems.  Future federal infrastructure funding will be guided by where the reform process has been successfully embraced.

So what was our approach for Adelaide, South Australia's capital city, and why is it regarded by the Federal Government as best practise in Australia?

Ultimately it was about embracing a plan and showing resolve in implementing it.

In Adelaide, we have a Capital City Committee where the Premier (roughly equivalent to a US Governor) senior ministers and bureaucrats meet regularly with the Mayor of Adelaide, several councillors and the CEO to discuss important issues.  We also appointed a Minister for the City of Adelaide whose first incumbent, Dr Jane Lomax Smith, was herself a reformist Mayor.

One of the most significant moves we made as a government was the development of a 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide.  This involved a much more strategic approach to the future development of our city.

Most people, in Adelaide and in many US cities, are concerned about the impact of urban sprawl.  We have seen a pattern of development that has gobbled up huge tracts of green space in a so called effort to make housing more affordable. But this has too often proven to be fool's gold as residents in the outer suburbs of vast metropolitan areas become more dependent on cars, and expensive single occupancy travel.  This approach also has frightening implications for the budgets of local authorities when citizens demand better infrastructure and services.  So we embraced a longer term approach to planning to offer people greater choice on how they want to live.

The 30 Year Plan for Greater Adelaide is guiding the planning and delivery of services and infrastructure, such as transport, health, schools and community facilities.  The main aim of the Plan is to better balance population and economic growth with the preservation of our environment and the protection of the heritage and character of our city.

The Plan's aim is to help Adelaide become a more vibrant, liveable and inclusive city and to grow in a managed way that doesn't threaten key primary production land.  There was extensive consultation to produce a draft Plan.  The draft was then released and exhibited for some months during which the government held extensive briefings with citizens, community groups, local government and professional organisations.  A big commitment to consultation generated much debate - some of it heated - but this was crucial to getting the Plan right and enabling government to better appreciate how people wanted their city to grow and adapt during the next 30 years.

As a result of this consultation a series of changes were made to the draft including variations in the population targets for specific areas.  A principal challenge of the Plan was how we could cope with an estimated population increase of 560,000 over the next 30 years and in doing so how we would underpin the creation of at least 280,000 new jobs.  Much of the debate arising from the consultation process centred on the proposed distribution of people, housing and jobs.  Policies concerning climate change were strengthened. Additional safeguards were added to address the impact of population growth on primary production in peri-urban areas.

Even though 560,000 is a relatively modest population increase - around 350 people a week - compared to estimates for other Australian cities, the make-up of our city will be transformed.  There will be a greater proportion of people over 65, and a significant increase in households with one person or couples without children.  This requires early action to ensure there will be a sufficient supply of a range of accommodation close to shops, services and public transport.  The big growth in over 65s will also require long term planning for the expansion of health services and aged care facilities.

Perhaps the key recommendation of the Plan was there was an urgent need to create a more compact and efficient urban form that takes advantage of existing, as well as our planned improvements to transport networks and infrastructure.  We are extending and modernising our tram and suburban train system, investing record expenditure in new roads plus a fivefold increase in infrastructure funding compared to ten years ago.  We want to design Greater Adelaide to reduce car reliance and create more liveable, accessible and connected communities.  The 30 Year Plan involves a major rethink of how we plan and design new housing, new neighbourhoods, - to break the nexus between growth and unsustainable resource consumption. Unless we do so we will risk our competitive advantage through inefficient land supply and costly infrastructure requirements.

To achieve our goals we have committed to move from the existing 50/50 ratio of infill development to fringe development to a ratio of about 70/30 in the last years of the Plan period. This will involve a much greater concentration of new housing along designated transit corridors to promote easier access to jobs and services and reduce our reliance on cars.

New transit oriented developments along transport corridors are at the heart of the 30 Year Plan.  We want the vast majority of new dwellings to be within walking distance of public transport. To achieve this we will co-locate medium and high density residential housing, major retail and service outlets and major employers around railway and tram stations and bus interchanges.  This approach will revitalise urban areas, maintain village integrity and provide the critical mass of population needed to make the upgrading of infrastructure cost effective over the life of the Plan.

For greenfield developments a different approach is being adopted in order to create more mixed use communities, higher densities, more efficient land use, walkable neighbourhoods, a greater mixture of housing types and new suburbs that are contiguous to main transport corridors. 

The Plan will support a 25 year rolling supply of land for residential, industrial and commercial purposes.  There will be a 15 year supply of land zoned at any given time. This will ensure that the supply of land and housing will contribute to keeping housing affordable.  There will also be 5,300 hectares of new and regenerated land set aside to foster the creation of jobs.

The Plan will also support a more efficient planning system that will underpin economic performance and competitiveness, halving development times.  This will give investors greater certainty by making it clear what development can occur in key locations.

In the 21st century cities can no longer either be neglected or be allowed to grow in a way that is destructive to their culture, character, liveability and environment. People are at the heart of cities and their needs should be paramount.

Sustainable, vibrant cities don't just grow organically. To improve our cities requires a plan that demonstrates that strong economic, social and environmental outcomes are not mutually exclusive.

Ultimately great cities need strong leadership, backed by a plan.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C. 

Appointment as Australian High Commissioner to the UK

 

I am honoured to have been asked by the Australian Government to become Australia's next High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. I look forward to working hard in Britain on behalf of Australians.

The relationship with the United Kingdom is of extraordinary importance to Australia. The UK is the nation with the highest level of investment in Australia and continues to be a major trading partner.  But the ties go deeper than this. Over the years the United Kingdom has been our greatest source of migration.  We have been the greatest of allies in war and in times of peace. We work closely together through the Commonwealth, the UN, G20 and other international organisations. Our legal, political, defence and cultural ties are immense.

A number of former South Australian Parliamentarians have served Australia with distinction in diplomatic posts, including former South Australian Premier John Olsen in Los Angeles and New York; Robert Hill at the United Nations and Amanda Vanstone in Italy. Two former South Australian Federal Ministers, Neal Blewett and Sir Alec Downer, served as High Commissioners to the UK. I have close connections in British politics and business, as well as with science, educational and arts institutions. I have also, through my work with the UK based The Climate Group, developed a good relationship with the governments of Wales and Scotland.

I look forward to taking up this new role and working to further the interests of Australia in Britain.

The role alsoinvolves becoming Australia's member on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which honours sacrifice by caring for the graves of 1.7 million war dead in 27,000 cemeteries and memorials in 153 countries. The Australian High Commissioner is also a Trustee of the Imperial War Museum. Both the Commission and the Museum are deeply involved in the centenary commemorations for World War One, including ANZAC, and the 70th anniversaries of World War Two conflicts, includingD Day, VE Day and VP Day.

What States Can Do - Part VIII: Reforming mental health

 

Around the world, there is a burgeoning mental health crisis with governments at all levels struggling to cope, let alone improve services in a meaningful way. While a large number of governments moved in the 1980s to 'deinstitutionalise,' this only served to shift the problem to families, suburbs, city streets and shelters with insufficient support in the community.

In South Australia desperately needed root and branch reform of mental health had been delayed, put into the 'too hard basket'. While attention and massive financial resources had been invested in improving public hospitals to grapple with emergency department waiting times and surgery waiting lists successive governments had given insufficient attention to mental health. It was less politically 'visible', even though in Australia about 20% of the population is affected by mental ill health.

For decades mental health support had centred on hospital care - delivered when a person fell seriously ill. People suffering from mental ill health were also given inadequate levels of support in their homes either before or after hospitalisation. This was particularly emphasised to me by Lloyd Sederer, a psychiatrist and head of mental health in New York. During a visit to Adelaide he told me our system was too disproportionately focused on bed care for serious episodes of mental illness.

Many people with a mental illness would enter and then be discharged from psychiatric hospitals or wards back into their homes without any concerted attempt to break the cycle.

In 2005 I asked South Australia's Social Inclusion Commissioner, Monsignor David Cappo, to devise a reform strategy so that our state would be a leader in mental health not a follower. The result of his investigation was the "Stepping Up" report, released in February 2007. Cappo's report became our blueprint for a comprehensive 'ground up' revision of our mental health system. It is now influencing the national mental health agenda.

The key focus of Stepping Up was to add extra levels or 'steps' of care and support between acute hospital care and mental health support in the community. Rather than a 'one size fits all' approach 'consumers' of our mental health system are able to step up to more intensive health care if they are becoming unwell and step down to other graduated support services as they get better.

This approach makes sense for patients and for the system. It places less burden on the expensive, acute end of the health system including emergency departments in public hospitals. It also means that people with mental illness can receive a more appropriate level of care closer to where they actually live. Importantly it is our Community Mental Health Services agency - working closely with consumers and their families - which drives the transition or movement across the various levels of care.

Since the Stepping Up report was released more than $300 million has been invested into rebuilding, restructuring and renewing South Australia's mental health system so that it is better integrated and more balanced in delivering an improved quality of care. There is also now a bigger investment by the Federal Government in mental health. As a result of this cooperation more than 250 additional mental health beds and places will be available in South Australia within three years. 74 of those beds and places have already been delivered. In addition, 243 of 262 social houses, with attached mental health support for residents, have been built and tenanted.

A big capital works program is a key part of our mental health reform with a $142.6 million, 130 bed new acute mental health and substance abuse central hospital being built alongside beautiful but now totally unsuitable 19th century buildings. Buildings of the original Glenside psychiatric hospital were recently refurbished as the Adelaide Studios of the South Australian Film Corporation. This park-like location will become a shared campus with arts, housing and retail outlets next to the new purpose built mental health facilities. This approach is designed to help de-stigmatise mental illness. People with a mental illness are now being treated with greater dignity, part of our community. No longer locked behind barbed wire, the new buildings are better designed to keep patients safe without feeling like prisoners.

Extra beds are also being provided across metropolitan and country areas enabling patients and carers better access to services closer to their homes. In some cases hospital level services are even brought into a patient's home.

Very importantly, there has been a greater emphasis on new and much needed 'intermediate' steps to make the new system work. Each Intermediate Care Centre (ICC) is a fifteen-bed clinical service in a home-like setting. ICCs involve multi-disciplinary, nurse led teams with patients generally staying for up to two weeks. 92 places have been made available in metropolitan and country areas. We now also have Community Rehabilitation Centres which are housing clusters with on-site 24 hour support. In these centres consumers learn independent living skills with support provided to increase social and recreational opportunities. Patients stay between three and twelve months.

Our mental health system has now embraced a Housing and Accommodation Support Partnership which provides long term affordable housing with up to 24 hour support. This allows people with mental illness to live more successfully in the community with close assistance at hand when necessary to help prevent them returning to hospital.

In addition to the new stepped system of care, South Australia is also developing six Community Mental Health Centres. These new Centres replace the large number of fragmented services, integrating them into a single site. The Centres provide mental health information; advice; support; assessment; crisis response; outreach; assistance to people presenting to emergency departments; assistance to people in need of rehabilitation support; and counselling.

Each centre employs a team of mental health professionals working in partnership with consumers, their carers, their GP or nominated health care workers to provide co-ordinated care.

Our Assessment Crisis Intervention Service (ACIS) has been expanded to run 24 hours, 7 days a week which we hope will take pressure off hospital emergency departments.

I appointed our first ever Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse. This move was designed to give mental health a sharper focus and more 'grunt' within government.

The Stepping Up report and ensuing programs have attracted considerable positive attention. In an unprecedented move nationally Monsignor Cappo and fellow mental health reformers Pat McGorry and Frank Quinlan, were last year asked to address the Prime Minister and all Australian Premiers and Chief Ministers at the Council of Australian Governments.

I am pleased that the Federal Government has announced that mental health reform is a key second term priority with a record $2.2 billion committed for its Delivering Mental Health Reform Package. It will also significantly boost the availability of mental health services for up to 72,000 young people each year through its headspace program at 90 sites around Australia. In any one year 1 in 4 young Australians will experience some kind of mental health disorder. Suicide is now the biggest killer of young Australians aged between 15 and 24, causing 1 in 4 deaths.

The clear message to politicians is that early intervention gets better outcomes for patients and for taxpayers. It frees up resources for those with more serious and more protracted mental ill health. Waiting for a crisis costs lives, impedes recovery and further overloads an acute system that is not coping.

Early intervention with stepped care that is local is the way forward.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

What States Can Do - Part VII: Plant forests

 

Last month at The Climate Group's States and Regions Summit in Rio de Janeiro, a significant milestone was reached. Members comprising sub-national governments from around the world announced firm commitments to grow more than 500 million additional trees by 2015.

This result was two and a half years in the making. At our Climate Leaders Summit held in December 2009, as part of the UN's COP15 meeting, we called on world leaders gathering in Copenhagen - including President Obama and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao - to commit to planting 7 billion trees - one tree for every person on the planet.

They didn't heed our call for a forestry 'endowment' from Copenhagen. So I proposed that we, at the state and regional level, should again lead the way by committing to plant 1 billion trees ourselves by the same target date. The move, strongly supported at the meeting by then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Quebec Premier Jean Charest and Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, was endorsed unanimously by all leaders and ministers present.

Quebec and Scotland led the charge with a commitment to each plant 100 million trees by 2015. Both of these pledges are being delivered. Many other governments have joined the campaign including Aragon, Catalonia, Manitoba, Ontario, North Rhine Westphalia, Poitou Charentes, South Australia and Wales.

Under our 1 Billion Tree Initiative only plantings that would not have otherwise occurred are counted. Normal forestry operations and reafforestation projects already announced are not included in the tally.

At Rio I was delighted that Member States and Regions have now passed the halfway point in reaching our 1 Billion Trees target, with a combination of new planting commitments or increases to their original pledges.

A number of new members making commitments included the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo, the French island region of La Reunion and KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. Sao Paulo announced that it would add 200 million trees by 2015 through native forest restoration in its own territory ensuring both climate protection and biodiversity. This commitment comprises one fifth of the total 1 billion target and Sao Paulo has also announced it will build on this pledge with another 200 million trees by 2020.

One of the delights of our conference was hearing about KwaZulu Natal's plans to plant a fruit tree for every child in homes and schools.

At Rio, South Australian Environment Minister Paul Caica, representing the driest state on the driest continent, announced an additional commitment of 6.7 million trees to bring his state's total to 7.9 million trees.

Reafforestation projects need not only occur in rural areas. Greening programs in cities such as New York are gaining strong public and political support.

Back in 2003, as Premier of South Australia, I established our Urban Forest Program which aimed to plant 1 million native trees and shrubs across the Adelaide metropolitan area in a series of urban forests. This target, to help further green our city, was achieved in 2006 with the help of local government, schools, industry and volunteers.

We extended the program, increased the State Government's funding and raised our target to plant 3 million native trees and plants by 2014 across 300 project sites, ranging from large habitat restoration projects to smaller amenity gardens and local biodiversity projects. More than ten thousand people have participated including thousands of children and adults who have attended well publicised community planting days. We are delighted that twenty one local government councils have partnered with the State Government to improve our capital city.

The program aims to restore around 2,000 hectares of native vegetation using suitable areas of public open space including parks, reserves, transport corridors, schools, water courses, coastline and council land.

We believe our Urban Forest Program will result in a more beautiful, cooler and more liveable city. It will improve air and water quality and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 600,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalents. There is also a very strong educational component designed to raise the community's environmental awareness and actively involve people through workshops, talks, plantings and school projects.

Significantly, our Urban Forests Program is also creating and conserving habitat for precious wildlife. A report published in 2001 revealed that 97.3% of Adelaide's original vegetation has been cleared since European settlement in 1836. Land clearance and urban development had impacted significantly on native flora and fauna, with many species now locally extinct or threatened. So our program is also about preventing species loss.

Only indigenous trees and shrubs, native to the local area, are planted. Not only is this about ensuring that the genetic integrity of our native flora is preserved but it also helps reduce water use. Exotic or imported plants often require greater watering and support to survive our searing hot and dry summers.

After my return from Rio, I phoned Paul Caica's office to enquire about progress. I was pleased to learn that the program was on track to reach the 3 million target on time with 2,370,000 trees and shrubs already planted. The three inaugural winners of The Climate Group's Climate Change Leadership Award, Schwarzenegger, Charest and Salmond, will all have mini urban forests in Adelaide bearing their names. There is already one named after veteran Canadian environmentalist, David Suzuki, who has inspired me over the decades.

I hope states and cities around the world will join us in similar urban forest campaigns.

 

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

C-Day in Australia

Last Sunday, July 1 was C-Day, the day carbon pricing began in Australia following one of the most bitter political divides in the nation’s history.

Until recently in Australia, state governments were the policy innovators as well as the ‘test beds’ for climate change action. Nationally we lagged behind the rest of the world, refusing to embrace an emission trading scheme of the type we have seen operate in the European Union, in parts of the United States and in our nearest neighbour, New Zealand.

The former Conservative Government, led for more than a decade by John Howard, had aligned itself with the Bush Administration in first denying the scientific evidence for global warming and then decrying action to address climate change as contrary to the national interest.

This made no sense because Australia is among the nations at greatest risk from global warming. Much of the hot, dry Australian continent faces the potential loss of high production farming land that remains a foundation pillar of the economy. Climate change poses a serious threat to Australia’s precious water resources because of the already marginal nature of much of its rainfall.

Australia is also the highest per capita emitter of CO2 on the planet.

Yet at climate change conferences and meetings of leaders around the world, Australia dragged its feet. Australia’s catch-up began with the election of Kevin Rudd’s Labor Government in late 2007. One of its first acts was to ratify the Kyoto agreement, but it was blocked in the Senate from introducing an emissions trading scheme designed to reduce our CO2 emissions.

Late last year Rudd’s successor, Julia Gillard and her Climate Change Minister Greg Combet, secured the passage through a bitterly partisan Federal Parliament of legislation to set a price on carbon. This wasn’t easy. Following an election in 2010, Labor was now in minority, relying on a small number of Independent MPs to remain in office.

In a package of measures, the legislation that came into force on July 1, is designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions as well as drive investment in clean energy. The new law will make Australia’s biggest polluters pay for the greenhouse gas emissions they create. In other words, they have been given a clear incentive to reduce their emissions intensity, in a transition to an emissions trading scheme.

The new carbon pricing mechanism now being rolled out is designed to minimize its impact on business, jobs and on the Australian economy. Economic modelling by the Federal Treasury has shown the carbon price will increase Australia’s CPI by around 0.7%. Australian families will be compensated for consequent price rises through a combination of tax cuts and pension increases.

To put this into context, the carbon price is expected to increase household electricity prices by 10% in 2012-13 which, for the average Australian household would amount to an extra $3.30 a week. However, the Gillard Government is providing an average of $10.10 a week in tax cuts and increases in family payments, pensions and benefits, particularly targeted at vulnerable low income households. In fact, about 90% of Australian households will be financially better off or fully compensated following the introduction of carbon pricing.

To prevent carbon leakage – in which trade exposed, emission intensive industries would be ‘forced to shut up shop’ and move to countries with lax pollution standards – a carefully designed industry assistance package to support jobs and competitiveness will be implemented. This assistance includes programs promoting innovation, investment and energy efficiency in manufacturing

The Australian Federal Government has expanded the nation’s renewable energy target to ensure that 20% of Australia’s electricity will come from renewable sources by 2020. South Australia exceeded this target last year but nationally renewable energy accounts for only 5% of our electricity generation. A new Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) will also provide economic opportunities for Australian farmers and Indigenous communities while supporting productivity and enhancing the resilience of the Australian landscape. This will give an opportunity for ecological sequestration projects I wrote about in a recent blog.

The Government has also legislated to create a $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation to support the commercialization of renewable and low emissions technologies. It has a charter to drive innovation through commercial investments in clean energy, involving loans, loan guarantees and equity investments.

The conservative Opposition, currently way ahead in the polls, argues that the new carbon pricing arrangements will be a wrecking ball for the Australian economy. Its leader, Tony Abbott, claims there will be “unimaginable” price rises due to the carbon price. He has pledged to scrap the ‘carbon tax’, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and other parts of the July 1st policy package if he is elected Prime Minister late next year.

The scare campaign has so far been effective with the majority of Australians opposing the ‘carbon tax’ according to opinion polls. However, since the announcement of the carbon price, Australia’s GDP has increased by 3%, as has household consumption. Despite claims of a massive hit on jobs, new business investment has increased by 20% in a nation that has largely avoided the horrors of the GFC experienced in the US and Europe.

Significantly, senior business leaders haven’t ‘bought’ the scare campaign. Last year, GE’s CEO Steve Sargent said: “Australia is a laggard. We’ve seen that an ETS is already in place in 32 countries, with others on the way… Additionally, despite our challenges, the Australian economy is in far better shape than most other economies around the globe…Now is the time to take action, not continue to defer.”

Michael Fraser, CEO of Australia’s largest energy utility, AGL, also spoke out: “AGL supports the introduction of a price on carbon emissions as soon as possible to provide investment certainty for the energy industry as Australia begins the transition to a low carbon economy.”

Alan Oster, the highly respected Chief Economist for the National Australia Bank, scotched claims of an investment strike by the mining industry saying, “Is the mining industry going to stop investment because of a carbon tax? The answer is no. We just don’t see that happening.”

At Rio+20, Australia for the first time was seen as a leader in tackling climate change. It is now respected internationally for ‘biting the bullet’ rather than the ‘talk and defer’ approach that has bedevilled real progress on climate change internationally.

If we believe the hype, Australians, convinced by an Opposition and a shrill press that the economy and their lifestyles will suffer a catastrophic hit, are now bunkering down to see what happens after C-Day.

Some commentators believe that a continuation of Australia’s low unemployment, strong economic growth plus the rollout of tax cuts and benefits linked to carbon pricing, are likely to make the Opposition’s Armageddon claims appear hollow. Significantly, on the eve of carbon pricing, Tony Abbott pulled back his rhetoric saying that the impact of the carbon tax would be a “python squeeze rather than a cobra strike”.

Whatever the local politics, US legislators and the Obama Administration are likely to be closely watching the political, as well as economic aftermath, of C-Day in Australia.

This Blog was published on The Clean Revolution website. 

Mike Rann is an Ambassador to The Clean Revolution, an international environmental advocacy partnership based in the U.K.

Ecological Sequestration: two words to remember

Until the global financial crisis diverted attention there was the strongest international focus by the world’s political leaders, public and media on global warming. There were the strongest calls for sacrifices to be made for future generations, although more often than not people preferred those sacrifices to be made by others. Euro zone crises, a continuing recession in the United States and turbulent stock markets, have not diminished the climate perils facing our planet.

Let me recap. If the current rate of increasing emissions is maintained the world is on track for a 4c increase in average temperatures by the end of the century. An increase of more than 2c is considered by the United Nations to be intolerably dangerous.

Along with 'cap and trade’ programs (and I'm proud that Australia has now set a price on carbon) and a big drive on renewables and energy efficiency projects, there has been some attention given by governments, mining and energy sectors to 'geological sequestration'. This involves capturing CO² from coal and gas fired power stations and other industrial sources, pumping it to suitable sites and then injecting the CO² deep underground where it would be stored permanently. Suitable repositories would include the vast geological cavities left over from oil and gas exploitation.

A substantial impediment to a much larger deployment of 'carbon capture and storage' is the often massive infrastructure costs of pumping and piping compressed CO² from cities to remote areas.

Here at Rio+20 conferences and events, there is real interest in the technologies and rewards involved in ecological sequestration. With this different approach, CO² emissions are seen as a rich resource rather than a costly waste to keep a lid on. Ecological sequestration involves capturing the CO² from industrial processes, including power plants, but then transforming it into fertiliser to help make local farm lands more fertile.

Ecological sequestration is not some theoretical model. Indeed, the 'farming of CO²' is occurring right now in Australia with huge opportunities for millions of hectares of farmlands to sequester countless millions of tonnes of CO² as soil carbon each year. Soil carbon sequestration at Clover Estate in the south east of South Australia has demonstrated that this approach can be a win-win for the Australian economy, for farmers and for the environment, as well as producing more and healthier foods by reducing the use of chemical fertilisers while at the same time improving soil fertility.

The global champion of ecological sequestration is Peter Head, an award winning engineer and leader of the sustainable cities movement. Until recently he was a senior executive with Arup in London and directed work in China's ambitious Dongtan Eco City planning project. In 2008 he was named by Time magazine as one of the world's eco-heroes and by Britain's Guardian as one of the 50 people who could save the planet.

What is exciting for so many industrialists and policy makers about ecological sequestration is that it doesn't involve shutting down power stations. Instead CO² is harvested and transformed through technologies such as algal bioreactors into fertiliser and bio-fuels. This concept also embraces urban agriculture linked to water capture, compost and nutrients from waste digestion, including hydroponic greenhouse growing. The aim is to produce better quality local food and create jobs in a struggling community.

Through UK based NGO, the Ecological Sequestration Trust, Peter Head's team is actively pursuing a series of large scale demonstration projects in India, Africa, China and elsewhere to prove that resilient urbanisation can progress using coal and gas for base load power but with very low net carbon emissions. The Trust wants to accelerate the deployment of integrated new technologies to sequester carbon and advanced anaerobic digestors to produce valuable new revenue streams.

Through a series of 'demonstrator cities' the Trust wants to establish low carbon exemplars for sustainability and resilience. Already project sites have been selected at Chongming Island, Shanghai, China; Surat in Gujarat, India and Kigali, Rwanda in Africa. Each demonstrator location will involve a new Eco-City development, a new industrial zone as well as an area of rapid urban development close to an existing mega city. There is already high level political backing for these projects and I was pleased to join the Trust in discussions over Surat with Gujarat's Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, in Ahmedebad in February.

The Trust is ambitious. It has to be. In the past 120 years the world's population has increased five fold but our resource consumption has grown twenty fold. By 2050, 75% of humanity will live in cities compared with just over 50% now. Cities still only occupy 2% of the world's surface but require vast 'footprints' to sustain them. Sprawling London, my birthplace, is said to require 125 times its own area to keep it functioning.

I believe the health and design of cities-trying to make them work better for people- will be a central policy challenge of this century for every level of government. Integrated design will be the engine of innovation for cities.

Through its regional projects the Ecological Sequestration Trust wants to demonstrate how to build cities with:

• Energy demand reduced by 50% over today's business as usual

• 30% of power station energy obtained from local biomass

• 40% of power station emissions harnessed productively

• Local food production increased by 30%

• Greenhouse gas emissions reduced by 80% over business as usual

• Improved health and well being indices.

I am not an engineer but smart policy makers embrace, and test, innovation. They measure results. They also see opportunities in challenges, even crises. I am convinced we will be hearing a lot more about ecological sequestration and its mission to turn CO² into a resource for good rather than our planet's poison.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website. 

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

 

What States Can Do - Part VI: The Clean Revolution

In my first blog post in this series, I wrote about how South Australia, a dry state with no hydropower, had embraced renewable energy moving in less than ten years from no wind power to having 26% (compared to 3% nationally) of its electricity derived from wind, now exceeding coal generation for the first time. I also mentioned how we followed California and Washington in changing our emission intensity standards to effectively preclude the building of future coal fired power stations.

Later this week I will be travelling to Rio de Janeiro to attend The Climate Group's Clean Revolution Leadership summit. The Clean Revolution, launched by Tony Blair and Mark Kenber in New York last September, is promoting a swift and massive scaling up of clean technologies and infrastructure as well as changes in design and behaviour, to boost energy efficiency and achieve the most sustainable use of our natural resources. While the plan aims to secure steep reductions in CO² emissions, the Clean Revolution would simultaneously create jobs and boost the green economy. The Climate Group is acting as a bridge between governments and industry worldwide in embracing a lower carbon economy, by encouraging policy changes and new profitable business models for the future.

In Rio, I will also be chairing a session of The Climate Group's summit of leaders from States and Regions around the world. For some years these regular meetings have shared best practice policies to enable jurisdictions to adapt 'ideas that work' to their own circumstances. While media attention often focuses on the climate policies and international negotiations of nations, or more locally the greening of cities, the role of state, regional and provincial governments is critical to progress. A number of studies have shown that the majority of decisions affecting the environment are made at the regional level. Increasingly state governments are also working closely with cities to help them reduce their carbon footprints.

In Rio, I expect sub national governments to again set the agenda for nations in not only planning but implementing innovative ways of tackling climate change, just as we did in Copenhagen in 2009 with our '1 billion trees' initiative.

There are already some outstanding examples.

Last October, the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, was awarded The Climate Group's international leadership award. It was well deserved. Scotland has committed to reduce its emissions 42% on 1990 levels by 2020. Scotland has a big commitment to onshore and offshore wind, wave and tidal power, as well as carbon capture and storage. Right now, Scotland is producing 35% of its electricity from renewables. It is aiming for 100% by 2020. With the potential to massively exceed its own domestic needs, Scotland is now planning to become a huge exporter of renewable energy with enormous dividends for its economy.

At The Climate Group's meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in December 2010 sub national governments honoured Quebec Premier Jean Charest for his extraordinary leadership in tackling climate change. At that meeting Quebec, like Scotland, committed to plant an extra 100 million trees. Quebec is now delivering a range of innovative policies to reduce its emissions by 20% by 2020 from 1990 levels. This would be a first in North America and is similar to the EU target. Given 97% of Quebec's electricity comes from hydro, most of its emissions need to be cut in the transport, housing and industry sectors. The province is now implementing a world leading Electric Vehicle Action Plan with the vision of achieving full 'sustainable mobility'. Quebec aims for plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles to comprise 25% of new light passenger vehicle sales by 2020.

In Manitoba hydroelectricity currently provides 97.4% of the province's energy needs. Its Premier, Greg Selinger wants to go further by making local power plants more efficient. Manitoba Hydro's energy conservation programs have already saved over 500 megawatt hours of electricity with big savings in emissions.

In California, where 40% of the state's emissions come from transport, its Advanced Clean Cars program is also spurring dramatic improvements in battery, fuel cell and related technologies. New rules require that one out of seven new vehicle sales in California be zero-emission by 2025. On the east coast not only has New York collaborated with neighbouring states in the development and implementation of the United States' first cap and trade emissions scheme, but has now helped launch the Northeast Electric Vehicle Network to promote clean vehicles and fuels, and electric vehicle charging stations.

La Rèunion, the French island region off the coast of Africa, is investing in experimental marine thermal pilot projects and providing €3,000 energy cheques to households for the installation of photovoltaic panels with smart storage batteries. In Brittany, the Regional Council has committed to cut growth in energy consumption by a third with a big investment in renewable energy, including solar, marine, wind and biomass.

Upper Austria has a strong network of 160 companies, employing 7,200 people, actively involved in the business of renewable energy and energy efficiency. In a big boost to Upper Austria's economy this innovative cluster is now exporting to more than 60 countries. In neighbouring Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia is a leader in energy research, with around 400 medium sized companies and research institutes working on fuel cell technologies and hydrogen fuels. It is also a leader in energy efficient construction and wind energy. Its geothermal sector has generated nearly 5,000 jobs.

Jämtland, a province in central Sweden, aims to be fossil fuel free by 2030. Already less than 8% of its carbon footprint comes from energy, and none from coal, oil or gas. It is a big exporter of excess renewable energy to other parts of Sweden and Europe.

In Wales, innovative policies are improving the energy performance of homes, particularly in disadvantaged areas, and in doing so boosting jobs, skills and economic regeneration. In partnership with energy companies and social housing providers, Carwyn Jones' government is working to improve home insulation as well as promoting the installation of solar panels and solar hot water systems. Last year, around 25,000 Welsh homes were improved and made cheaper to heat through upgrades to boilers and windows as well as other energy saving initiatives.

In Spain, the Basque Country's Appliance Replacement Scheme has seen, since 2008, around 30,000 old appliances replaced with much more energy efficient alternatives. This is saving households in their energy costs as well as reducing thousands of tonnes of CO² emissions each year. Catalonia, like South Australia, has embraced voluntary agreements with companies, local government and other institutions as a key mitigation tool in public climate policy.

In 2009, Sao Paulo in Brazil became the first state from an emerging economy to enact climate legislation introducing an absolute emission reduction target of 20% by 2020 and is a leader in aligning its climate change policies with all government practices. It is setting mandatory CO² reduction targets and its comprehensive Transportation Plan looks to improve the energy efficiency of vehicles and fuels including bioethanol and biodiesel.

Guandong province is a clear leader in China in pursuing a low carbon future. Earlier this year, its strategic plan for emerging industries was approved by the Chinese Government and is likely to become an exemplar for other regions in reducing its carbon intensity.

In South Africa, KwaZulu-Natal is developing a wide ranging Green Economy Strategy that includes a procurement policy that favours purchasing from 'green companies' as well as increasing the supply of renewable energy.

In Rio, members of The Climate Group's States and Regions Alliance will continue their important role of sharing ideas and acting as 'laboratories' for a lower carbon future. I am hopeful that in Rio sub national governments will jointly commit to an action plan for the future that will inspire the leaders of nations around the world to make a big step forward in the Clean Revolution.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.

What States Can Do - Part V: The right start for our children

For all children, the earliest years are critically important for their physical and emotional health, for their social development and cognitive skills, and even for their later educational achievement and life chances.

This has been known for centuries. Five hundred years ago, the Dutch humanist and theologian Erasmus said, "One cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of those first years for the course that a child will follow throughout his entire life".

In South Australia through our Thinkers in Residence program (www.thinkers.sa.gov.au), we asked Canadian early childhood expert, the late Dr Fraser Mustard, and more recently Professor Carla Rinaldi from Reggio Emilia in Italy, to advise us on how to improve early childhood education. It's a policy area we take very seriously. In South Australia every child aged 4 is entitled to government funded preschool education.

Fraser Mustard told us that states and nations with early childhood development programs beginning in the earliest years of infancy (birth to age 2) secured the highest scores in literacy and numeracy. These findings are compatible with what we now know about early brain development, language and literacy.

In Reggio Emilia, a northern Italian town with a worldwide reputation for advanced thinking in early childhood education, young children are viewed quite differently. They are treated as citizens with rights. They are not seen as just empty vessels to be filled up with knowledge by enthusiastic teachers. Instead there is a real emphasis on unlocking and respecting a child's imagination which can play a key role in problem solving and in a child's search for knowledge and understanding. A strong embrace of the visual arts encourages children to express themselves creatively. In doing so, it helps them develop their theoretical and analytical skills.

Just over a decade ago, Chicago Economist and Nobel Laureate Jim Heckman said "We cannot afford to postpone investing in children until they become adults; nor can we wait until they reach school age – a time when it may be too late to intervene. Learning is a dynamic process and it is most effective when it begins at a very young age and continues throughout adulthood." In 2006, a major work for the Brookings Institution, outlined three important principles to improve early childhood development:

•    intervene early (at least at the time of birth)

•    intervene often

•    intervene effectively.

But its not just about better preschool education, as important as that is.

For governments, it makes sense to invest in these early years through better targeted health services. Not doing so often results in much bigger spending later in life when problems are harder to fix. Studies around the world show that a lack of investment in the early years can lead to significant social and mental health problems. The Rand Corporation estimated that for every $1 invested in early childhood and parent support programs, $7 could be saved in later life; in health, and criminal justice systems. Unfortunately, government Treasury officials seldom think this way.

The first few months of a baby's life are both important, as well as joyous and worrying, particularly for first time parents.

In South Australia, the state government in 2003 launched its ambitious 'Every Chance for Every Child' program. Funded by the state, it involves home visits by qualified paediatric nurses to virtually every baby in South Australia within four weeks of their birth. We call it a 'Universal Contact' visit. This service has proved to be not only popular but extraordinarily helpful for babies and parents alike, particularly for young mothers, single or otherwise, who often feel isolated in their homes and finding it hard to cope. Sometimes there are issues such as post-natal depression to deal with.

The first home visit under the 'Every Chance for Every Child' program is comprehensive. It includes conducting a child health check - a full physical examination, responding to the needs of parents and providing them with information and advice on bonding, feeding and settling their baby, and ensuring the best possible environment for the infant, including safe sleeping arrangements.

Last year 95% of South Australian parents with brand new babies received visits under this program.

This first visit enables the early identification of family and child development issues leading to early intervention and problem prevention. For many, the first visit is enough, but there is much more help available to assist families who need extra support. This can involve a series of follow up home visits or attendance at a Child and Family Health Service Clinic. First time parents are offered access to 'new parent' groups, a 6 week program 'Getting to Know Your Baby' facilitated by a Child and Family Health Service nurse.

An even more comprehensive family home visiting program is available to provide additional support for struggling families. Our Family Home Visiting scheme is a two year, nurse led preventative parenting program based on building a partnership between the child and specialist nurse, and the family, to provide a supportive environment and the best possible developmental start for children. The program has a multidisciplinary approach and includes Aboriginal cultural consultants to assist Indigenous Australian families.

The program focuses on the health and safety of young children, child development, relationships (especially between the child and parent) and community connection – linking the family into services in their local area. It's not a 'one size fits all' approach but is flexible, responsive and tailored to meet different needs and circumstances. Ongoing health checks, immunisations and hearing screening, are part of the program.

I would encourage policy makers to take a close look at the Reggio approach to early childhood education and the 'Every Chance for Every Child' infant health program in South Australia.

Getting the best start – at the start – makes sense for children, families, communities, states and nations.

This Blog was published on the Center for National Policy website.

Mike Rann is Fellow for Democracy and Development with the Center for National Policy, Washington, D.C.