Thank you for inviting me back. I was here two years ago and although the theme this year is slightly different, actually much of it is the same.
The theme this year is “Leading Innovation and Regeneration” and is designed to enable you to explore a consideration of the possibilities, challenges, realities and dreams key leaders create and face during a time of regeneration.
I know you will be reflecting on the role of resilience in sustaining wellness over such a long period of change and/or endurance following a natural or human-made disaster.
Finally we know that last year was election year – and I know you’re interested to know about what has changed since then.
It saddens me to say that I really don’t feel that we have transitioned very far. I seriously don’t think central government knows how to let go. This government hasn’t even been in the role for 9 months, so I guess it’s early days for them. But it isn’t for the city. I’m glad you understand that there is a difference between resilience and endurance. They are worlds apart. There are so many people who have had to endure so much; a lot more than was necessary.
A much more focused and engaged approach to recovery would have led to much better outcomes for the city as a whole, and would have enable communities to build resilience.
And that’s where leadership comes in.
Leadership is not a position. I have learned from our experience that it is a characteristic based on certain qualities. Sometimes we find leaders who hold the position, but don’t have these qualities. And sometimes those qualities are evident in people who do not hold leadership positions. They are true leaders in every sense of the word.
I remember going to a forum where young people were asked to describe leadership and the usual words were offered: strong, decisive, committed, authoritative, responsible.
Any textbook would associate those words with what it takes to be a leader. But this is what is described as a heroic model of leadership – someone who comes in and takes charge.
In the emergency response period following a disaster, people often look for this command and control form of leadership – it can be comforting to have someone else taking charge, knowing what to do.
But there is another way to define leadership and this definition ties in with my experience once the crisis is over and we begin the process of recovery and now regeneration.
The kind of leader that emerges in this environment is one that is respectful, engaging, empathetic, inclusive and intuitive.
These are the leadership qualities that build trust.
Trust has to be earned and in my experience it’s a two way street. We in government - whether local or central government - need to trust communities to take charge of their own destiny. Again that helps build resilience.
So where does this conversation go now in the context of leading innovation and regeneration?
In a post-disaster environment, this is hard. Both mean change and both are being encouraged in an environment that sees us setting priorities based on a desire to keep rate increases as low as we can.
When a disaster has impacted different parts of the city unequally, this is enormously challenging. But we box on.
Gil Penasola talks about the 880 city – where it’s great to be 8 and it’s great to be 80. An inclusive city embraces the idea that this is a great city to be a kid and a great city to grow old.
Accessibility is a unifying theme when considered at the two ends of a life’s spectrum and everything in between.
I heard a Mayor speak at a conference once where he said:
“I’m no greenie, but if you’re going to build back why wouldn’t you build back green?”
He also said – “never forget the greenest building is the one that’s already standing”. Someone else said that a failure to plan is a plan to fail, and we’ve paid a big price as a city as a result.
So back to the theme of building back green, why wouldn’t we build back accessible and smart? And if you’re thinking the whole of life why wouldn’t you make your home accessible from the start? Think of the retrofitting bill paid by the health system and ACC year in year out, that could be repurposed to building the proverbial fence at the top of the cliff or supporting rehabilitation.
The question is, why wasn’t the guidance put in place that allowed people to see the sense of going this way and supported that choice? Sadly this was another missed opportunity.
We were given the chance to do something really special here. And what a legacy that would have been. I hope that someone listens and learns the lessons, so somewhere else when disaster strikes, a world of difference can be made.