Brett Mason: Good evening everyone. A very warm welcome to the National Library of Australia and to one of the highlights of our events calendar, the Kenneth Myer Lecture. I'm Brett Mason and it's my privilege to chair the Council of the National Library. As we begin, I'd like to acknowledge Australia's First Nations peoples, the first Australians, as the traditional owners and custodians of this land, and pay my respects to Elders past and present and through them to all Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Thank you for attending this event in person, coming to you from the National Library building on beautiful Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. It's a particular pleasure to see so many of you. We have a very good audience here tonight for this, the 32nd Kenneth Myer Lecture.

The Kenneth Myer Lecture began in 1990 as an annual event for the Friends of the National Library of Australia. The Lecture is named to honour Kenneth Baillieu Myer AC, a visionary Australian philanthropist and businessman. Kenneth Myer contributed to an extensive range of institutions and causes through significant donations, enthusiastic participation on boards, and his involvement in the Sidney Myer Fund and The Myer Foundation. A generous supporter and long-term Friend of the National Library, Myer was a founding member of the National Library Council back in 1961, prior to serving as its chair from 1974 through to 1982. In 1989, he was the recipient of the Australian Library and Information Association's Redmond Barry Award for his services to Australian Libraries. 

The prescription for this Lecture has always been simple and is based on Kenneth Myer's views. Aligning with his wide range of cultural and social commitments, he saw it as an opportunity for an eminent Australian to make a significant statement on a broad subject of particular interest to them. He hoped they would speak their minds and contribute to emerging public debates. The Lecture has been presented by a host of prominent Australians from the Honourable Gough Whitlam, to Jillian Broadbent, and most recently Professor Megan Davis. 

The Lecture series would simply not be possible without the support of Kenneth Myer himself, the Myer family, and since 2015, The Myer Foundation. As always, we thank them so very much for their generosity. 

Tonight, it's my great pleasure to introduce Professor Glyn Davis AC as our 2023 Myer lecturer. Professor Davis was appointed as the secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2022. He was formally the CEO of the Paul Ramsay Foundation, Australia's largest charitable foundation, with a mission to break the cycle of disadvantage. Previous to this role, Professor Davis served as Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne and Vice Chancellor of Griffith University. His community work includes partnerships with indigenous programs and service on a range of arts boards. His most recent book, ‘On Life's Lottery’ is an essay on our moral responsibility towards those less well off. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming Professor Glyn Davis to present the 2023 Kenneth Myer Lecture.
Glyn Davis: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Brett, thank you for that very generous welcome, I really appreciate it. And of course I join you in acknowledging the Ngunnawal people as the traditional custodians of these unceded lands and recognise of course other aboriginal families with deep connections to the land of the ACT and region, we are privileged to be on your country, to benefit from the continuing culture and care that you bring to this community. 

Can I express my gratitude to Dr. Marie-Louise Ayres, the Director-General of the National Library of Australia and to her colleagues including Brett for the kind invitation to deliver this Lecture. 

Like so many others in this room, I suspect, I first encountered the National Library of Australia as a student. I moved to Canberra to work on a doctorate at the Australian National University, on the political independence of the ABC. And so I spent lots of time here but at the end of my first year on that thesis, I put it aside for about three months to work at the Reid Review of Commonwealth Administration, which no one remembers or cares about. But it was late 1982 and I found myself suddenly an Australian Public Service research officer grade one. Now Malcolm Fraser who had set up this inquiry gave us an impossible deadline. And so the review team toiled through the summer. We worked really hard all through a very hot Canberra summer in the race against time, to recommend new management practices for the Australian Public Service. And yet as so often happens in public life, all of that urgency proved misplaced because just weeks after we handed him the report, Malcolm Fraser called an election, which he lost. And with him went the rationale for the Reid Report, and it seemed any prospect of any of the recommendations ever being considered, ever again. So that was for me a very memorable lesson, I was then by then back at the ANU. 

In Canberra, setbacks are a common occurrence, but for me this has been an extraordinarily generous tutorial. The Reid Review was my first glimpse at the Australian Public Service and I got to develop that interest through two subsequent public inquiries that I served on. And I learned from that experience that recommendations rejected in one report tend to get recycled in the next one and recycled and recycled until someone notices; that ideas move very quietly from being heresy to being conventional wisdom and a setback now is merely an opportunity for later, cause this is a city of second chances for policy and for people. 

Now the wheel of fortune has brought me back to Canberra and back to this wonderful place, our National Library, a place of treasures, large and small. In his history of the NLA, Peter Cochrane argues that we weave our narratives not just from the books and the papers and the objects in this collection, but from the wider stories and associations which permeate them. And Cochrane writes, "The true purpose of a National Library is to take us on a perpetual round trip from the collections ever growing, ever deepening to the collective wisdom, ever contending, ever changing, and back again." A perpetual round trip, it sounds very Canberra. The Canberra cycle in this fabulous place of learning and contention and change. 

So this Myer Lecture honours a man who helped imagine the National Library of Australia, who supported its conventions, who encouraged change, who made wisdom possible here for every student, including me, whoever walked through these doors. 

So I want to take you back to 1960, we're in Melbourne, in fact, we're in the Myer bedding department to be precise. And the phone has just rung, and Kenneth Myer, who's up there, has answered the phone and the switchboard operator has said the Prime Minister is on the line. The call connects, and so Robert Menzies launches into his pitch. It's a call to service. The Prime Minister wants Ken to join the National Library Council, a newly established body, charged with planning and building a dedicated National Library in Canberra. “This new library and its Council,” says the Prime Minister, “needs energy and it needs ability and it needs zeal, it needs a head for business, and that's why Ken is the man for the job. It will be good for the soul," the Prime Minister concludes. There isn't much Ken Myer can say except yes. 

And so began a remarkable association because suddenly Ken Myer found himself spending a lot of time here in Canberra. He stayed at University House and alongside his fellow Council Members, he became absorbed in planning our future library, he worked through the often-contentious design phase and then the construction. And gradually, he watched this building, the one we're in, arise by the lake's edge, eventually opening its doors in 1968. Ken stayed on serving as the council chair, as Brett just reminded us, all the way until 1982. he anticipated and he helped usher the Library into the digital era, preserving, contending, leading change. In total, Ken Myer gave an extraordinary 21 years of service to the NLA. And long after he officially retired, his biographer, Sue Ebury, tells us, and I'm quoting, "Ken's tall slim figure was often seen walking quickly through the building, inspecting the exhibitions, chatting to staff or reading material in a quiet corner." 

Now, Ken Myer donated not just his care and his leadership to this library, but his philanthropy too, again, as Brett outlined. He personally endowed a trust fund for projects which could not be covered by normal operating budget. And such generosity gave the NLA some control over its financial destiny. Ken Myer led by example, encouraging others too to support this Library. So tonight I'd like to explore this dimension of the Myer legacy, the power and the possibility of philanthropy. 

We often celebrate donations to the arts and to medical research, from the many Australians who support our cultural and educational life, but less visible, though long of great interest to the whole Myer family is the role philanthropy can play in social policy, in particular in addressing inequality. 

And I want to be frank, this is not a simple topic because in social policy, philanthropy can find itself at odds with government and with public opinion. There are very important tensions in using private money to pursue public ends. Yet there are also exciting possibilities when philanthropy interacts with public policy through partnership, government and philanthropy, working together, can find new ways to break those cycles of disadvantage to address some of Australia's most intractable challenges. 

Now the story of philanthropy at scale starts of course not in Australia, but across the Pacific, in the United States during The Gilded Era of the late 19th century, it was a time booming industry, of technological advances, of big fortunes, and of very few taxes. The resulting inequality in wealth was staggering. It's not matched until the mining and tech billionaires of our time, that sort of inequality. And some immensely wealthy people, but not all, perhaps not many, began to worry about the consequences of the stark inequality they could see all around them. They fretted about what such disparity might mean for social cohesion, for a fair society, perhaps even for political stability. Perhaps they pondered some of that wealth should be returned to public benefit. I'm here reminded of a fabulous moment in ‘The Simpsons’ where a philanthropist is saying, "I want to give something back to society, not the money obviously, but something." 
Andrew Carnegie was one such person. He arrived in America as a very poor immigrant from Scotland. He began working as a bobbin boy in a Pennsylvania cotton mill. And yet by the age of just 30, he controlled vast business interests spanning steel, oil, iron ore, and all the steamers on the Great Lakes. In 1901, he sold his steel company for US$480 million, which is a lot of money now, but an unimaginable amount of money in 1901. But Carnegie became increasingly disturbed by his extreme wealth and by the often ruthless tactics he'd employed to make that fortune. He worried about dying, in the words of Sir Walter Scott, "Unwept, unhonored and unsung." 

So he had a cunning idea. He knew about corporations, he'd created a whole range of them, he knew how they worked. Well, why not create a philanthropic corporation? It would manage funds and investor returns each year in social projects. And this is the origin of our contemporary foundations. 

Carnegie saw the foundation as a means for, and I'm quoting him here, "The problem of rich and poor to be solved." In fact, he became evangelical about philanthropy, he named his book on the subject, ‘The Gospel of Wealth.’ And in its most famous passage, this gospel carried a blunt message for the wealthy who failed to give back. "The man who dies thus rich dies disgraced," which is an extraordinary thought. 

The Carnegie Trust that he created and the Carnegie Corporation of New York would fund first of all, libraries. He decided libraries were his best way to help people, in particular immigrants, who needed access to texts and to reading. And so he funded libraries, not just across the United States, but he funded a number of Carnegie Libraries in Australia. And there's a suburb in Melbourne named in his honour as a result. Carnegie also endowed cultural institutions, think Carnegie Hall. And he expanded into an ever-wider array of initiatives. And that of course continued after his lifetime, the Carnegie Corporation is still going. It supported the discovery of insulin, it's funded efforts at nuclear disarmament, it helped launch ‘Sesame Street’. It had lots of contributions. 

But despite all of that work, Carnegie himself remained a very divisive figure. Many argued that the style of philanthropy he was pioneering was at best undemocratic and at worst, a cynical distraction from dismantling the systems that allowed such unequal wealth to amass in the first place. His foundations and all those which followed were and still are described as just a way to avoid paying inheritance tax. 

And other billionaires of his time who wanted to follow his example, found quite remarkable opposition. For example, John D. Rockefeller, asked Congress asked the president and Congress to legislate so that he could distribute his fortune to the less well off. And President Taft and most of the legislators, objected. They feared that a large perpetual trust would become a menace to the health and welfare of society and a threat to democracy. But Rockefeller being Rockefeller just ignored them and created this thing anyway under New York statute rather than federal law. 
But that suspicion remains about why people are creating foundations. Following the birth of their daughter eight years ago, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced they would establish a philanthropic foundation and give away 99% of their Facebook shares. Their mission they wrote in a letter to their baby daughter, which of course was published on Facebook, is I quote, "To advance human potential and promote equality." The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative website commits the organisation to quote, "Solving some of society's toughest challenges, from eradicating disease to improving education in addressing the needs of our local communities." Now, many at the time argued and still do, that Facebook is a significant contributor to the social problems its founder now proposes to solve. Many quote an aside, attributed to, but probably not said by the British Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, "Charity is a cold, grey, loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor he should pay his taxes gladly, not doll out money at a whim." 

Difficult questions arise when unaccountable private actors seek a role traditionally the preserve of government, whether delivering services or influencing the direction of social policy. There are important questions of power and accountability. There's a strain between the very good work of lots of foundations and the legal and social conditions which make their wealth possible. 

Yet it's very hard to argue with the contributions say, of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Over more than three decades, the Gates Initiative has vaccinated more than, nearly, 3 billion children. It's reduced the worldwide incidence of polio by 99%. You could say the same about the Rockefeller Foundation's $1 billion investment in bringing electrified light through solar panels to millions of households in the developing world. Or the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, which has funded nurse training in California to improve the safety and condition of patients in the hospitals. The Lucille Packard Foundation for Children's Health, which has improved access to health services for children with special needs. The Pew Charitable Trust, which has invested years in prison reform, persuading legislatures that there are real alternatives to just sending lots of people to jail. 
The United States is now home to more than 120,000 foundations, with combined assets estimated at us $1.2 trillion. Together these foundations donate more than $100 billion to individuals and for-profit organisations every year across the United States. That is a lot of influential money under private control. It's also a lot of money to pursue innovative, ambitious, and perhaps society changing work. 

I'd like to talk for a minute about foundations in Australia. Australia until now has never hosted a philanthropic culture on the same scale as seen in the US. And I say that carefully, Australians are incredibly generous, it's just about how that charity's organised and we haven't organised it around big foundations until now. And that means we've never really had the debate about the role of large foundations, because we've not had to. Yet the number of Australian and the scale of Australian foundations is growing steadily and cumulatively they now invest hundreds of millions of dollars into our society every year. 

There's some famous recent examples, including the founders of Canva and Atlassian, but they're just joining a range of established players such as the Ian Potter Foundation, the Minderoo Foundation, the Snow Family Foundation, in my former home, the Paul Ramsay Foundation, alongside of course the Myer family, who have been amongst Australia's most active philanthropic players. 

The Myer story, as the family tells it, and it was a lot of fun in preparing this, in talking to the family about it, began in earnest in 1899. That was the year that Ken Myer's father Simcha, later known as Sidney, fled pogroms and a life of poverty in Belarus to join his elder brother in distant Melbourne. He was 21 years old, he spent all of his meagre savings on the voyage to get here. It's said that he handed over his last threepence for a glass of beer, though accounts vary, it may have been for a tomato. 

But while he was short of cash, he lacked nothing when it came to, and I'm quoting, "Charm, good looks, robust physical health, energy, intelligence, and a determination to be his own boss." On arrival in Australia, the Victorian goldfields beckoned and Sidney was soon top a horse drawn cart hawking goods through the region. He did this with extraordinary skill. So that in 1911, 12 years, just 12 years after he set foot in a country where he didn't speak the language, Sidney opened the first Myer store in Melbourne and he followed that not long afterwards with the grander, more ambitious, Myer Emporium. And here in the National Library's collection, you can find an advertisement from the Argus, dated June, 1914. It declares, if you've got very good eyesight, it declares the Myer Store “stock to repletion and never before so ready, so prepared to serve Melbourne's buying public”. The store survived the wartime slump. By 1920 it had grown to 200 departments and it was a huge enterprise. 

Now, Sidney Myer was not a religious man, but according to his family, he shared the Jewish tradition of social responsibility and he wanted to give back in a very substantial way. Sidney Myer's entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography describes managers receiving paid holiday leave, which was unknown in Australia in the 1920s, a sickness fund and medical care, not to mention the option of buying affordable company shares. During the Great Depression, Sidney Myer made sure that no jobs were lost from his enterprise. And somehow he also found time to be a passionate amateur musician. He organised free open-air concerts to entertain and uplift Melbourne, and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra continues to this day to perform these concerts at the Sidney Myer Bowl, which is great for those of us who live nearby. Much is made of Myer's famed Christmas dinner in 1930, when 12,000 hungry Melbournians were treated to a meal in the Royal Exhibition building. They were the public signs of support. But behind these very public gifts were Sidney's substantial private donations to welfare agencies. 

Because this was a generous life, though one cut short, at 56, just 56 years old. Myer Emporium workers were said to have wept unrestrainedly when they heard the news of his death. For the family, there wasn't just grief, there was now responsibility to build on that legacy. And the result was an Australian foundation based on the Carnegie model. Sidney wished for a significant proportion of his family's wealth to be put toward the community. And what started as the Sidney Myer Fund was joined in time by The Myer Foundation, which was established by Ken and his brother Baillieu in 1959. 
Here was a new model for philanthropy in Australia, a family trust designed to operate over many generations, and to inculcate future Myer offspring into a culture of giving. And today the Myers called philanthropy, “the Family Glue”. The foundation is a commitment to a thoughtful, careful path to investing in the community. To give back, but to quote Martin Luther King Jr. "Not to ignore the circumstances of economic injustice, which make philanthropy necessary." To fund service delivery where it is missing, but also to pursue work in challenges that really do ask questions about social and economic fault lines, to question wealth and privilege when opportunity is not shared. 

I encountered this world when I finished at the University of Melbourne and was asked somewhat out of the blue from my point of view, to come and help set up the Paul Ramsay Foundation. And we drew heavily on The Myer Foundation for the model that we used there. Paul Ramsay made his fortune through global healthcare and media businesses. When he died in 1914, in 2014, sorry, he bequeathed to philanthropy the then largest amount ever done in Australian history, estimated by some at $4 billion, a huge amount of money. This was an extraordinary decision, made more remarkable by the fact he left no detailed instructions about how the money was to be spent. He trusted that those who would run his foundation after he died would define a mission and create an organisation which could distribute up to $200 million a year, every year in perpetuity, toward the Australian community. 

Now, such a extraordinary generosity also raises an intriguing moral question. What's the social license for spending that sort of money? And how should you do it in a completely ethical way? These are non-trivial questions when you're talking about 200 million bucks a year. So I was asked to help set this up and began in early 2019 with what seemed to me the obvious question. What did we know about Paul Ramsay, who I had only met once, like a decade earlier? Well, it didn't take long to discover by talking to people that he loved people, he wanted to help when others were down on their luck. We collected just countless examples of this man quietly supporting people who were just doing it tough. 

So the question for us became how can we improve lives at scale? How can we address through this generous bequest, intergenerational inequality? How can we target the constraints that stop people from living the life they value, from having the life they want to have? 

So we agreed on a very enthusiastic and committed Board that Paul Ramsay Foundation funding would go to those Australians who had the least. The foundation would partner with communities and like-minded organisations to break the cycle of disadvantage. And to this goal, the Paul Ramsay Foundation has this year now spent more than $800 million into the Australian community, and will go on spending at that rate for a very, very long time. It's helped young people thrive in their early years. It's got adults into meaningful and sustainable employment. It's helped keep young people out of the justice system and it's helped distressed communities, including those on the south coast from here, grow more resilient in the face of challenges such as fire, flood, and climate change. 

These investors'- investments were guided by the idea of an off ramp, that people do it tough and when you look at poverty, it's circular, people end up falling into the same traps over and over again and never able to get out. If you can provide an off ramp, if you can, particularly for young people, provide the care, the education, the support that allows them to break out of that cycle of disadvantage, you give them the chance to have the life they want, you don't tell them how to live their life, you don't tell them what they should want, you give them the chance to choose for themselves, and that's what the approach was like. You begin to see why this convergence was social policy, why you beginning to buy into some very interesting questions. 

Like The Myer Foundation, like many others, the Paul Ramsay Foundation pursues system change. In social policy terms, these are activist foundations. They seek change, not charity. They're guided by research, they invest in data and they target the causes of disadvantage. 

I need to tell you sadly, that this work is much needed because disadvantage in Australia is persistent. Our poverty rate is higher than the OECD average, which is not how we like to think of ourselves. The most recent data tells us that 13% of all Australians, around 3.3 million people, live in poverty. For these Australians, social mobility is hard to achieve. A recent Treasury study found that the children who are born in the bottom fifth of households as measured by income have just a 12% chance of reaching the top fifth during their lifetime. If you're born poor in this country, overwhelmingly you stay poor. So despite our self-image as the land of the of the fair go, as this place of social mobility, Australia is home to an entrenched divide between those who can live prosperous lives and an invisible but large cohort who must live with disadvantage. And like any inheritance, this disadvantage passes from parents to children. 

So here's our challenge, but here also is the opportunity where philanthropy can contribute, for foundations can take on issues not easily addressed or even ignored by government. They can push policy discussions forward, they can take risks, they can live with controversy and they can do public advocacy in a way that is difficult in public life. Let me give you an example, the Grattan Institute. 

The Grattan Institute indeed benefited from an initial endowment from the Commonwealth and Victorian governments, a one-off payment, but it remains determinedly independent. Grattan does not accept ongoing government funding and nor does it do consultancy work to make money. It needs independence to pursue big ideas and it has a mission of opening unwelcome debates. It wants to be a sensible voice amid the fray. Independent institutions or think tanks such as Grattan, they create a space for neglected or contested issues. 

So the Grattan has talked in very unpopular ways about taxes, about better urban planning, about equity in school funding. These are not issues that people are comfortable discussing in our country, and yet Grattan has persistently been willing to pursue them. It's why so much of its program support comes from philanthropy, from sources such as the Susan McKinnon Foundation, the Third Link Growth Fund, the Trawalla Foundation, the Scanlan Foundation, The Myer Foundation and others. 

Now it's important to say when foundations donate, they don't have a particular policy outcome in mind. Rather, it's what some call outcome agnostic, money given to support better thinking about policy, not a predetermined solution, and sometimes that investment does not pay off. Many of Australia's largest foundations pledged significant support and funding to the ‘Yes Campaign’ in the recent voice referendum, only to see that policy agenda firmly defeated. The Myer Foundation was perhaps more successful in backing the marriage equality campaign. The Myer Foundation also supports the Human Rights Law Centre, which builds arguments around indigenous rights, protestors' rights, and the right to abortion. 

Ken Myer's son, Martin, who has spent his entire life engaged with the Family Foundation, calls such funding quote, "The fearlessness of the philanthropic dollar." And as the number of Australian foundations grow, the power of philanthropy to champion policy causes will grow with them. Depending on your perspective, this is either a good thing for deliberation in our country or it's dangerously undemocratic. And we may as in America see foundations begin to encourage and engage in partisan debate, not just policy ideas. That is one of the risks. 

For better or worse, foundations can support projects which are controversial and therefore difficult for governments. And let me give you an example, the Melbourne based Penington Institute. For years, the institute has funded needle and syringe safety programs for people who inject drugs. And it does so to minimise their risk of contracting Hepatitis or HIV. Safe injecting facilities are inevitably controversial and governments have often retreated in the face of community opposition to such facilities. The Penington Institute has bravely pursued that policy and found a way to deliver those services. Again, you can praise the outcome or can worry about the democratic implications, but good foundations are willing to try innovative programs and they're willing to fail.

Ken Myer had a name for this, he called it “Risk Philanthropy”. He described it as and I'm quoting, "A rare privilege. When one saw something worthwhile, you could back your own judgement and ideas with your own money." Here foundations can apply a risk approach. They use the same logic and agility as venture capitalists when they fund startups. They can start very small, test an idea and if it works, expand it. And then if the evidence is strong, move to longer term funding. Which means they can fund trials that government can then follow. And it's far more difficult for politicians to risk taxpayers' money in this way. So foundations have a potentially significant role to play. 

I want to give you a rather gentle but lovely example. Five years ago, the Australian Chamber Orchestra partnered with education experts at Sydney University and educators at St. Mary's North Public School, which is in Western Sydney, it's one of the most disadvantaged parts of Western Sydney. The vast majority of the school's students are drawn from the bottom quartile of socio-educational disadvantage. The researchers wanted to test a simple proposition that if you put a violin or a cello in the hands of every year one student, you can demonstrate the positive impact of daily playing and regular lessons. We now have five years of data on this program and it demonstrates that access to an instrument and instruction means the musical ability of students from families increases dramatically. Now that's exactly the result you'd expect, but that's not what they were testing. What they were testing was a hypothesis that instruction, encouragement and an opportunity to engage in the arts would have wider benefits. And what the data shows is that the instruction program has improved physical development, emotional and behavioural measures, communication, attitude, motivation, and school attendance. It took multi-year support from Crown Resorts and the Packer Family Foundation. But that support eventually persuaded the New South Wales government to invest in the trial and now to expand the program. So here's an example of clear social benefits being tested and then taken forward by government. 

And this model was tried again during COVID when Origin Foundation gave researchers $100,000 to look at the effects of distance learning on students from low income families. And they demonstrated compellingly that if you provide small group tutorial lessons to such families, you dramatically improved school outcomes. And as a result, governments in both New South Wales and Victoria have now invested heavily in the program. In fact, the Victorian investment is $1.2 billion, which is not a bad return on what was a $100,000 grant. 

When governments fund investments which fail, they face a political cost, foundations are just less restrained. They can lean into the risk, they can make small investments quickly, they can present government with proven results and that allows governments to make a decision with confidence. 

So a less discussed benefit of foundations is their ability to support organisations which build on what I can only think of as a tautology, lived experience. Here is a direct connection to community and to those who are keen to support social change. And I want to tell you about the Brave Foundation, which is Australia's first national not-for-profit dedicated to helping young parents, kids at school when a girl becomes pregnant. The Brave Foundation was founded in Tasmania by former Tasmanian Australian of the Year, Bernadette Black. It began as a simple service directory, which expanded with the help of a generous bequest. 

Tasmania has per capita the highest teenage birth rate in the country. And that matters because the one thing the data tells us unambiguously is that teenage mothers and their children are most likely to live in poverty for the rest of their lives, it is absolutely a sentence to poverty, it's incredibly hard to break out. And Bernadette Black saw this, she saw the stigma of teenage parenthood, she saw how it consigned young parents and their families to a life of disadvantage. So she found a counter example, she found for example, a Hobart mother called Ebony Curtis, who fell pregnant at 15 but was supported by her parents to have the birth and then go back to school and finish her education. And not just at school, she then went to university, she studied law, she became a successful lawyer, she now sits on the foundation's board. That's a wonderful example of an individual breaking through, but it is against the trend of what we know about teenage motherhood. 

The Brave Foundation provides therefore an off ramp it's overwhelmingly to young girls of course. And so they can follow Ebony's example, have their child, but return to education, get the qualifications and the foundation supports them through that long journey. And the result is they have the same chances as their cohort, as other people actually having a good life. 

It was early investment by foundations including the Paul Ramsay Foundation, which supported the service and eventually attracted a federally funded national trial and then significant federal funding back in 2022. So this is a nice example of how foundations can work with government. Partnership, therefore, leadership from the community, funding from foundations, a program built around the lived experience of those in the cycle and eventual adoption by government for national application. 

So moving toward the close, I want to talk for a minute about place. And place because lived experience begins somewhere, it happens in a specific place. We've got lots of data on this from Australia. The most recent is the ‘Dropping off the Edge Report’. And it just tells you how concentrated poverty is in this country, it has a geographical home, it's not just distributed widely through the community. 

For example, this study by the Jesuit Social Services looked at the 10 most disadvantaged suburbs and towns across Victoria in 2010. And it found that overwhelmingly they were the same places that had been disadvantaged when they first did the study earlier in the decade. And in New South Wales, nine out of 10 of the places were unchanged. 
As the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Young People, observed families find it harder to get the support they need when their community is also suffering. Intergenerational disadvantage deepens and compounds, becomes multifaceted and commonplace. That is, poverty is concentrated and reinforced by location. 

For many years, advocates of place-based initiatives have argued that programs designed with and for communities deliver much better results than large programs delivered by large government agencies. And this approach, this community approach, has become a mainstay of foundation funding. It's a chance to look at individual communities and support their work. And that work emphasises collaboration, a partnership approach in which many actors, large and small philanthropic foundations, charities, schools, community groups, councils, universities, governments join together for a shared program, each bringing their resources and their expertise to the task. 

An example I'd like to give you is Our Place, which started life in 2012 at Doveton College in outer Melbourne, generously supported by the Colman Education Foundation. Our Place aspired to turn a primary school into a community hub. Really what they wanted is a place where the whole family could go. So the parents felt as welcome at the school as their children, and while their children learn, the parents had access to classes to learn English, health and social services, connections into the community, training. Our Place pays particular attention not to the primary school students so much as to adult education for their families. It follows the same thinking as the Brave Foundation's work with teenage parents, get mums and dads into work and you deliver really important benefits for their children. Those are the communities they were working in. 

So there was a pilot evaluation, after some years it found a really significant increase in parent employment and a corresponding decrease in developmental vulnerability by their children. Our Place has now expanded to 10 communities across Victoria. It has government support but it's still very much philanthropically based. The one I know best is in Carlton in Inner Melbourne. And here it's a partnership between the Carlton Primary School, the City of Melbourne, and the Carlton Housing Estate, which briefly became notorious during COVID when everybody was locked in. 

That estate is a pocket of extraordinary disadvantage within an otherwise affluent inner-city suburb. 85% of the kids at Carlton Primary School are from non-English speaking families. And the nearby housing estate is home to numerous migrants and refugees. So it's a great place to run a community-based approach. Our Place at Carlton is the spine organisation, which coordinates and promotes links for local families. So the partners include the Victorian Government, which has provided significant funding, community spaces, some additional classrooms, and some health consulting rooms. But others are involved, an early learning service, a mother and child health service, not-for-profit Gallery Victoria, which operates in Early Learning Centre, the YMCA, which offers afterschool activities, as it turns out, not just for the primary school students but for much of the community in the housing estate. 

It's such an inspiring example and such a long way from the centrally designed approach to programs and services typically delivered by government, and I say that as someone who works in government. Because it starts with a community and individual needs. Government funding and services, yes, they're part of the mix, but they have to sit alongside philanthropic partners, schools, councils, and all everybody else involved. Now partnerships like that take time and patience. You need a high tolerance for early disappointment before anything is achieved. You really do need to live with the fact it takes a long time before anything moves. And then when it does, it moves. But over time, and we've got now 10 years and longer experience in some places, Carlton in Victoria, Logan Connect in Southeast Queensland, Mount Druitt in Sydney, which is a great program. These are place-based partnerships which are now making a difference for the community. It's little by little, it's community by community. But these partnerships create social capital, they show how policy is made, they shape how services are delivered. 

And philanthropy has been a crucial part of that mix. It would not have happened without the money and the commitment that philanthropy was able to show. Because the foundations unlike government, could take early risks, they could live with failure, and above-all, they could commit to the many years of funding that such programs usually require. Because these projects require skilled leadership, they require community support to convene players, they require expert external support to do evaluation and they require a very different model of public service engagement. 

The former Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner, said once when he was describing new ways of working with indigenous communities, "History shows us when a decision is made in Darwin and a wrong one can be made, it's hard to fix. And when a wrong decision is made in Canberra, it's even harder to fix. Local decisions are the best decisions." Or in the words of the Empowered Communities Movement, "Service delivery works best when governments give us a say in the design of our futures, a voice even." 

For the long-track record of disappointment in closing the gap outcomes should be in itself the most compelling argument for finding a better way of engaging with community, not just First Nations, but all communities. And here is a challenge for government, and so this is the right city to be talking about this and thinking about it. This collective impact model, as it's known, rests on genuine pooling of resources with the community deciding how to allocate effort and money. And this runs hard against our traditional model of government in which public services are organised around programs and departments. There are rules to ensure consistent treatment of citizens. There's annual monitoring of results. This is asking government to share control of resources and to surrender control with local community. And that's like asking elected representatives to forego their right to make decisions and announce big spending grants. It's hard for everybody, it questions so many things we take for granted, from ministerial responsibility, to outcomes, to the way we audit public expenditure. 

But there are interesting signs of change. In this year's Commonwealth Budget, the government committed to invest in place-based partnerships as part of a broader effort to tackle disadvantage through a program called ‘Stronger Places, Stronger People’. It also agreed to support a National Centre for place-based collaboration, which has been put together to provide advocacy and to provide expertise that can be shared. 

And all of these have at their core this idea that Australians need to get involved in these decisions. They won't get solved. These are not problems solved by government. They're actually problem solved and philanthropy, charity, foundations are an important part of that mix and a way for Australians to get involved. 

The Commonwealth Government has adopted an idea that's been promoted in recent years by Philanthropy Australia, and that is to double giving by Australians by 2030, Australia's biggest ever intergenerational transfer of wealth is just over the horizon. According to the productivity commission, $3.5 trillion in assets will transfer from us to younger Australians by 2050. An astonishing amount of money. Some of this money we might hope will find its way into partnerships, into local communities, into service delivery, which is better because it's shared, it's targeted, it's informed by experience, that is, it's serviced markedly different from our existing models. Or to quote The Myer Foundation, "A partnership between community, philanthropy and government could mean more people benefit from a just creative, enlightened, caring, and sustainable Australia.” 

When Kenneth Myer died in 1992, the Canberra Times obituary ran a simple headline, ‘Arts patron, lovely bloke’. Ken had just a few months before, finished a long process of recording his oral history here at the National Library. In those interviews, Ken expressed his strong attachment to this place. He valued the commitment and the expertise of the National Library staff, people he'd come to know and deeply respect. And in return, he was celebrated by them as a person of great kindness and good humour, of remarkable energy and meticulousness, someone whom as one Library colleague put it, "Was always talking, questioning, using every minute." 

The National Library of Australia encouraged Ken Myer to bring together two great passions, learning and philanthropy. His generosity proved a harbinger of a wider trend in Australia: the emergence of large foundations with the financial heft to make a difference. Foundations which like the Myer legacy can drive policy debate forward, can work closely with people in communities, can take chances in ways governments will always find challenging. 

As American experience shows the rise of foundations is not an unalloyed good. When private money attempts to influence policy choice, it requires scrutiny, argument, and sometimes pushback. Foundations cannot just assume a social licence for their work. They must establish the case for tax laws which allow them to direct money which might otherwise be collected and distributed by government. Yet there are grounds for cautious optimism. Trust in institutions is under challenge, but here, government can partner with foundations and communities around a new approach. 

We have many examples already of successful cooperation and much still to learn from place-based approaches about more effective social policies. In this city of second chances, we can think again about the role of the Commonwealth in addressing disadvantage among our own. We have the data to track intergenerational poverty and we can look to foundations to test alternative views, approaches, and to build new models. 

Since returning to Canberra and the Australian Public Service, I've been consistently impressed by the openness of colleagues to contention and change. I've seen genuine interest in innovation. And partnership can join these many able minds with community and philanthropy around shared goals. Foundations provide a new factor in an old equation. They bring resources which can anticipate, amplify and sometimes challenge assumptions of government. Here are new ideas and new people to expand thinking, to experiment and fail, to experiment and succeed. 

It's a long journey from Andrew Carnegie landing in America, from a young Sidney Myer arriving in Australia from Belarus, even from Ken Myer, signing on to this wonderful new project called the National Library of Australia. But each of those understood that poverty robs people of the life they value and society of so much potential and each determined to tackle that deficit, and in doing so, they shaped their world and ours. 

In this generation we have the means, smart people, democratic institutions, the instruments of government, the resources held by foundations for social good. Do we have the imagination to draw all these together into partnerships? In his will, Sidney Myer committed to leave much of his wealth in trust for the charitable, philanthropic and educational needs of the nation he described as the community in which I made my fortune. We might all say the same. And then like him, ask how we plan to repay that good fortune. Thank you.
Marie-Louise Ayres: Thank you very much Glyn for that wonderful lecture tonight. And actually, I'm really glad that you finished with this tapestry, which lives in our first floor Special Collections Reading Room. And we have it there as a constant reminder actually, of his contribution to the National Library and to scholarship. 

Now Glyn did say that he'd be willing to take a couple of questions and although we are running a teeny bit late, I think we do have time for just one or two questions. We've got some mics on the side and I'll just ask you if you want to ask a question, could you wait until the mic comes to you so that those using the hearing loop can actually hear it. 

So any questions? Because I have one to start with. I don't see the other ears asking the first question this time. Actually Glyn, I was just reflecting on what you were talking about, you were talking a lot about place-based work and of course that's a developing strength in the public service. But I'm wondering in this time of immense wealth transfer and an assumption that philanthropic foundations are going to be a bigger part of our world, lots of public servants in the audience here, is this something that needs to become something that we're actively thinking about as public servants, rather than just government money? So there's a question.
Glyn Davis: Okay, no, thank you. And yes, and it's why I raise it, because it seems to me it is going to be part of the world we're moving into and we have to find ways of working it, and they have to be ways consistent with our democratic values, and that's really important to me. Foundations have done lots of good, they've done lots of very bad things in the United States as well, and I think we want to avoid some of those pitfalls. 

We have arguments in this country about at what point does social activism become political? And we're always going to have those arguments and have to have them. And there'll be times people cross the line and they should be pushed back. But nonetheless, we're going to have to work out as the public sector, how we work with foundations, governments are going to have to work out how they engage with them. And society in a sense, has got to think through what's acceptable and what is not from what are huge accumulations of private money.
Marie-Louise Ayres: Okay, I think we're actually ready to go for drinks afterwards and you can converse with Glyn up there. So please join me in thanking Glyn again for a wonderful lecture.

The annual Kenneth Myer Lecture invites an eminent Australian to make a significant statement on a broad subject of interest to them.

In 2023, the lecture was delivered by Professor Glyn Davis AC. 

Professor Davis traces the rise of large philanthropic foundations in Australia, pioneered by the Myer family, and discusses their role in helping – and challenging – government to work more effectively in communities which live with disadvantage.

The Kenneth Myer Lecture is generously supported by The Myer Foundation.

About Professor Glyn Davis AC

Professor Glyn Davis AC was appointed as the Secretary to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet with effect from 6 June 2022. Prior to his appointment, Professor Davis served as Chief Executive Officer of the Paul Ramsay Foundation, Australia's largest charitable foundation with a mission to break the cycle of disadvantage. 

In his academic life, Professor Davis has served as Vice-Chancellor at the University of Melbourne and Griffith University and, until recently, as Distinguished Professor of Political Science in the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University. He remains a Visiting Professor at the Blavatnik School of Government, University of Oxford, and a Visiting Fellow at Exeter College. He also holds visiting professorial appointments at King's College London, Manchester University and the Faculty of Arts, University of Melbourne. 

Professor Davis is a public policy specialist, with experience in government and higher education, who delivered in 2010 the Boyer Lectures on the theme 'The Republic of Learning'. His community work includes partnering with Indigenous programs in the Goulburn–Murray Valley and Cape York, and service on a range of arts boards, including the Queensland and Melbourne Theatre Companies. In late 2021 he took on the role as Chair of Opera Australia. His most recent book is On Life's Lottery (Hachette, 2021), an essay on our moral responsibility toward those less well off. 

About the Kenneth Myer Lecture

The Kenneth Myer Lecture commenced in 1990 as a major annual event for the Friends of the National Library of Australia. The lecture was named for Kenneth Baillieu Myer, AC who was Chairman of the National Library Council from 1972 to 1982 and a long-time friend of the Library.

The prescription for the lecture is simple and based on the views of Kenneth Myer. As a businessman and philanthropist with a wide range of cultural and social commitments, he saw it as an opportunity for an eminent Australian to make a significant statement on a broad subject of particular interest to them.

Learn more about the Kenneth Myer lecture and previous speakers.