Harold Mitchell speaks at Olle Memorial Lecture

This year’s Andrew Olle Media Lecture at the Sydney Convention Centre was presented by advertising industry heavyweight Harold Mitchell. At speaking at the function also was this year’s Andrew Olle Scholar Kirstin Murray, a Brisbane based ABC News and Current Affairs reporter.

ABC702 presenter Sally Loane hosted the evening and Radio National’s Robin Williams spoke on behalf of the medical research foundation that bears the Olle name.

Both Sally Loane and Robin Williams cracked jokes about ABC bias at former Communications Minister Alston’s expense, and 2UE presenter Mike Carlton (who last year tipped a glass of red wine over Piers Ackerman), was also the focus for some send ups from the podium.

Here is some of what Harold Mitchell had to say in his speech:

I have grown up in the technical age and I have lived in the world of advertising, so mine must be a different perspective.

My dealing with the media is with the commercial aspects: – the money. I know you generally as a business and I deal with the owners.

But for years I have seen how powerful the media is, in my case, in building brands and services, but the foundation is the audience and readership that you create.

The average Australian spends over 7 hours a day with the media – almost more time than sleep, family or work.

Unlike you, I don’t have to produce anything. I don’t have to be committed, concerned or even care. But I do, which is why I am here tonight…

Since the beginning of the European settlement in Australia it has been the way of each generation to ensure that they built our country so that their children and their children’s children lived a better life than they did.

In this room tonight there are many Baby Boomers: those born between 1945-1960. We are the wealthiest, happiest, healthiest generation in our history…

We have had a belief in ourselves and what we can do…in all endeavours, from international politics to science, medicine, the arts and sport…

Our group has grown up and prospered without a major world war, without a depression and in our early years a long post war economic boom. We built families, established strong home ownership and developed whatever superannuation and savings we could.

But tonight we can draw a line.

What we know is that the parents of Australians in this room will be the last to see their kids having more than they did.

Our children and their children will not have what we have had.

What has changed?

We are about to leave to our kids five very great burdens.

1. An inability to get a job the way we could (whoever became wealthy by being out of work or under-utilised?)

2. A cost of health that can’t be supported, as the new, young people have to pay for Australians living longer. 30 years ago, Health costs were 1.7% of budget expenditure. Today they are 4.3% and the Commonwealth forecast that by 2040 they will be 8%.

3. An education system that is not turning out enough, smarter, better people for Australia. (Soon many of our Universities will have more than 50% of their students from other countries – where they will return after studies)

4. A housing and land crisis that will move the Australian dream of owning your own home beyond the average young family. And in the big cities of course it already has.

5. The environment. Currently the environment cost is $1.8 billion, but the expectation is that the costs of environmental problems will take a further 2% of GDP, as our grandchildren are starting their adult life.

We are OK – but our children and their children may not be…

I have always been impressed with people who plant oak trees. From the small acorn it will take 80 years before the magnificence of the tree can be truly appreciated.

The planter will never see the greatness of the oak – but 2 generations on will marvel in its glory and wonder at its strength.

And so it is with the generation that is in this room tonight.

We have to decide who are we and if we want to leave a forest of newly planted oak trees. I think that we do…

If there was a moment in recent times that not only told us who we are but what we want to be it was in late 2000 when a group of Australia’s most successful and competitive sporting identities selected the Australian sporting event of the Century.

They were all people who had thrived on individual success.

What did they pick as Australia’s finest sporting moment?

Well it wasn’t Bradman’s world record batting score.

It wasn’t Dawn Fraser’s umpteenth Olympic gold.

It wasn’t Australia 2 snatching the America’s Cup.

They selected the moment when John Landy stopped running to help Ron Clarke after he fell in the 1956 Australian Mile Championships at Olympic Park.

John Landy went on to win the race in 4.04.2 and Ron Clarke came in 5th.

That some of our most competitive, successful individuals selected such an event tells us a great deal about what we really value, what we respect and what we really want to be…

Are we happy to just hang around at the back of the pack hoping a few of the front runners will fall over?

Do we, as a country, want to win at all costs?

Neither…I believe that the Australian sporting event of the 2Oth century tells us that we want to have a red hot go at winning AND that we should respect our competitors and help people along the way.

We must be competitive but not at the expense of generosity and a deep caring for our fellow humans.

We must be open to the world, but more importantly, a critical part of Asia that works for us and moves the next generation to peaks that we have not seen since the boom of gold in the 19th Century or the wool boom of the 50s.

What will we leave at the end of our generation?

Will there be another 10 generations of a greater strength, wealth and well being?

Or will it be a long slide into a big island in the south that was once great?

I think that the Australian people won’t let that happen and the Australian media won’t either.

We must keep ownership of ourselves and our future.

We have come from an Island Gaol to a nation of soaring success. In many ways it’s been a wild ride. We can rest on that or we can say – not good enough – no where near good enough…

There are 2 big things we need to do:

First, we need to decide that we want our children to have an even better life than us, and their children to have a better life than them.

We must plant the seeds of the oak that become the trees of 2083

· Jobs – create jobs for our kids – and good jobs

· Build hospitals as headlines, not doctors’ pay and conditions

· Fill the universities with students who stay in Australia and build

· Make housing affordable, by creating the new lands

· Environment – put the money into the environment now so our kids don’t have the burden

Secondly, realise that this won’t happen unless we change.
The important word is we.

Don’t wait for the politicians to do something.
Their focus must be 3 years not 100 years.

There is an old Indian saying
“If you try to change the world you’ll fail – change yourself and the world has changed already”

Each of us, according to our means has to give something back to this society that has been so good to us.

And so to the Media of Australia, your part is powerful and pivotal.

As individuals, as organisations, we need you to fully engage with the long term issues that face Australia and to speak out – to seek out the visionaries and make heroes of them.

Sure, cover the daily news, but not at the expense of great trends of today that are defining our tomorrow.

And we need to do 3 very important things for our industry.

1. Recognise that our media laws have grown unevenly trying to balance the needs of the participants and the people. They now are in such a mess that they no longer serve our needs of

a) Diversity,
b) Worldliness and,
c) Nationalism.

The current changes to cross and foreign are minor compared to the complete overhaul that could only come from a full enquiry with bipartisan support. The proposed changes may well be pulling off a couple of band-aids of the past, but underneath are more band-aids.

2. In a largely commercial media world, recognise the great balance that the ABC can and does bring to give us identity and honesty. Criticise, acclaim, but take it out of the arena of being a political football

3. And support the Federal Government’s position on cultural issues in the current Free Trade Agreement negotiations. I am encouraged by the Federal Government’s clear signal that it won’t sell the audio visual sector short – in particular, as the Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile put it “ to preserving its ability to regulate in relation to social and cultural objectives”. Such a firm and proper stance can exist within its commitment to free trade.

Let me plead with the media to help move our nation and its people on the journey of the next 100 years so that it is greater than it ever was and if we were able to return we would find our great grandchildren living a fulfilling and peaceful life, better than we ever had.

Worry about today, but be passionate about tomorrow.

And if we do it properly, Australia will be a great country forever and its people proud to say that they came from a land Down Under.

Harold Mitchell is Chairman and CEO of Mitchell and Partners. He left his position as National Media Director of DMB&B in 1976 to start the company that is now the largest independent media agency.