Speech by Senator the Hon Kay Patterson

Presentation of prizes for the CSR essay competition for students

Location: The Events Warehouse, Shed 9, South Wharf Road, Southbank, melbourne


Distinguished guests
National finalists
Previous winners
Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you Wayne Jackson for your introduction.

Welcome everyone to this important event.

This is the third time I have had the opportunity to recognise excellence in essay writing on the subject of corporate social responsibility.

This time, things are a little different though. We wanted to have a bigger and better finale. So we combined the presentations to both school and university students into the one event.

Thank you to all the students, their families, friends and teachers for coming to support the competition finalists.

Thanks also to members of the Prime Minster’s Community Business Partnership; Doug Jukes, National Chairman of KPMG; and to three of our essay competition judges – Dahle Suggett, Adele Ferguson, and David Faulkner.

This year we had a record 400-plus entries, with over 300 in the school section and 100 in the university section.

I was delighted to hear that this time many schools used the competition as a class exercise, and we had entries from students from Year 7 through to Year 12. We even received one primary school entry!

In the university section, entries came from a wide range of disciplines, from first year undergraduates through to PhD students.

Today 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes are being awarded in both sections and every finalist gets a special certificate.

The judges were very impressed with the wide-ranging and extensive research that went into many of the essays.

Most entrants showed a very good understanding of corporate social responsibility – it is much more than giving for altruistic or marketing reasons.

I like to think of it like this – corporate philanthropy is about how a business spends its profits, and corporate social responsibility is about how it makes its profits.

So, a business that makes a large cash donation to a charity at Christmas is certainly philanthropic, but it is not necessarily practising corporate social responsibility if, for example, it makes no attempt to limit the environmental damage it causes.

Corporate social responsibility makes good business sense and brings benefits to everyone involved.

As the Minister responsible for promoting corporate social responsibility I am pleased to see the increasing recognition by students preparing to enter the workforce of the benefits of working for an employer who also has community and social objectives.

Many of the school students wrote about how their school is a socially responsible organisation.

It is great to hear about all the good things schools are doing to make a positive difference in their communities.

One student articulated it clearly, suggesting schools:
… embrace [their] corporate social responsibility not as an annoying must, but rather a chance to make a substantial difference in the community.

Others came up with innovative and practical proposals for a community partnership for their Principal to consider.

If your Principal takes up your ideas, please let us know!

The judges in the school section were also impressed by the huge variety of students’ suggestions about how to encourage more businesses to voluntarily embrace corporate social responsibility.

I am going to have a good look at the suggestions for Government that some of you came up with.

I am also going to consider the arguments made by the university students as to the merits of introducing a new category – one that showcases businesses that are showing leadership when it comes to corporate social responsibility – as part of the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Community Business Partnerships.

I presented this year’s awards last month with the Prime Minister, with winners selected from a field of over 280 nominations.

Community business partnerships are an important element of many corporate social responsibility strategies. They continue to flourish in hundreds of communities across the country.

There is a growing recognition within Australian communities, and within corporations, that strong partnerships really do make tangible and positive differences to the parties involved – especially as part of a broader corporate social responsibility strategy.

Media articles written by other university entrants reflected this, and highlighted the scope for businesses of all shapes and sizes to get involved in corporate social responsibility. As one entrant put it in their essay:
‘The risks are different for small businesses, but the benefits are the same: long-term sustainability, employee pride and customer loyalty.’

The judges were impressed by many of the essays that tackled the challenging issue of an accreditation and logo scheme because the term ‘corporate social responsibility’ means different things to different people.

However, whatever your definition of corporate social responsibility, it is alive, well and growing in Australia.

Last month, I released a major report on all forms of giving, commissioned on behalf of the Government by the Prime Minister’s Community Business Partnership.

Called ‘Giving Australia’ the report shows that business gave a total $3.25 billion in 2003-04.

Of this $3.25 billion, 17 per cent was in the form of community business projects – up by more than 30 per cent since the year 2000.

The researchers found a general view that businesses wanted to support the community and tended to give most strongly if they had social responsibility values.

And larger businesses are particularly interested in making it easier for their employees to take on community volunteering and workplace giving – often as part of a larger corporate social responsibility strategy.

Perhaps some of the findings in the report could be further explored in the context of corporate social responsibility as part of next year’s essay competition.

Which brings me to a reminder that the competition will be held again next year.

It would be great if all the finalists here today could become ‘corporate social responsibility ambassadors’ – spreading the word at your schools and universities.

One of our winners from last year’s competition has written to tell me that she has been doing just that.

She can’t be here today because she is one of 21 young scientists from 10 nations invited to present her sustainability research at a company directors’ forum in Germany.

She tells me she has also recently been appointed as a consultant on corporate sustainability and climate change for a large firm – partly as a direct result of her success in this competition.

I am now going to hand over to Wayne Jackson, who will introduce the finalists for 2005 and I’m going to present each with a special certificate.

Just before I do so, I’d like to give a special thank you to the judges. I’m told they had a pretty difficult job deciding between some of the essays that reached the finals.

Later in proceedings we’ll be announcing the prize-winners. But I think every one of the finalists here today should feel very proud of their achievements.

Thank you.