The Emerge Foundation, a funds management industry-supported charity which provides educational and health initiatives in Timor Leste, last week presented a cheque for $210,000 to the university which runs the curriculum for the major teaching college in Baucau. Ian MacRitchie, the charity’s founder and a high-profile financial planner, has now donated a total of $2.35 million to the struggling nation’s cause over the past 10 years.
Timor Leste (formerly known as East Timor) has, and should have, a special place in the hearts of all Australians. Sadly, this has not always been the case. Steve Bracks, the chair of Cbus and a former Victorian premier, for instance, had to go into bat for the Timor Leste people in their battle with the Australian Government over rights to Timor Straight oil. Australian Government operatives, infamously, tapped the phones of Timor Leste officials during the negotiations. The Bracks family has also separately created and supported medical facilities in the country.
Media Super, as well, is a strong sponsor of Timor Leste’s development, including the remembrance of the “Balibo Five’, the five Australian and English journalists murdered by the Indonesian army when it invaded Timor Leste in 1975. This was the start of a brutal 25-year occupation of the small impoverished country. Both the $6 billion industry fund’s chair, Gerard Noonan, and chief executive, Graeme Russell, have committed their own money to the cause as well.
Brendan Burwood, the chief executive of super industry research firm Chant West, has his own family foundation which invests in aspects of Timor Leste’s development, including agribusiness. Agribusiness development, particularly the capture and distribution of water, is also high on the agenda for Steve Bracks’ next initiatives. Bracks, befitting his industry fund role at Cbus, is big on infrastructure. Frank Casarotti, the head of sales and marketing for the Magellan Financial Group, is the chair of Emerge’s fund-raising committee.
Casarotti reminded the audience at Emerge’s annual “thank you” for supporters in Sydney last week that it was the East Timorese who lost an estimated 40,000 people helping Australia to fight the Japanese in World War II. That’s more than Australia lost in all of the Asia Pacific battles, including the bombing of Darwin. “About 50 per cent of the [Timor Leste] population is under 21 years of age,” he said. “They live on an average of 60c a day.” Timor Leste also lost another estimated 300,000 people during the Indonesian occupation, while Australia did nothing.
The university which runs the Baucau teaching college and provides its curriculum, the Australian Catholic University, will oversee the graduation of 75 new teachers this year, the head of the school, Brother Peter Corr, said. “Almost all of the students complete the course,” he said. “Some become young mothers during their studies, but they always come back.” To have a qualified teacher in the family is a big deal in Timor Leste. At the annual graduation ceremony, which takes place in a beautiful old Portuguese-built cathedral, whole villages turn out to celebrate the successful graduates. And their choir is magnificent. The vast majority of Timor Leste’s 1.2 million population is Catholic. They speak Portuguese, the local ‘Tetum’ and a mix of regional dialects. It’s a difficult country to provide educational services to.
The Emerge Foundation’s two main events this year are both in Sydney. They are an “Olympics Legends” lunch on May 22, and the big annual “Rugby Long Lunch”, on October 16. A ticket to the rugby lunch is the most sought after in the industry. It’s like an ASFA lunch but a lot more fun. Ian MacRitchie is a rugby tragic.
Note: the author is a member of the Emerge Foundation fund-raising committee.