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A Decade Explored: 10 Years of the Fiona Wain Oration

“We need our business leaders to have a vision of ‘Sustainable Australia’. We need them to seize the opportunities that come from doing business in a sustainable manner. We must act now to remove barriers that encourage inaction.”


 – Greg Bourne, chair, Australian Renewable Energy Agency

 

In 2014, former Australian Renewable Energy Agency chair Greg Bourne delivered the inaugural Fiona Wain Oration, hosted by the organisation then known as Sustainable Business Australia. In his impassioned address, Bourne exhorted business, government and community to agree without delay on a shared vision of a “sustainable Australia”.


Bourne’s speech “Making our own luck: What will it take to build an inclusive, resilient and prosperous Australia?” also challenged the then government’s stance on renewables and the clean economy, saying it was unacceptable to take a “you first” position on climate action.


Ten years on, Bourne’s concerns are still very much on the agenda. In that time, Sustainable Business Australia has also become the Business Council for Sustainable Development Australia (BCSDA), and we are celebrating a decade of insightful orations in the name of Fiona Wain, who helmed this organisation from 1999 to 2011.


That inaugural address was a fitting tribute to Wain, whose untimely death in 2012, aged 66, moved the BCSDA to establish the Oration in her memory. A rare female voice among leaders, she fearlessly championed the interconnectedness of sustainability and the Australian economy. As Bourne noted, as far back as 2005 Wain was insisting that “sustainability is the biggest opportunity for wealth generation and maintenance that business has ever been presented with”.


Over the years, the Fiona Wain Oration has attracted leaders from Australia and around the world to deliver a compelling address to the Australian business sector. Speakers have included Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie (2015), former Treasury secretary Dr Ken Henry (2016), Board Director and former Green Building Council of Australia CEO, Maria Atkinson (2018), World Business Council for Sustainable Development CEO Peter Bakker (2018) and Dr John Hewson, former Opposition leader and Chair of the BCSDA Board (2021).


Even through COVID lockdowns the Oration continued, with a joint virtual address in 2020 by Environmental Resources Management Chief Executive Keryn James, Matthew Reddy of the Global Environment Facility, International Chamber of Commerce CEO John Denton and Felicity Glennie-Holmes of the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature).


In 2024, with the oration to be delivered by one of Australia’s foremost public policy experts, Professor John Daley AM, we’ll see a certain synchronicity with one of the major themes of the inaugural speech: the need to, as Bourne put it, “bring policy and action together”.


Professor Daley was inaugural Chief Executive of the Grattan Institute, which under his leadership (2009-2020) addressed critical issues including climate change policy, institutional reform, public trust in government and housing affordability. His milestone oration will examine the achievements and challenges of the past decade while exploring prospects for the next, particularly in the context of sustainable development and climate change policy.


As the BCSDA celebrates its 33rd anniversary, we too are inspired by our achievements and motivated by the opportunities ahead. And we are eternally inspired and motivated by Fiona Wain, who Dr Ken Henry spoke of with great admiration in the introduction to his 2016 oration.


“Fiona was a person of considerable intelligence, enormous energy and great passion,” said Dr Henry. “She was chairing international working groups on sustainability for business leaders way back before it had entered common discourse. She kept Australia at the forefront of that global conversation.


“Businesses the world over are richer for Fiona’s truly memorable contribution.”


The 10th Anniversary Fiona Wain Oration is on July 1 at the Domain Theatre, Art Gallery of NSW, 4-6pm.

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