By Mike Canavan
Let me first say I have been an admirer of Ita Buttrose from the first time I met her in the very early 90s. I have not always agreed with her views, but have respected her integrity, hard work and the vision she has brought to every project she has committed to.
Ms. Buttrose, 78, recently made certain candid comments at the ‘Australia – United Kingdom Chamber of Commerce’ function in London. I believe that it did Ms. Buttrose — ABC Chair no credit what-so-ever to invoke the “Chatham House Rules” when giving her views on Millennial workers she has encountered.
For those who are not familiar with “Chatham House Rules”, they read as follows: “When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rules, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed”.
The rule is designed to increase openness of discussion of public policy and current affairs, as it allows people to express and discuss controversial opinions and arguments without suffering the risk of stalling their career or even dismissal from their job, and with a clear separation from the opinion and the view of their employer.
That may be fine for lesser, more unqualified éminence grise — however
given her standing, reputation and experience it would strike me; to hide behind the unnecessary cloak of the “Chatham House Rules” diminishes her authority and credibility in the community at large.
Let us be under no doubt, her biography reads like the “who’s who” of Australian media royalty; and when she speaks, there is a certain gravitas attached to it.
She is an Australian journalist, editor, and businesswoman.
Buttrose, left school at the age of 15 to pursue her interest in journalism. First landing a job as a copy girl at Australian Women’s Weekly magazine in 1971.
Shortly thereafter she was recruited by media magnate Sir Frank Packer to create a new magazine for his company, and the following year, with Buttrose at the helm, Cleo made its debut, generating controversy as well as spectacular sales with its nude male centrefold’s and articles that emphasised women’s economic and sexual independence.
In 1975 Buttrose was named editor of Australian Women’s Weekly — at 33, she was the youngest person ever to hold that position and served concurrently (1976–81) as editor in chief of both Australian Women’s Weekly and Cleo.
When Buttrose was poached by another media magnate, Rupert Murdock to be editor in chief of the Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Telegraph in 1981 — she became the first woman to edit a major Australian metropolitan newspaper. At the same time, she became the first woman to serve on the board of Directors of News Limited (the Australian arm of Murdoch’s global media holding company, News Corp).
Buttrose eventually left News Limited in 1989 to start her own company, Capricorn Publishing. She also edited that firm’s flagship magazine, Ita, until Capricorn closed in 1994. Additionally, she frequently appeared on various different television programmes over many years.
Aside from her professional career, Ms. Buttrose has devoted much of her time raising public awareness of a range of social and health issues. As the Chair\ of the National Advisory Committee on AIDS (1984–88) and AIDS Trust Australia (1991–94). Her experiences during that period as a caregiver for her father, who suffered from dementia, later led her to become involved with Alzheimer’s Australia and other organisations that provided support and advocacy for people living with chronic diseases. In recognition of her efforts to promote public health education and her ground-breaking career in the field of publishing, Ita Buttrose was honoured as Australian of the Year in 2013.
In 2019 Prime Minister, Scott Morrison appointed her as Chair of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
But back to her address, she said: [they the Millennials] “need hugging and reassurance just to get through the workday and lack their lack of resilience was a major issue for a good and stable workforce”. The comments came – after a Young Labor activist whinged about having to ‘scrounge’ for retail jobs.
“It seems to me that today’s younger workers, they need much more reassurance and they need to be thanked, which is something many companies don’t do”, Ms Buttrose said.
“They’re very keen on being thanked and they almost need hugging – that’s before COVID of course, we can’t hug anymore – but they almost need hugging”.
“You have to understand that they seem to lack the resilience that I remember from my younger days”.
“Millennials demand more transparency from management than their older counterparts” – which was in stark contrast to when she was a journalist. She went on to say: “not hearing from proprietors such as Sir Frank Packer, and bosses was a good thing because no news was good news”
Her acceptance of this revelation particularly came as a surprise to me, who during the 1990s when I worked with Ms. Buttrose on a number of projects when she held the position of publisher and managing editor of the magazine “Ita”, she was far more demanding and resolute in what she tolerated was acceptable and as a “good and solid work ethic”.
It was well known and accepted that your best was only just good enough. A fair but firm critic, she expected all those around her to give as much as she did to the creativity and dedication to any project that they were involved in.
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison appointed her as Chair of the ABC last year, at the time it struck me as an inspirational choice given her experience, work ethic and demands. Sadly, I must say that her tenure to date, as Chair, has been less than inspiring. I had hoped that she would bring some balance and impartiality back to an organisation whose Charter demands these very attributes. Let us not lose sight of the fact that the national broadcaster is fully funded by the taxpayers of Australia, and frankly we deserve better.
Since 1989, the ABC has been funded by a three-year appropriation known as the triennial funding system. For the upcoming triennial period of 2019–20 to 2021–22, the Government has said that there will be $3.16 billion in funding for the ABC.
I must confess that her apparent lack of influence or direction as Chair has been a great disappointment and surprise.
Throughout Ms. Buttrose’ career, she has always been an inspiration to all young people who wished to succeed through hard work, dedication and courage in their convictions. What she has achieved, she has done fully on her own merit.
Her criticism of millennials came after New South Wales Young Labor activist Belinda Thomas, 19, appeared on a Facebook video whingeing about having to apply for less glamorous jobs in retail before she became an adult.
“When I was 17, I needed income to support myself in order to have a claim of independence from my family situation,’ said Ms. Belinda Thomas, in a video filmed at trendy Chippendale on the fringe of Sydney’s CBD.
“Unable to use my 12 years of training as a classical musician to find a job, I ended up sending about 10 applications to retail jobs and only ended up scrounging one by chance”.
Ms. Thomas said she was only able to score this job because she ‘had the exact same name as the interviewer’s best friend’ as she delivered a piece-to-camera monologue outside an art house Palace Cinema.
However, Ita said “it was the make-up of the workforce that had most radically changed, particularly the demands of Millennials…what does change is the expectations of staff, that’s where the change occurs…the younger workers like more transparency.”
To her, this was in stark contrast to when she was a journalist; not hearing from proprietors such as Sir Frank Packer and bosses was a good thing as it meant what she was doing was satisfactory.
“You have to understand that they seem to lack the resilience that I remember from my younger days”. “Resilience seemed to be in ‘short supply’ worldwide”.
“Whether that’s because of bad parenting, I don’t know, and I don’t want to go down that path and offend young parents but I am an older parent, and we older parents have very set views about resilience and, you know, I think it’s something we need to foster in everybody from a very young age.”
Buttrose also revealed that she missed the creative process in her corporate role at the ABC but said she was toying with the idea of writing another book.
Sadly, what she said is only partially correct when we look at greater societal issues at play — issues that Governments have allowed to take hold have created a far deeper rift than she put forward in her short oration.
Over the past 10-15 years there had been a continued leftist drift in our educational processes. With stealth and guile, they have developed a re-crafting of an un-realistic societorial utopian equality. This has created many of the problems that we now face today as a community at large. We teach our children that everyone who participates in a sport race gets a ribbon. We actively discourage the categorisation of winners and losers — everyone is equal. The reality is that this could not be further from the truth. In the real world, life just doesn’t work like this.
This has created a great deal of the burden we must now face as a community.
This movement has fostered an egalitarian view that children have total and equal rights to those of adults, with debate, discussion and mediation being the answer to all society’s woes.
As these children develop and age, society’s laws and conventions hold little value nor importance to their own predetermination of what is right and wrong.