Saying Goodbye: A Farewell from the CEO

On the eve of his departure from ACWA, retiring CEO Andrew McCallum shares some final reflections…

Having spent the best part of 13 years with my shaky hand on the tiller at ACWA, the time has come for me to contemplate what comes next and to look at the different ways I can make a contribution to what it means to be a truly civil society. Heaven knows there is much to contemplate!

Amid my looming retirement I have found myself being asked, “How do you assess your time as ACWA CEO?” and, “How do you see the state/health of the community services sector in NSW now and beyond?”

How long is a piece of string?

During my time here at ACWA there have been three State Elections, our sector has had five Ministers, and countless Premiers have come and gone. We have borne witness to a state Special Commission of Inquiry, a national Royal Commission, and numerous Apologies for past wrongs and systemic failures that, in many instances, are not so distant. It would be safe to say that we are still a work in progress – and we can definitely do better. Commissions of Inquiry do afford us some breathing space to more fully articulate and unravel the complexities and inter-related factors that tend to fly past in an instant – and unquestioned – in the 24-hour news cycle, and to unearth patterns of systemic repeat offending.

Mixing best practice and politics is never easy, because it inevitably leads to compromise and expediency that doesn’t acknowledge the generational journey that is necessary for families to be genuinely brought in from the margins. We know the factors that drive child abuse, neglect and entrenched disadvantage will not be cured by new evidenced-based programs, nor by tinkering around the edges of forensic and residual child protection services. As David Tune so clearly articulated in his review into NSW’s out-of- home care system, we will never program our way to the Promised Land. While catching and identifying victims and perpetrators of child abuse and neglect is the easy and most visible part, it also ensures that the future ‘pipeline’ is well and truly primed. However, the lack of political will to address structural impediments and the complicity of governments in entrenching disadvantage still hangs as the elephant in the room, ensuring we will always be mopping up the effects of flawed opportunistic policy. We collectively are the arsonists who set the fire and then, with the state of the art equipment, attempt to douse the flames.

The solution lies in advocacy and a community services sector that refuses to see itself purely as the emergency service who carries out the uninterrogated bidding, or who acts as a handmaiden of flawed government social policy. The future is ours as a sector and we need to reclaim our rightful place as protagonists and prosecutors for a just and civil society. We do not want to be the subject of the next Apology or Royal Commission citing a plea of contemporaneous acceptability.

As I prepare for my departure, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to those who have joined me on this journey and for the many things they have taught me. There are far too many to list, but you know who you are. I have been humbled to follow, walk alongside of and sit at the feet of some truly wonderful thinkers in this space.

To the ACWA family, I hope I have value added in some small way and I will watch with interest as you collectively tilt at the windmills of social change. I am heartened to see the ‘green shoots’ of the emerging young leaders that the sector so desperately needs. Generational change is critical to our sector.

But most of all, I pay tribute to the children, young people and families whose resilience in the face of adversity keeps me motivated and inspires on a daily basis.

It’s been a privilege.

Andrew finishes at ACWA on December 7.