Update: Media mentions
Nic Price Tributes: Melbourne Residents Honoured Melbourne Leader 30 Jan 2012
I have ambivalence about Australia Day - and the often unquestioned celebration of an invasion of Australia at the expense of the indigenous nations who made this continent their home. But Australia Day has also become an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of today's citizens.
I'm excited and honoured to see my dad, Colin Benjamin, in today's honours lists "for service to the community through roles with social welfare organisations, and to business". He follows in the footsteps of my grandfather, Eric Benjamin, who was awarded the same medal in 1988 "in recognition of service to social welfare". Ruth and Eric, my grandparents, were refugees. They came to Australia with assisted passage aboard the TSS Jervis Bay, escaping Europe and the rise of fascism before the start of World War II. They were incredibly lucky. Most other members of their families did not survive the war. Eric's mother and sister ended up in Sobibor, his father ended up in the Polish Ghetto at Lodz.
Ruth was arrested and spent months in solitary confinement, before being transferred to the Moringen concentration camp. She was released and fled to the Netherlands, which is where she met Eric. They married and headed to Australia, and were watched by our security agencies. I don't know what happened to the rest of her family in Europe, except her brother survived, only to die in the spanish civil war. At university I had the opportunity to create a short video documentary about her.
Service to the community. Seem such simple, innocuous words. When we give safe harbour to people fleeing persecution and war, we give them a chance to make a difference to their new world. Our new world, Australia, has benefited from the efforts of these people. So while we must acknowledge the wrong done to the indigenous peoples of the great southern continent, we should also speak out against those who seek to demonise refugees and asylum seekers - who also come on boats, as my grandparents did.
Dad sometimes talks about "degrees of freedom" and the role entrepreneurship and business plays in people having control over their lives. When society has a systemic bias against you and your circumstances, or institutionalises barriers for your personal advancement and freedom, then creating your own work is crucial.
Here's the citation.
MEDAL (OAM) OF THE ORDER OF AUSTRALIA IN THE GENERAL DIVISION Dr COLIN BENJAMIN
For service to the community through roles with social welfare organisations, and to business.
Director-General, ‘Life. Be in it’ International, since 1993;
Director, from 1983. Co-Chairman, ‘Life. Be in it’ Australia Ltd, since 2007.
Director, ‘Life. Be in it’ Health Promotion Institute, 2011.
Director, Victoria Branch, Australian Association of Social Workers, since 2011.
Founder and Chairman, Australian Register of Counsellors and Psychotherapists, 2009-2010.
Former Chief Executive Officer, Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, 2007-2010.
Member, Association of Professional Futurists.
Federal President, Australian Social Welfare Union, 1976.
Federal President, Australian Association of Social Workers, 1975.
Executive Director, Victorian Council of Social Service, 1973-1975.
Director of Education and Welfare, City of Sunshine, 1969-1972.
Senior Social Worker, Sunbury Mental Hospital, 1966-1969.
Deputy Director-General, Department of Employment and Training, Victoria, 1980-1982.
Director of Regional Services, Department of Community Welfare Services, 1977-1979.
Director of Research and Social Policy, Department of Social Welfare, 1975-1976.
Chairman, Marshall Place Associates, since 2004.
Chief Executive Officer, The Horizons Network, since 1990.
Director, Futures Division, Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide, 1983-1989.