Many thought Alice Springs was an odd choice for last week’s AIST ASI conference. Perhaps the rationale was not explained well, but CEO Tom Garcia felt rather than another junket, it was better the industry understood the plight of our country’s first people and to leave a decent wad of cash behind in one of the country’s most marginalised communities.
Sadly, AIST had to lobby the superannuation industry to garner delegates and even then took a financial bath on the exercise.
The event proved popular, but the small talk as we arrived concerned first world problems such as ‘only one flight per day’, or how ‘bad the hotel room lighting’ was. Admittedly, I got sucked in as well in the first few hours. Have we really become an industry of overpaid princesses who claim to be all about all Australians (including the most marginalised), as long as we don’t have to go and visit them or be confronted by their circumstances, while staying in substandard hotels?
Well, good on Tom and AIST for having the courage to try something bold, albeit commercially unsound. For those who didn’t attend, you missed some outstanding sessions including the opening speaker, the US author James Rickards and then the offshore global macro chat from David Buckle of Fidelity Worldwide Investment and Ron Temple of Lazard Asset Management.
At lunch on the first day we enjoyed the banter between an aboriginal elder Marlene Spencer Nampitjinpa from 500 kms away ‘in the bush’ with the inspirational Sarah Brown, who founded the ‘Western Desert Nganampa Walytja Palyantjaku Tjutaku Aboriginal Corporation’, which provides dialysis machines for those with kidney disease, which is four times more common among indigenous Australians than the general population.
The welcome to country included the absurd revelation that the very convention centre/casino in which we were seated was built on a sacred site; little wonder then that dignity and respect is rarer in this part of the world.
The evening functions were the best of any I have done with AIST in nearly 20 years. At Alice Spring’s original Telegraph Station in the outback on the first night, a group of 20 kids, mostly girls, entertained us with singing and dancing. The white founder of this singing group has had 300 kids move through his education with only 4 incarcerations in 10 years, when the normal rate of incarceration far exceeds this.
The second night was dinner in a disused quarry where we arrived to a magical sunset. The highlight of the entertainment was a didgeridoo player dramatically lit on top of the escarpment providing a stunning performance, with all else in complete darkness. The evening functions were a total highlight and reminded us all of the unique location we were in and provided some comfort that not all the locals were in the dreaded casino throwing their welfare money and land mining leasing income down the throats of poker machines. Sadly, even some of our fellow delegates missed these experiences opting for the casino bar or restaurant instead.
It’s clear some minor progress is being made with our race relations. Hopefully some of us have returned to our comfy city lives a little more educated on the gap and as many, especially in the profit-for-members area, hold themselves out as socialists and humanitarians, we might get greater action on how some of the obvious indigenous issues, particularly around the receipt of superannuation payments for those in remote areas.
Thanks AIST for providing us the opportunity.