Prime Minister’s speech at Fred Hollows Foundation book launch



It gives me great pleasure to be here this morning to launch this very special book here in our national capital and our national parliament.

For a man who was so deeply Australian in every fibre of his being, there could not be a better place.

In Fred’s Footsteps is a remarkable record of the legacy of a remarkable man.

This book takes a loving look at the past two decades of The Fred Hollows Foundation and its work.

In effect, it’s a survey of how Fred’s sprit and memory have lived on long after cancer took his physical presence from us.

This book sets out clearly the work that has been done in his name in its full scope and ambition.

Many of you here today have, indeed, walked in Professor Hollows’ footsteps in the two decades since his passing.

Some of you were fortunate enough to walk beside him while he was here.

To know him, to share his passion, to observe his genius.

All of you have kept his spirit alive, not only in your hearts, but also in the conscience of our national community and, indeed, our world where blindness is still so needlessly rampant.

This book is a marvellous testament to both his vision and your journey.

The journey of a small foundation hatched around the Hollows’ kitchen table back in 1992, only to become one of Australia’s great not-for-profit institutions of international development.

The record of the past 20 years is simply extraordinary:

Millions of sight-restoring operations across the globe.

Almost 50,000 eye health workers trained.

Millions of low cost lenses produced by factories in Eritrea and Nepal exporting to more than 75 countries.

Reducing the cost of cataract surgery to just $25 per operation in most developing countries.

Importantly the Foundation also continues to do incredibly good work in this country for the health of Indigenous Australians.

I say “good work” intentionally, because that is how Professor Hollows described it himself.

Being an eye doctor, he said often, is “good work.”

However, what he did was far more than merely “good work”.

I think it’s safe to say it was truly exceptional.

Work that in previous eras would have been called a miracle.

But Fred’s blunt humanism told us something very different.

This was no miracle.

It was the application of some fairly basic medical techniques and some fairly simple equipment, but mixed with an abundant dose of ambition and very deep compassion.

Wisdom too.

Because when Fred knew he was suffering from cancer and might not make it, he had the foresight to set up this Foundation to continue his work.

The poet Bruce Walker wrote of Professor Hollows:

Fred Hollows, Eye Doctor. The key he used to undo locks was vision for the poor.

The Foundation has taken that very small key and used it to open very large doors.

Doors that lead to opportunity and dignity for individuals with eye conditions.

Doors that swing wide to give hope and empowerment to whole communities.

Over the last five years, doctors working with the Foundation performed a million operations.

That’s a lot of people.

People like Samuel, a Rwandan boy born with cataract blindness who can now see his mother’s face.

That’s a lot of people.

People like Rose, a Kenyan woman who can now look after her daughter Simila, who dreams of becoming a doctor.

That’s a lot of people.

People like Reggie, a proud traditional owner from Uluru who can now pass on ancient tribal knowledge to the young people in his community.

That’s the story we share and celebrate today.

That’s the Fred Hollows Foundation.

This is organisation that shares so many of the qualities of its founder.

Like Fred, it sees that regardless of achievements to date, there is always more work to be done.

It shares his impatience that the world has not been put to rights already, and that we all must do our part.

The Foundation still has much to do, especially given our ambitious goal of ending avoidable blindness by 2020.

A seemingly impossible task.

But one that I’m sure the Foundation can help achieve.

Think of it this way.

The red dust from the Central Desert or Bourke often fell from the boots Fred Hollows wore.

He left his footprints all though the nation’s hospitals and research institutions, and through the corridors of power here in Canberra and overseas.

These footsteps marked the path that Professor Hollows travelled during his lifetime, and in another sense, he set up this foundation to follow in his footsteps when he was no longer here.

We gather here today, walking in Fred’s footsteps.

Impatient for change.

Ready for more “good work”.

So on your behalf, and in Fred’s memory, I proudly launch this book, and commend it to people of goodwill everywhere.