23 June 2022
Generational poverty in Australia is among the key issues the new leader of the Brotherhood of St Laurence hopes to address during his tenure.
Travers McLeod has been executive director of the Anglican-linked social justice organisation since late April.
Through his career Mr McLeod has worked in law and policy, most recently at the Centre for Policy Development. He charts his interest in these fields back to values learnt during his childhood in rural Western Australia.
Mr McLeod said his initial priority at BSL was to listen and learn, to get a sense of the organisation as a whole – and how it could make a bigger difference in its 10th decade.
He said his second focus would be on identifying where BSL could make the biggest difference toward helping people who were in poverty or facing disadvantage. He planned to focus especially on making a compelling case as to how Australia could make it less likely that children grew up in poverty.
Mr McLeod said early childhood education was one example of a specific intervention that could be made at a critical time in people’s lives.
“The statistics show you’re more likely to be in poverty if you’re a child than an adult. We also saw during the pandemic the ability to lift thousands of Australians out of poverty with the stroke of a pen,” he said.
“It hasn’t been firmly in focus on the policy and political agenda.”
Mr McLeod charted his interest in public service and public law back to his upbringing in small town Western Australia.
He said growing up in the country set him up with a sense of the way in which communities worked together to improve each other’s lives, an experience which he linked to the work of the Brotherhood of St Laurence.
In his hometown of Exmouth, Mr McLeod remembered his Nan starting a Sunday school, teaching kids to read, making bibs for every newborn, and setting up a second-hand furniture shop for those who needed it. For Mr McLeod, her work in the tiny town was like the larger-scale work of the Brotherhood of St Laurence.
Mr McLeod said this childhood sparked an interest in social justice, which drove his motivation to see what he could do to improve the lives of others, particularly by exploring the role of justice and law.
He said initially his instinct was that justice could be achieved through law. But working in law for much of his earlier career, showed Mr McLeod the power of public policy.
“Ultimately I discovered that policy, and the way that we have created and designed big service systems well or not so well, is often a big determinant of whether people are in poverty or not,” Mr McLeod said.
“It’s really that experience that took me closer to the world of public policy, and how we can improve not just the wellbeing of Australians, but also the overall health of our society and democracy.”
Mr McLeod said he was drawn to the Brotherhood of St Laurence partly because it connected three parts of the agenda: practice, policy and advocacy, making it a unique public institution. He said BSL’s work in communities connected to its research and policy team, which connected on to its constructive, positive voice advocating for how to run systems.
Mr McLeod said BSL’s unique connection of research and on-the-ground service meant it was well-placed to be a catalyst for change in Australia.
“The last decade in Australia has been fairly fraught. The political debate has not always been the most constructive. I would like BSL to be a really positive and constructive voice for a much healthier future for Australia,” Mr McLeod said.