One year into Malcolm McCusker’s three-year term as governor of Western Australia, he and his wife, Tonya, continue to drive the state’s philanthropic agenda.
Aside from his official responsibilities – hosting diplomats, assenting to bills of parliament and the like – Mr McCusker and his wife are the patrons of 160 community organisations including the Royal Flying Doctor Service, disability support organisation Nulsen, and early parenting support organisation Ngala, to name just three.
The family’s McCusker Foundation channelled $5 million last financial year to not-for-profit organisations, mainly in the fields of medical research, aged care, education and the arts.
The McCusker name adds clout to any organisation that bears the family foundation’s support and has become synonymous with giving in WA in recent years; but that wasn’t part of the original plan.
“Initially I was quite reluctant to use the name and preferred to keep our giving fairly low profile,” Mr McCusker told WA Business News.
“However, we came to realise that if we want to encourage philanthropy, leading by example is important. That realisation overcame my natural and strong disinclination to be seen to be blowing my own trumpet. I hope it’s not seen that way, as it was not an easy decision to ‘go public’.”
Both Mr and Mrs McCusker developed philanthropic interests prior to meeting each other, and their individual interests grew by different means.
Mrs McCusker started out as a highly trained ballet dancer through studies at L’Academie de Danse Classique in Monte Carlo, the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, and at the Australian Ballet School, before completing a law degree and management studies later in life.
However, it was her work in business development for the Leeuwin Youth Development Foundation and the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce that really grew her interest in philanthropy.
“In both capacities I was raising funds for people in need, or raising funds to stage events, and I quickly appreciated what a mammoth task fundraising is,” Mrs McCusker said.
“I vowed at the time that if I was ever fortunate enough to be in the position of giving money away then I would ensure the process was streamlined and did not require excessive time for the completion of applications and acquittals.”
That was a sentiment shared by her husband, who was frustrated with the fundraising hoops medical researchers were made to jump through, having been exposed to the medical research community as a result of his mother’s illness.
“My particular interest in medical research was the result of my mother contracting Alzheimer’s disease, which made me much more aware of the need for community support for medical research generally,” Mr McCusker said.
“I came to realise how difficult and wasteful it is for brilliant researchers – of whom there are many in WA – having to spend so much of their valuable time seeking funds, and drafting grant applications to NHMRC and other bodies, never knowing whether they will be able to continue their research, despite the results achieved.”
Mr McCusker – a barrister and Queens Council before being named governor last year – recalled one of his first major involvements in philanthropy was backing Ralph Martin’s Alzheimer’s disease research, which he has now supported for 25 years.
Mr McCusker and his late father, Sir James, started the Town & Country Building Society to provide home loans to low to medium income earners.
To some extent it was his experience as a barrister, and his 28-year tenure as chairman of the Legal Aid Commission, that piqued his interest in philanthropy.
“As a barrister, I became aware of the great difficulty some people have in getting legal representation, as well as an appreciation of a wide range of social problems,” he said.
“People often ask me if I miss the law. Of course I do. Life as a governor is quite different, without the same challenges and adrenalin rush. But the great advantage is a broadening of horizons, and meeting some fine people in our community.”
One of Mr McCusker’s goals when he became governor in July 2011 was for every company in WA to support a charitable cause; and while that goal is a long way from being reached, Mr McCusker is encouraged by the changing landscape of giving in WA.
“As I travel around the community I am frequently delighted to discover how many companies are doing great work in this sphere – Deloitte, Atlas Iron, Euroz, Rio Tinto are just a few examples of many,” Mr McCusker said.
He added his endorsement of the latest corporate volunteering venture, Give 1, which aims to get 1 million hours of corporate volunteering donated over the month of October.