WHEN former ACT health minister Dr Michael Moore was asked by his father-in-law to join Rotary, he answered: “Give me one good reason to.”
And his father-in-law did: “You could be part of getting rid of polio in the world.”
Eighteen years on and Michael, district governor of a new, upsized Rotary district, tells “CityNews” this story over a coffee (hot chocolate for him) at a cafe not far from his home in Reid.
Seventy and retired, Michael shows no signs of slowing down. He recently finished a PhD before taking on this position to govern District 9705, which is the amalgamation of districts 9700 and 9710.
What drew him in has kept him there, and a burst of excited light flashes through Michael’s eyes when he says: “We’re so close to eradicating polio worldwide.
“We’ve only ever eradicated one other disease before with smallpox.
A prominent figure in the world of health (he was the CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, 2008-2018), Michael served as health minister – and Australia’s first independent minister – from 1998, ending a year before he joined the Rotary Club of Canberra in 2001.
It was during his time in ACT politics that he became interested in public health.
“When I got elected I became the chair of the Select Committee on HIV, Illegal Drugs and Prostitution,” says Michael. As part of that role, he was receiving submissions for harm minimisation and for prohibition.
Both submissions made good points and Michael, a former school teacher, wanted a better understanding of these issues so he enrolled into a masters in public health at ANU.
Knowledge drove him to take on this degree, and when “CityNews” asks about the challenges he faced studying and being a politician, he modestly shrugs, his distinguished, grey-white beard momentarily droops over his white, collared shirt, and he again says: “I wanted a better understanding.”
In the end, he fell to the side of harm minimisation.
It was this interest in public health that drew Michael to Rotary and its six focuses – peace; fighting disease; providing clean water, sanitation and hygiene; saving mothers and children; supporting education and growing local economies. He’s managed to influence a seventh: environment.
“There is a misconception about what Rotary does. This same misconception has people believing that Rotary is for crusty, old, white guys like me,” he says.
“There’s no secret society. I want the community to see Rotary as an organisation that does good in the world.”
Michael’s proud of the “amazing things” Rotary does, such as supporting education in schools in Africa and PNG, working on clean-water systems in Nepal and his top motivator, eliminating polio worldwide.
“For me, it’s not just an issue of polio but immunisation nationally,” says Michael, who chairs the immunisation taskforce of the Public Health Association of Australia.
“Immunisation is such an important part of public health, [however] there are still those who have fallacious arguments against immunisation.
“If immunisation doesn’t work, how come we’ve almost got rid of polio?”
So while COVID-19 has, in some ways, made it harder to tackle polio, Michael says it doesn’t appear to have too much of an effect.
He says Rotary will continue to work hard to make change in the world and believes that District 9705, which includes the amalgamation of 83 Rotary clubs and about 2300 members from southern NSW and the ACT, can do more united.
“The biggest benefit is the power of the number of clubs and the number of Rotarians, wherever the district, who can work together to do good in the world,” says Michael.
But, that doesn’t mean the organisation doesn’t need more members and volunteers.
“The more members we have, the more good we can do in the world,” Michael says.
“But my single, most significant goal is to have the clubs seeing themselves as one district and uniting in that way and taking advantage of the one district.”
Michael’s term as district governor will end in July next year, and while he doesn’t hint at slowing down any time soon, there are some things that have, such as ice hockey, a game he plays with his son.
Despite trying to get in a game pre-covid, his son said: “It’s too tiring.”
Turns out the tiring part is racing around protecting dad, not the actual playing!
Michael Moore is also a political columnist with “CityNews”.