Australian Takes Greenpeace Chair at Key Moment

By Andrew Darby

SYDNEY, Australia, September 28, 2000 (ENS) - A prominent Australian feminist and writer, little known for her green credentials, is to take over the chair of Greenpeace International at a crucial time for the organisation.

Just a year after she was appointed to its board, Dr. Anne Summers will head Greenpeace as it recruits its most crucial position, international executive director, and shifts its focus towards Asia.


Dr. Anne Summers (Photo courtesy International Celebrity Management Pty Ltd)
Summers' appearance at the vanguard of the global green movement comes after little public environmentalism in Australia. Instead, she is recognised here as a thinker and long time political activist, particularly for women's rights.

She was at one time a controversial magazine editor for the New York based magazine "Ms.", and at then chief advisor for women’s issues to former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating.

Summers until recently was the editor of "Good Weekend," published each Saturday in the "Sydney Morning Herald" and the Melbourne newspaper "The Age."

Greenpeace is the world's pre-eminent green activist organisation. Still, it has often been criticised for what is seen by some as an extremist approach. The government of Japan has even labelled it as a "terrorist" organisation.

The appointment, to begin in December, puts Summers at the head of an organisation claiming around 2.5 million members, with a presence in 41 countries and a 1999 income of 126 million Euros ($US110 million).

The seven person board she will chair broadly represents global regions for Greenpeace and is seen as a supervisory body.

Summers will be responsible for such tasks as identifying key strategic issues, and supervising the Dutch headquartered organisation's governance.

Leadership is delegated to the international executive director, currently Thilo Bode. But Bode will leave the post after five years in February 2001, a Greenpeace spokesman in Amsterdam confirmed. The 53 year old German was the fifth director of Greenpeace, and among his achievements directed its move towards Asia.


Summers will oversee the selection of a replacement for Greenpeace executive director Thilo Bode (left) shown here conferring with World Trade Organization head Mike Moore in 1999. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The appointment of a new international executive director (IED) is a board decision, and the board is in the initial phase of obtaining a person for the job, the spokesman said. "We hope we will go through the process of selecting an IED so there is a seemless handover."

Since Summers's appointment to the part time role with Greenpeace was disclosed, she has been travelling, and her only comment was in a statement released by Greenpeace. In it she said she was "thrilled and excited by the honour conferred by my colleagues."

In a recent speech she described as "historic" Greenpeace's decision to open offices in India and Thailand.

Speaking to a graduating class at Deakin University in Australia following her initial election to the board, she said the shift is very significant for the organisation, which had been "totally preoccupied with first North America and later Europe."


Thai traditional dancers welcome the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior to Bangkok. February 7, 2000 (Photo courtesy Greenpeace/Cohen)
Now Greenpeace is "adjusting its focus" to a region that holds the vast majority of the world's population, and which has paid the price for rapid development with massive and potentially life threatening environmental damage.

Summers said expansion into India and Thailand has only happened after a great deal of consultation with local people. "Greenpeace is not an imperialist organisation and does not go where it is not wanted," she said. "Unless that be in the path of a Norwegian or Japanese whaling vessel."

In the speech, she also pointed to the "mindless frenzy of deforestation" as an issue with the potential to lead to a global ecological catastrophe.

Summers, 55, was one of the first people to lead a women's liberation group in her native city of Adelaide, and to establish a women's refuge in Sydney. The author of a classic historical study of Australian women, "Damned Whores and God's Police," she recently wrote an autobiography called "Ducks on the Pond."

Her media career includes spells as a political correspondent and editor. This led her to New York from 1986 to 1992, where she became editor-in-chief of "Ms." magazine, and eventually a co-owner of "Ms." and the short lived younger sister publication, "Sassy," after a then pioneering management buyout.

"Sassy" came under assault from a Moral Majority campaign, and Summers later severed her connections with the magazines to return to Australia.


Dr. Anne Summers and University of New South Wales Chancellor Dr. John Yu (Photo courtesy UNSW)
She became a political adviser to the last Labor Prime Minister, Paul Keating, until 1993, before again becoming a magazine editor.

The University of New South Wales awarded Summers an Honorary Doctorate in April for her contribution to journalism and the advancement of women.

Dr. Summers said that receiving a doctorate for her lifetime achievements led her to reflect on the successes of the past century and the endless possibilities for the next generation.

"This generation will assume leadership of our country and our world during the 21st century. They know so much more than previous generations, not just in the sense of having knowledge but in having already acquired a good deal of wisdom. The world is a tougher place today, especially for young people."