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.
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.
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."
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.
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."