The heroic banker crusading to employ the disabled
Sue O’Reilly, who has guest written today’s column on The Angry Cripple is a freelance journalist. She co-founded Australians Mad as Hell last year with Fiona Porter to campaign for an NDIS and established a charity called Fighting Chance to help people with disabilities pay for essential therapy services.
Bill Moss was one of the highest paid business executives in Australian corporate history when he worked for Macquarie Bank, prior to his retirement in 2007 on health grounds.
As head of the bank’s real estate and banking division, Moss built - literally from scratch - an international real estate and funds management business that spanned five continents, created thousands of jobs and made billions for the bank’s investors, shareholders and, through tax payments, federal Treasury coffers.
So really, all Australians are pretty fortunate that the slowly degenerative physical disability with which this razor-sharp businessman was born - a form of muscular dystrophy known as FSHD - happened not to become overly evident (to others at least) until Moss was in his early 40s and had already established his credentials.
Because otherwise, he might well have ended up as just another of the tens of thousands of Australians with a disability excluded from the mainstream workforce and chucked on the unemployment scrapheap regardless of ability, skills and desire to work.
Nobody appreciates this stark fact more than Moss himself who, as he sadly remarks in his just-published memoirs, never saw or encountered another man or woman with a disability while working in Macquarie’s opulent Sydney headquarters, nor at any of the high-level international business meetings he attended.
In his memoirs, entitled Still Walking, Moss recounts how he once personally recommended a man with a physical disability for a vacant position in the division he ran within Macquarie because he knew the man to be ideally qualified for the role. Encountering a woman from the HR unit a month or so later, he asked her how the interview had gone and what had transpired.
“Oh,” she replied blithely, “we interviewed him, but we couldn’t take him on. He’s disabled.”
This astonishing anecdote - one of many in Moss’s book - reveals more in 12 words about societal attitudes towards and prejudice against people with disability, and how those attitudes and prejudices literally wreck lives, than volumes of weighty government and Human Rights Commission reports.
“It may have hit her later, but it was clear at the time that the irony of making a comment like that to me entirely escaped her,” Moss writes wryly. “Yet I don’t regard that HR woman as being in any way to blame on a personal level; her comment simply reflected the social norm. It’s the reality in our society.
“I’ve had many people with disabilities of one form or another contact me over the years and ask for my help when they’ve been denied a job for which they were eminently qualified, but I simply don’t know what to do. There needs to be a fundamental mind shift; companies need to go out of their way not just to employ a certain designated percentage of people with disabilities in mainstream jobs, but even specifically create jobs that can be done by people with more severe disabilities.
“There would be plenty of jobs a major corporation could put in place which people with physical, sensory and/or intellectual disabilities could do. Change the tax system so as to encourage companies to employ more people with disabilities and/or pay special subsidies; why not?”
Written by a courageous man who has been speaking out publicly for many years against idiotic societal prejudices and the exclusion of people with disabilities, Still Walking is a book that every one of Australia’s more than two million citizens with some form of disability or other, along with their family members, should read.
Using his power and high public profile as a senior Macquarie executive - and exploiting to the hilt the media’s ongoing fascination with the so-called “Millionaire Factory”, as the bank became known during the 1990s - Moss is not a man to simply shrug his shoulders and sigh when he encounters any form of injustice and/or stupidity. One of his favourite mantras, as I discovered while helping him compile his book, is as follows: “Whenever you encounter a problem, you do your research, you work out what needs to be done to fix it – and then you do it.”
Alerted to Sydney’s dire shortage of wheelchair-accessible taxis by a fellow guest at a function one evening, for example, and horrified to discover that wheelchair users often had to wait up to two hours for a booked taxi to turn up, Moss did a great deal of research and then persuaded Macquarie to invest millions into establishing a new, fully accessible taxi fleet.
He willingly agreed to be a member of the Disability Investment Group, established by federal parliamentary secretary for disabilities Bill Shorten in 2008 to come up with innovative, private enterprise-based ideas for fixing Australia’s ramshackle, charity-based disability care and support system - an exercise that massively pushed along moves for the introduction of a National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Plus he invested $400,000 of his own money in an unlikely-sounding pilot employment scheme for Aboriginal residents in a remote Northern Territory desert community that proved to be a stunning success, and when he discovered how little research was going into the many forms of muscular dystrophy other than Duchenne’s, he personally established a global research foundation.
As you do.
Moss says he decided to write his memoirs as a way of trying to rouse all Australians with disabilities and their families to get actively involved in the fight for a better deal for themselves and future generations of Australians whose lives are impacted by disability.
“For the vast majority of people, to be born with or acquire a disability is to be sentenced to a life of poverty, low socio-economic status and lack of career opportunity,” he writes.
“If you are lucky enough to get a job, then you have to be lucky enough to be able to get to work and then be lucky enough to be able to get into the building if you use a wheelchair. You have to deal with disability-unfriendly furniture, toilets and travel. Your chance of succeeding is like winning at poker with three cards. But it can be done, as my story demonstrates.
“What do you do? You do your research, work out what the solutions are and then start to educate those around you. You stand up and fight for what is right and just, you speak out and challenge the paradigms within which we live.
“You challenge politicians, journalists, bureaucrats, friends and colleagues. If you are living with a disability, you can challenge the status quo, you can change the system; it is simply about having a go and educating those around us, never giving up, and just telling it as it is.”
Still Walking is available at www.stillwalking.com.au, with all proceeds going to the FSHD Global Research Foundation and another non-profit disability organisation, Fighting Chance Australia.
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