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Business and government Featured

What is the purpose of an organisation?

In the ever-evolving landscape of corporate philosophy, the question of a company’s raison d’être has surged into the spotlight, captivating minds and sparking debates worldwide. The notion of corporate purpose, once relegated to the periphery, now commands centre stage, evident in the exponential increase in Google searches over the past decade and the meticulous scrutiny it receives in annual CEO surveys. Purpose has become the lodestar guiding the trajectory of modern organisations.

Profit maximisation and shareholder primacy

Yet, the discourse on business purpose is not a novel phenomenon; its roots delve deep into history. More than a century ago, pioneers like Cadbury and Sunlight Soap imbued their enterprises with a sense of purpose that transcended mere profit-making, exemplified by their provision of housing for workers. Fast forward to the 20th century, where the Harvard Law Review served as the arena for debates on the purpose of corporations. On one side of the divide stood proponents of shareholder primacy, while the opposing camp championed a broader perspective encompassing employee welfare, product quality, and societal well-being.

"Purpose has become the lodestar guiding the trajectory of modern organisations."
Port Sunlight: Port Sunlight, the village founded by ‘Soap King’ William Hesketh Lever in 1888. The village was built to house Lever’s ‘Sunlight Soap’ factory workers.
Port Sunlight, the village founded by ‘Soap King’ William Hesketh Lever in 1888. The village was built to house Lever’s ‘Sunlight Soap’ factory workers.
A necessary shift is needed to address systemic challenges

In 1954, the scales seemed to tip in favour of the broader conception of purpose, with organisations seen as engines not just of profit but of societal progress. However, the pendulum swung decisively in the opposite direction less than two decades later, propelled by the influential economist Milton Friedman, who advocated for shareholder primacy as the lodestar of corporate purpose. Since then, Friedman’s doctrine has held sway, shaping business paradigms, theories, and pedagogy.

In recent years, however, a resurgent chorus has emerged, challenging the hegemony of shareholder primacy and advocating for a more inclusive approach that considers the interests of all stakeholders. Voices like Larry Fink, the CEO of BlackRock, the Business Roundtable of America, and the World Economic Forum have called for a paradigm shift, emphasising the importance of delivering value to a broader spectrum of stakeholders. This shift reflects a growing recognition that businesses, as integral components of society, must embrace a holistic perspective to address the systemic challenges confronting our world.

State your purpose

Transitioning from historical narratives to theoretical underpinnings, the concept of corporate purpose emerges as the guiding philosophy, the North Star illuminating the path of organizational decision-making. It serves as a linguistic construct, shaping the mindset and actions of stakeholders, alongside other components of a company’s narrative framework such as vision, mission, and values. Therefore, crafting an effective purpose statement becomes paramount, with experts advocating for simplicity, longevity, and pro-social orientation.

A purpose statement should not only encapsulate the organization’s enduring reason for existence but also serve as a catalyst for decision-making, a unifying force for stakeholders, and a compass guiding long-term strategic endeavours. A framework for ensuring purpose statements resonate with all internal and external stakeholders of an organization is whether it; connects what the corporation does to what the world needs, is enduring. And how it shapes up relative to a key challenge question from the Future Normal approach; Does the purpose helps perpetuate a world you/we want to live in?

In essence, the purpose of an organisation transcends simplistic notions of profit maximisation; it embodies a commitment to societal well-being, stakeholder engagement, and sustainable value creation. As businesses navigate the complexities of the modern world, embracing a purpose-driven approach not only enhances financial performance but also fosters resilience, innovation, and societal impact. Thus, the journey towards defining and realising corporate purpose is not merely a philosophical exercise; it is a strategic imperative, shaping the destiny of organisations and the societies they serve.

To find out more, please reach out to Professor Nick Barter or download the reviews of purpose he has conducted with research partner Brandpie.

Author

Professor Nick BarterNick Barter is a Professor of Strategy and Sustainability in Griffith Business School. Nick helps executives and their organisations escape the myopia of conventional business thinking and embrace a Future Normal perspective. Future Normal organisations act meaningfully in their surroundings and purposefully to benefit society. For the last decade Nick has taught MBA students sustainability and systems thinking on Griffith’s world leading sustainability focused MBA.

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Featured Media and the arts Society and culture

Nothing ever lasts

A more complete Australian story

It was more than a decade ago now, but I still have vivid memories of my first Sydney Writers’ Festival. I was in my twenties, and I’d arrived in Sydney as a wide-eyed debut author from the faraway exotic lands of…Queensland. And I was overwhelmed with gratitude, the kind of gratitude every first-time author feels at such an event: I was grateful to be published, grateful to be in the flashy capital of Sydney, and grateful to be programmed out of the hundreds of writers they could have picked instead.

That kind of gratitude is amplified when you’re in the minority. I understood that Sydney Writers’ Festival was for Important Authors, and if you’d asked me what an Important Author looked like at the time, I would’ve summoned a Franzen or a Eugenides, a Winton or a Flanagan – all iconic straight white men who I worshipped. But the festival organisers had picked me – some random Asian gay who grew up in the suburbs of the Sunshine Coast. Strolling in the sunshine by the wharves in a synthetic suit jacket, taking in the sun and salt air among all these relaxed white people who cared about books, it felt like I had made it.

As I walked to my first session, a cheery festival volunteer recognised and stopped me (me!).

‘Welcome!’ she said, beaming. ‘How are you enjoying the Sydney Writers’ Festival so far?’

‘It’s my first one!’ I said, no cool whatsoever. ‘I can’t believe I’m here. I’m so happy.’

She clapped her hands together, delighted. ‘Well, enjoy it while it lasts–’

‘I will!’

‘–because nothing ever does.’

I blinked, taken aback. In hindsight, I’m pretty sure she meant it as encouragement – a rousing call to arms to suck the marrow out of life while I was still young, et cetera – but at the time it felt like she was a prophet, possibly a witch, who had single-handedly cursed me to a future of professional doom.

I managed to croak out a thank you for her advice (‘Any time!’ she said) and slunk off to my first session with her words ringing in my ears. They continue to haunt me. Because, honestly, how much longer can this possibly last? When you’re an anomaly – an outlier, a caveat – in your chosen industry, you already feel in your bones that it’s only a matter of time before it’s all over. The volunteer just confirmed it. Enjoy it while it lasts.

"When you’re an anomaly – an outlier, a caveat – in your chosen industry, you already feel in your bones that it’s only a matter of time before it’s all over."
Sydney Writers' Festival
Sydney Writers' Festival https://www.swf.org.au

Fast forward to the lead-up to this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival, and I was asked to give an opening-night keynote address alongside Bernardine Evaristo – the Booker Prize-winning author of Girl, Woman, Other – and Alexis Wright, the Miles Franklin-winning and Stella Prize-winning author of Carpentaria and Tracker. I was honoured; I was thrilled.

I immediately said no.

I know I’m a good writer, but I had no business being on stage alongside those two. I had too much respect for them, and too much self-respect, to say yes and risk shitting myself in front of a live audience.

But then, in a moment of weakness and vanity, I was emotionally manipulated persuaded by Festival Director Ann Mossop, and then I had to go through with it.

Please read the rest of the article at Griffith Review

Author

Benjamin LawBenjamin Law is the author of The Family Law, Gaysia and the Quarterly Essay: Moral Panic 101, and editor of Growing Up Queer in Australia. He’s the co-executive producer, co-creator and co-writer of the Netflix comedy-drama Wellmania; creator and co-writer of three seasons of the award-winning TV series The Family Law; and author of the play Torch the Place. He hosted ABC Radio National’s weekly national pop-culture show Stop Everything for six years. Benjamin is an alumni of Griffith University.

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Media and the arts

After Vegas

The National Rugby League’s (NRL) inaugural Vegas Round saw 40,746 fans witness two breathtaking games of rugby league football in the entertainment capital of the world. While many of these spectators were expats, this historic event has built the foundations for the NRL to enter the most lucrative sports market in the world. But what should happen next? And how can the NRL use this platform to strengthen the code globally?

As I wrote shortly before Vegas Round, the NRL’s key to generate US-based interest is to first establish the building block of fandom – awareness. Reports suggest that approximately 20,000 of the attendees were American residents who generally reported enjoying the spectacle and learning about rugby league. The real scalability lays in tapping into the American TV market and despite some delays in coverage due to overtime collegiate basketball, the NRL was shown live on premier channel, Fox Sports 1.

Turning Awareness into Attraction

Capturing attention as a once-off and generating a lasting interest are two different things. Research demonstrates how preferences for sports are formed when they are perceived to satisfy certain wants and needs. The high-scoring Manly Sea Eagles vs. South Sydney Rabbitohs season opener featuring breakaway tries will have played a part in selling the NRL to those in attendance and watching on TV as a sport like no other. Likewise individual performances like Joey Manu’s outrageous flick pass try assist, and Reece Walsh’s try scoring acrobatics in the second game provided highlight moments the NRL would have been dreaming of.

Arguably as important as those individuals showcasing the on-field product – like Walsh and Manu – are those who surround the game. As my research demonstrates, sport interest points are increasingly shifting away from specific teams and leagues capturing consumer attention – and is becoming more about the individual. For example, most people who have heard of Wrexham AFC have done so not because of the team’s achievements or any of the players – but because of their high-profile owners (more on this later).

Call it the age of social media or mark it down to shortening attention spans and increased switching behaviours – but the reality is power today rests in the hands of the individual. Research demonstrates how athletes form a key component in driving support of specific teams and leagues. A case-in-point is Cristiano Ronaldo (@cristiano), who has 623 million Instagram followers while his past three clubs – giants Real Madrid (@realmadrid), Juventus (@juventus) and Manchester United (@manchesterunited) have less than half (277m) of that combined.

Playing the long game

Yet, cracking the US frontier represents a different challenge where NRL players are not those likely to yet have the greatest cut-through. The best strategy here may be to garner the support of Australians already established in the US, and a handful of high-profile Americans who may be willing to throw their support (and dollars) behind the code.

With respect to the former, several high-profile Australians from Lachlan Murdoch, Russell Crowe, The Kid LaRoi, Daniel Patrick and Jordan Mailata assisted with publicity efforts for Vegas Round. Regarding the latter, US Superstars Rob Gronkowski, Jason Kelce, and even Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson featured in media efforts and were encouraged to support the NRL. The presence (or lack thereof) of US celebrities at Vegas Round was disappointing, yet this is a strategy I think the NRL should persist with, especially given the influence of celebrity culture in the US.

And celebrity involvement in sport is big business in the US, and abroad. Walmart baron Stan Kroenke owns multiple franchises spanning several sports across the US and overseas, Lebron James has an ownership stake in UK giant Liverpool FC, and even actor Ryan Reynolds has branched out into sport ownership, turning around the fortunes of Wrexham AFC.

Outside of ownership, having high profile fans can drive substantial awareness, interest and fandom for a sport. Just look at Taylor Swift’s impact on the NFL, which saw her romance with Travis Kelce drive significant interest in the Kansas City Chiefs – exposing the NFL to new markets, content creation opportunities, and reportedly driving an additional $331.5 million in brand value for the Chiefs and NFL. If it can work for the NFL, it can work for the NRL.

"... sport interest points are increasingly shifting away from specific teams and leagues capturing consumer attention – and is becoming more about the individual."
Griffith University Rugby League
Where to from here?

The proposed 10-team American rugby league, I previously mentioned, remains one key area that the NRL should strongly support. Targeting high profile individuals as franchise owners and operators must also be a cornerstone of this strategy. While it will be new to rugby league, multi-sport ownership is an increasingly popular pursuit US-based ownership groups are targeting. And it is one that works.

Al Guido, San Francisco 49ers president explained how the 49ers purchasing a stake in English football team Leeds United could be replicated across rugby league, under the right circumstances. This highlights rugby league’s opportunity, which is not ever going to compete with the NFL but can complement it.

The vast playing population of NCCA athletes with only a minute chance of making the NFL represent one vast area to target outside of high profile owners and celebrity supporters. The NRL Combine has already gone somewhat to identifying opportunities for US-athletes to play league, with reports that an NRLW club may be the first to recruit a women’s US Rugby 7’s player.

Three ways to win

These are the three routes I believe the NRL should pursue to make the US expedition a success.

  1. Maintain a presence in the US, both with Vegas Round and over the next few years an American league.
  2. Ensure the franchises are sold not just to those who can afford them, but who have brands that will resonate with Americans and beyond. Encourage high profile people from all industries to support and be involved with the game.
  3. Invest in the women’s game. The NRLW are arguably better positioned than the NRL to benefit from US-based athlete transitions, and the league’s capacity and willingness to expand makes this playing pool a ripe opportunity. As well, Vegas Round including an NRLW game in the next few years should be strongly on the agenda of the NRL.
Author

Dr Jason DoyleDr Jason Doyle is a Senior Lecturer in Sport Management within the Griffith Business School’s (GBS) Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management (THS), and the Discipline Advisor for the Sport Management group. I am an inaugural member of the University’s Women in Sport working committee, and am proud to have contributed to Griffith University’s first-ever Women in Sport Strategy.

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Featured Society and culture

Are co-operatives the missing piece in Australia’s housing puzzle?

Imagine a housing option that is affordable and secure, enhances the health and wellbeing of residents, fosters a sense of agency, voice, and empowerment, cultivates a robust sense of community, and provides opportunities for skills development, employment, and education.

What you’re envisioning is a rental housing co-operative, a model that fills a significant gap in Australia’s housing sector. This model has been gaining renewed public and political interest as a potential solution to our affordable housing crisis.

Housing co-ops are not a novel concept. In Europe, the Americas, and Asia, they provide secure, affordable, and decent housing to substantial portions of the population⁷. In cities like Copenhagen, Vienna, and Zurich – all top-ranking capitals for affordability and liveability – they constitute up to 20-25% of the total housing stock, offering tenants secure and decent housing in inner-city locations where they work.

In Australia, however, the equivalent figure is less than 1%. It’s clear that we need more options that sit between private ownership and private rental.

Community is strength
What is a housing co-operative?

The Australian co-operative sector comprises three main models:

The rental housing co-operative sector, which offers affordable and secure rental housing with rents adjusted to income, is by far the largest.

Tenants are expected to actively participate in the management and governance of the co-op. This participation empowers tenants to develop and maintain the co-operative’s common areas/gardens and social events according to their needs and desires, while maintaining their own private flat or house.

In a rental housing co-operative, while tenants rent their unit, the house can be owned by the co-operative, a not-for-profit housing provider, or the government. In a private equity housing co-operative, people purchase their co-operative unit or house at market price while maintaining active involvement in the governance of the co-operative. The land is held in common, usually using either community title or strata title.

Aboriginal housing co-operatives are also predominantly rental housing co-operatives but are registered as multi-stakeholder co-operatives, offering affordable housing complemented by Aboriginal-run health and social services.

"Tenants are expected to actively participate in the management and governance of the co-op. This participation empowers tenants to develop and maintain the co-operative's common areas/gardens and social events according to their needs and desires, while maintaining their own private flat or house."
Copenhagen Co-op
Copenhagen Inner-city Rental Co-op. Photo by Sidsel Grimstad.
Rent it like you own it

Our forthcoming research shows how tenant participation and agency positively impact wellbeing and civic engagement. Support to actively participate in the governance and management of the co-op provides tenants with an opportunity to develop skills and knowledge, useful for both their working and personal life. The agency to contribute to decisions about the co-op and make decisions about their own rental dwelling, combined with longevity of tenure, contributes to a feeling of security and leads to a strong feeling of the co-operative ‘feeling like a home’ where tenants want to continue to live.

How could co-ops help to shift the current system?

An inability to access secure housing is connected to numerous other complex issues.

For low-income and increasingly middle-income households, buying a house is becoming unattainable due to unaffordable deposits, insecure employment, huge commuter distances, health issues and lack of affordable child-care to support dual incomes.

We see more people renting and renting for longer. Relying on private renting often means people must move repeatedly, which is stressful, reduces community and school connections, and is unaffordable for low-income households.

The waiting lists for social, community or public housing are long and often only offered to those with complex needs.

These factors contribute to increased homelessness and insecure housing for increasing numbers of families, older Australians, people with a disability or minority background, on low-to average incomes.

Co-operatives are based on values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. They practice values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. All characteristics that contribute to positive wellbeing and a mindset geared towards secure long-term housing as a right.

The unique characteristics of co-operatives can make them powerful actors in innovating these systems and building local economies if the right policies and financial incentives are developed.

South Hobart Co-housing Co-op, Tasmania. Photo by Sidsel Grimstad.
Houses as homes, not investments

But how can we expand and fund co-ops?

We can learn from co-operative federations in other countries, established to provide services and support for co-operatives to manage their governance, maintenance and social development.

We can also learn from financial and institutional frameworks in other countries with substantial housing co-op sectors. Fundamental to these is an acknowledgement that housing policies must prioritise homes to live in, rather than houses as investments.

Denmark has ensured growth of the sector with their long-term vision of building a perpetual affordable housing cooperative development fund. By law, each month, part of a co-op tenant’s rent contributes to the fund which is now substantial in size and is only ever to be used for constructing new rental housing co-operatives.

In Vienna, a dedicated government agency Wohnfonds actively purchases land for affordable housing, taking land out of commercial “speculation” to secure future affordable housing projects.

In Zurich, co-ops approach the funding issue with a collaborative systems approach to financing affordable housing. Co-ops can access a mixed solution of commercial debt financing, low-interest loans from government, co-operative solidarity funds and/or ethical investor funds and the individual co-op member’s equity.

Housing across the entire spectrum matters. What we are missing in Australia is diversity and options.

On the one hand we have social housing which is highly subsidised with restrictive eligibility criteria, and on the other, market rental and market ownership with very little in between.

A more diverse continuum creates more options for people to be housed securely and affordably, according to their circumstances.

Author

Dr Sidsel Grimstad

Dr Sidsel Grimstad is a Senior Lecturer and Teaching and Learning Lead at the Griffith Centre for Systems Innovation (GCSI). Her knowledge and passion for member-owned, cooperatives and mutual enterprises or housing solutions is built on a decade’s worth of research on cooperatives and mutuals as collaborative, innovative, distributive and resilient business models for pursuing sustainable development and socially equitable goals.

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Business and government Featured

From white elephants to a sustainable legacy

In AD 111, Roman Emperor Trajan dispatched Pliny the Younger to the province of Bithynia, in modern-day Turkey, to deal with some serious cases of economic mismanagement in the construction of large building and infrastructure projects.  In the city of Nicaea he found a half-built theatre that needed to be demolished and rebuilt due to poor design and shoddy workmanship.  This tale serves to remind us that grand and wasteful infrastructure projects are not a recent phenomenon, and that establishing responsibility when major projects don’t go according to plan is much more challenging than finding those willing to take the plaudits for the successful ones.

The Quirk Review

After becoming the Premier of Queensland in December 2023, Steven Miles announced a short, 60-day review of the venue master plan for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games.  As many athletes and officials will recognise, this ‘time out’ provided a very welcome pause and opportunity to tap into the wisdom and expertise of people at arm’s length from the government.

Chaired by former Brisbane Lord Mayor, Graham Quirk and supported by the highly experienced Ken Kanofski and Michelle Morris, the review will report on March 18 and is widely expected to propose some major alternatives to current venue proposals. In particular, the wholesale rebuilding of the Gabba stadium will come into sharp focus as a lightning rod for critics of the Games and its planning due in part to the proposed cost and lack of community consultation over the development and proposed demolition of historic East Brisbane State School.

Without prejudging the conclusions of the Quirk Review or joining the fierce political debates about the merits of the current plan for the Gabba, this episode illustrates vividly the challenges involved in planning and delivering a major, global sporting event such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games.  Doing so in a sustainable manner while leaving a lasting legacy of widely acknowledged positive achievements and retaining sufficient support from the public at large should attract a medal in its own right.

Planning impact of The New Norm

Following the economically disastrous experiences of some previous host cities and amid increasing concern about the probity of the bidding process, several important critiques of the political economy of hosting the Games appeared.  For example: Vyv Simson and Andrew Jennings’ 1992 expose of power, money and drugs in the modern Olympics; Helen Jefferson Lenskyj’s exploration of activism in her 2000 book, Inside the Olympic Industry; and John Rennie Short’s 2018 analysis of the real costs faced by cities hosting the Games all contributed to a growing feeling that change was needed.

In fact, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had already launched a major reassessment of all aspects of organising the Olympic Games from candidature to delivery and through to legacy, adding up in their words to ‘a fundamental rethink for future Olympic Games’.  The results of this review saw the endorsement of 118 reforms during the 132nd IOC Session held in PyeongChang in February 2018, with the whole package being known as The New Norm.  The overall objectives of this New Norm were to ‘simplify the candidature process and to create a Games which are more flexible, easier to operate and less expensive, whilst also unlocking more value for host cities over the long term.’ 

The revised candidature process has been designed to make it easier for cities and National Olympic Committees to assess their capacity to host the Games and to prepare plausible proposal packages, aligned to existing development plans, in conjunction with technical experts provided by the IOC.  This represents a significant and very welcome departure from previous bidding processes, such as Athens in 2004, that were both costly and susceptible to corruption and ultimately damaged the reputation and standing of the Games and host cities.

"The overall objectives of this New Norm were to ‘simplify the candidature process and to create a Games which are more flexible, easier to operate and less expensive, whilst also unlocking more value for host cities over the long term'."
Beijing National Stadium "The Bird's Nest"
Beijing National Stadium "The Bird's Nest" the main stadium for 2008 Beijing Olympic Games in 2012
From white elephants to a more sustainable legacy

The second major component of the New Norm relates to the legacy impacts of hosting the Games and ensuring these are positive rather than negative. This challenges hosts to deliver the Olympics by utilising/upgrading existing infrastructure leading to the need for fewer new venues and less Olympics-specific infrastructure overall. As a further shift, the use of temporary and flexible venues is encouraged together with the design of venues that can be shared by multiple sports.

The bodies charged with undertaking that planning and delivery have looked increasingly at investment in other infrastructure needed to support a successful event that also delivers a lasting legacy for the host city or region. In Brisbane and South-East Queensland, this has meant a focus on improving transport infrastructure so that athletes, officials and spectators can move easily to and from and between venues.  In recent years it has also seen an enhanced concern with providing additional accommodation that will contribute to solving or ameliorating the current housing crisis.  This too represents a positive development away from the tendency in the past to demolish housing, especially low-cost housing, in order to build new stadia.

" ... using mainly existing facilities even if they need significant upgrading and avoiding major investment in stadiums that are unlikely to be used at capacity after the event have become the welcome new norm in Olympic planning."

Having been involved in the much smaller scale Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, we can attest to the mixture of celebration and concern across the city and further afield about some aspects of the delivery of that major sporting event.  While its overall impact was judged to be positive and the delivery agency, GOLDOC, avoided investing in any new facilities that would come to be seen as ‘white elephants’, some local enterprises misjudged the extent to which local spending would be boosted and persistent calls to avoid congestion on the motorway between Brisbane and Gold Coast saw it devoid of motorists to an extent never seen before.

So, using mainly existing facilities even if they need significant upgrading and avoiding major investment in stadiums that are unlikely to be used at capacity after the event have become the welcome new norm in Olympic planning. This position was acknowledged in May 2021 in Brisbane’s final response to the IOC’s Future Host Commission (FHC) Questionnaire in which the Gabba was mooted for a “major upgrade”. By 2023, major upgrades had transitioned to demolition and complete rebuild with an accompanying project cost blowout to boot, a change that seemingly runs counter to the ethos of New Norm planning. It will be interesting to see if the Quirk Report recommendations bring venue planning for Brisbane 2032 back in line with this ethos to ensure that the remaining planning timeline is optimised to deliver a sustainable Games and leave a long-lasting and positive legacy for all Queenslanders.

Authors

Professor Paul BurtonProfessor Paul Burton trained and worked as a Town Planner in London before joining the School for Advanced Urban Studies at the University of Bristol in 1980 to carry out research for his PhD on the redevelopment of London’s Docklands. Paul joined Griffith University in 2007 as Professor of Urban Management and Planning. He is currently a member of the Cities Research Institute at Griffith University and an active member of the Planning Institute of Australia. He performed at the closing ceremony of the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.

Leonie Lockstone-BinneyProfessor Leonie Lockstone-Binney is Deputy Director of the Griffith Institute for Tourism (GIFT) and a Professor in the Department of Tourism, Sport and Hotel Management at Griffith University, Australia. Leonie’s research expertise relates to volunteering, contextualised to event and tourism settings. Leonie has published over 100 peer-reviewed articles, many of these in top-tier journals. She has received competitive research funding from the Australian Research Council and the International Olympic Committee and continues to collaborate with leading researchers from Australia, the UK and New Zealand.

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Business and government

Money muling, sextortion and scams

In the digital age, where connectivity is our lifeblood, the dark underbelly of cyberspace thrives. From ‘money muling’ to ‘sextortion’, these virtual predators exploit our vulnerabilities, leaving victims identity-compromised and out-of-pocket.

Australian online scam snapshot
  1. Card Fraud: In 2021-22, 8.1% of Australians (approximately 1.7 million people) experienced card fraud. This rate increased from the previous year’s 6.9%. Men and women faced card fraud at similar rates, but age played a role. The youngest age group (15-24 years) had the lowest likelihood of falling victim (4.6%) Scams: A staggering 65% of Australians aged 15 and over encountered a scam during the same period. That’s approximately 13.2 million people! However, the good news is that the actual victimization rate decreased from 3.6% in 2020-21 to 2.7% in 2021-22
  2. Identity Theft: About 8% of Aussies (around 159,600 individuals) grappled with identity theft. This insidious crime involves unauthorized use of personal information, leaving victims vulnerable and violated
  3. Online Impersonation: Approximately 5% of the population (roughly 509,500 people) faced online impersonation. Scammers don masks, assuming false identities to deceive and manipulate

What levers and actions can federal agencies can take to help address these scams and hoaxes?

Implement the National Strategy for Identity Resilience

The first key action that federal government and regulators can take is to accelerate and implement the National Strategy for Identity Resilience. The primary benefit of doing this will be the centralisation, storage and access of sensitive personal information –  date of birth or home address – in one place. The idea is that a customer will no longer need to provide their personal details to the vendor. Rather, they will simply supply their identity number. This proposed digital ID system will ensure that sensitive details, including  date of birth or license details, are not stored across different businesses. Instead, the details are stored centrally. Access and security are closely monitored.

Governments must also substantially improve regulation and legislation to better hold online platforms to account for users and the wider community. As the ABC recently reported Tiktok is enabling users to earn money from livestreaming. Better monitoring by online platforms and apps to ensure that frauds and scams are addressed quickly. There is a substantial risk that these payment systems can be used for illegal purposes, including child sex exploitation, romance scams and money laundering.

Under the current legislation,  banks are required to actively monitor transactions and report suspicious behaviour including financial flows suspected of being associated with child sex exploitation to AUSTRAC. Yet online platforms such as Tik Tok and Instragram are currently not required to do so.

"The idea is that a customer will no longer need to provide their personal details to the vendor. Rather, they will simply supply their identity number."
Digital identity scanner
Educating the vulnerable

Our educational institutions are fertile grounds for delivering skills, insights and enlightenment. High schools and Universities must wield their knowledge to guide their students away from scams and hoaxes. Financial literacy, often overlooked, should be included in the high school curriculum, a formidable protection against scams.

Universities, especially, have a really important role to play. University students looking for part-time work can unintentionally be recruited into ‘money muling’ for organised crime. The cost-of-living has increased the vulnerability of University students who are at risk of becoming victims of scams as they struggle to afford food and rising rents. Australian law enforcement agencies have come together to deliver a campaign to raise awareness of the growing trend involving criminals recruiting financially vulnerable students. Police are concerned that criminals are targeting students, including through lucrative job adverts offering quick and easy money, in exchange for moving funds through their bank accounts.

The Academy of Financial Crime Investigation and Compliance within the Griffith Business School has launched a scam awareness module and is free for all Griffith University students.

The web of shame

High schools have a role to play addressing sexploitation. Sexstortion is a form of online blackmail where someone tricks you into sending your sexual images then threatens to share them unless their demands are met. Imagine an email, its subject line claims to have an intimate photo, stolen from your webcam. The sender demands payment, threatening exposure. Victims grapple with shame, fear, and a gnawing dread. But here’s the twist: the photo doesn’t exist. It’s a phantom, conjured by cunning scammers. Their weapon? Psychological manipulation. They prey on deep vulnerabilities, exploiting our desire for privacy. The AFP-led Australian Centre to Counter Child Exploitation (ACCCE) has been highlighting the warning signs of ‘sextortion’ to help parents and carers protect young people from online threats.

It is increasingly important that high schools take proactive steps to grow awareness of such scams. This could be done by including modules on financial literarcy and financial scams on the school curriculum. The South Australian government leading by example in this area.

Government agencies, educational institutions, and cybersecurity experts must work together to both fortify our defences and raise awareness of the ever evolving tactics of cybercriminals. By fostering a culture of resilience, Australia can better cultivate a safer digital ecosystem.

Expert

Professor Andreas ChaiProfessor Andreas Chai is the Director of the Academy of Financial Crime Investigation and Compliance and an applied microeconomist specialised in the area of household behaviour with application to measuring poverty, energy poverty, financial hardship and climate change adaptation. He has completed projects for APEC, the United Nations, NCCARF, IP Australia and the Queensland government. He has previously worked at the Commonwealth Treasury (Canberra) and the Productivity Commission (Melbourne)

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