Adam Blakester, CEO of Starfish Initiatives

Comments (3) Business Minds

Introducing Adam Blakester, the passionate CEO of Starfish Initiatives. Starfish is celebrating its official launch, ten-year anniversary (we’ll explain later) in which it has been directly involved in 131 sustainability initiatives, many of which are international or national “firsts”, and kicking off the Starfish Foundation with a whopping half-million-dollar donation.

Tell us about your background?

I spent a dozen years with Greenpeace, and I’m a current Director of Lock the Gate. At KPMG, my specialisation was tax and SMEs. I was also CEO of Australia’s peak child abuse prevention society.

My time in finance, law and management; environmental; and the children and family sectors led me to an interest in sustainability. Starfish grew out of this, as I came to realise that sustainability is about getting the natural, social and economics right at the same time.

My focus, and that of Starfish, is on how we can achieve this.

What brought you to Armidale?

We did five years of research deciding where to live. We were looking across Australia, New Zealand and Europe, seeking a great quality of life. It needed a professional economy – which was key to my own livelihood – and we wanted an area that was resilient to the likely challenges coming our way, such as the economic disruption, climate change, mass extinctions, and pressure on food production. The New England stood head and shoulders above the rest.

What has your experience been?

My daughter, Jaz, has really settled into the Steiner school, a feature that attracted us to Armidale. My wife, Claire, has set up her massage practice, Bodiwel. It has not always been easy or perfect, but it has been wonderful. We are very glad we came here.

There is still a level of untapped potential in our region. It is equally an extraordinarily bountiful place to live, full of interesting people, beautiful nature and great infrastructure. My recent professional travels to Asia underlined just how affluent we are. It is an awesome gift to have this life.

What were the origins of Starfish?

Ten years ago, I put my shingle out as a sustainability specialist for hire. It didn’t take long before so many more people, organisations, and money became involved that we needed a legal structure to hold it all. Our first projects were the New England Sustainability Strategy and Farming the Sun. These projects underpinned the creation of Starfish.

What drives you?

The environment is often seen as a resource to be used and consumed to create economic activity to improve our standard of living. The problem is, this isn’t working and is failing more dramatically every day. We need to collectively do things differently. We need to create change, and that is the focus of Starfish’s work.

Starfish has just officially launched after 10 years in operation; please explain?

The Board always agreed we couldn’t be fully able to do our work without the ability to fundraise. And you can’t do fundraising well if you can’t give a tax deduction.

So, our launch was always tied to us achieving tax deductibility status. I knew that it would be difficult to get, as environmental charities are highly scrutinised. However, I never expected it to take six years!

This is why we are officially launching and celebrating our ten-year anniversary at the same time. The proof of the pudding is the $500,000 donation we obtained to start up the Starfish Foundation. We could not legally have received this without tax deductibility status.

How challenging was achieving tax deductibility status?

Incredibly. In fact, we have a pile of correspondence about 2-foot-thick from the process. Many people worked on this goal. We had numerous meetings with Ministers and local Members. The efforts of our Board were tireless; however, I would particularly like to recognise the efforts of Chris Serow of Legal Minds, whose commitment never flagged.

So too, Josette Wunder of The Earth Welfare Foundation was pivotal. Josette wanted to donate $500,000 to rural sustainability and wanted to know why it was so difficult! She spent two weeks making phone calls, sending emails, and writing letters, pushing us over the line. What a gift!

What challenges does Starfish face?

To our knowledge, we are the only dedicated charity in the world focused on rural sustainability. This is significant. There are those that address different aspects, such as farming, mining and conservation; however, no one is working on the whole picture.

As exciting as it is, we don’t want to be the only one. We need to build awareness of the need for investment in, and attention to, the issue of rural sustainability. We need to create the confidence that rural and regional communities can not only survive, but thrive in the face of the challenges ahead.

Thank you, Adam.

3 Responses to Adam Blakester, CEO of Starfish Initiatives

  1. Ian MacBean says:

    Hi again Adam,
    Enjoyed meeting you at Daylesford this morning – you get a mention in the last para of this opinion piece (in The Monthly Today).
    Will watch your campaign with great interest.
    Ian MacBean, Trentham Sustainability Group

    THURSDAY, APRIL 4, 2019 Today by Paddy Manning

    A tale of three valedictories
    Highlights were few in the 45th parliament

    Independent member for Indi Cathy McGowan delivers her valedictory speech in parliament.

    Something closer to the tax cuts that are likely to occur in 2019–20 will be announced tonight in Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s budget reply speech. At the very least, what Shorten says has more chance of happening than the version of reality set out in Josh Frydenberg’s first budget, delivered on Tuesday. As has been well flagged this morning, from July 1 Labor will offer more by way of tax relief for low- and middle-income earners. It will also dispense with the radical flattening of the tax system proposed by the Coalition, which would blow a $95 billion hole in public revenues in just five years, and overwhelmingly benefit upper-income earners in inner-city electorates, as National Centre for Social and Economic Modelling analysis released today makes clear.
    The Frydenberg budget continues to unravel. Tonight on Radio National’s Late Night Live, Abul Rizvi, former deputy secretary of the immigration department, will accuse his former colleagues at Treasury of bending to the government’s will and ramping up annual population growth assumptions from 1.6 to 1.75 per cent – both migration and fertility. This may sound minor, but has major implications over a decade, and is clearly inconsistent with the prime minister’s plan to cap immigration as a way of busting congestion. Rizvi says Treasury was confronted with two conflicting objectives: forecast enough growth to generate 1.25 million jobs in five years, while lowering immigration. “The two are inconsistent,” says Rizvi. “You can have one or the other, but not both.”
    As well as unveiling his tax plans, Shorten is tipped to make major pre-election policy announcements on health and aged care in his speech tonight, before the lights go out on the wretched 45th parliament, which will hopefully in future be regarded as the nadir of good government in Australia (although you wouldn’t bet on it).
    Federal parliament is no longer the main game as the country switches into election mode, notwithstanding a rush today to pass world-first legislation to stop social media platforms livestreaming massacres, as happened with the recent Christchurch shootings. The digital giants have been threatening that Australia would become a backwater, but it was hard not to cheer when Attorney-General Christian Porter, at a press conference to announce fines of up to 10 per cent of annual turnover and potential jail time for executives, pushed straight back. “This is what they said before the cyberbullying regulations and requirements, this is what they said before the e-safety commissioner, this is what they said before the take-down notice; they’re all still here. It’s like Alec Baldwin saying he’s going to leave America every time a Republican’s elected president. It just doesn’t happen.” Porter reminded the press that 8Chan, when asked by the New Zealand government to take the Christchurch video down, had basically told them to “get stuffed”. If only the Coalition showed the same fortitude regulating fossil fuels as it does trying to regulate the internet.
    The most interesting speeches of the day, however, were valedictories. Former trade minister Steve Ciobo, retiring after 17 years, gave a self-effacing account of his propensity to back losers in leadership contests, stretching right back to Peter Costello versus John Howard. Ciobo acknowledged that his support was a kiss of death that could kill off a political career forever, and Peter Dutton looked on mournfully behind him.
    Christopher Pyne also gave his valedictory speech this afternoon, a characteristically frothy piece of work, though this time ending in tears. “This place brings out the best of us and it brings out the worst in us. I’ve seen some truly dreadful people come through here, Mr Speaker.” But, ever positive, he still believed there were more good people than bad. “Thank you, goodbye and good luck.”
    The more important valedictory, however, was that of Cathy McGowan, member for Indi. McGowan is retiring after just six years, in which she has nonetheless effected a kind of revolution in the politics of regional Australia, and is now inspiring a raft of country and city independents from Zali Steggall to Adam Blakester to Oliver Yates, and her own successor, Helen Haines. Emblazoned with an orange scarf, and with a hundred-odd orange T-shirt-wearing supporters from Indi in the public gallery, McGowan was downright inspiring. Her achievements by the numbers: 525 speeches, 15 private members bills, 74 questions without notice, 35 motions, 18 amendments, hosting 4600 school children from the electorate and fielding inquiries from 15,000 constituents a year. McGowan thanked the people of Indi for “enabling us to be the change we want to see, and there is so much more to do”. She had a message for the major parties: “Independents DO get things done.” And she had a message to Australians frustrated at politics, especially the young, about whom she spoke with love: “Don’t get mad, get elected!”

  2. Sue Yates says:

    23rd April 2019
    Ref: Manilla Community Bus

    “The Old Mill”
    6 Wimbourne Rd
    Manilla, NSW. 2346
    Email –

    President – Sue Yates 0427 786 463

    To Mr Adam Blakester

    I am writing to you in the hope that you maybe able to assist us in our endeavour to purchase a suitable, Upgrade Replacement Community Bus for the residents of Manilla.
    Manilla Community Bus is health related and Community issue as it relates to people who are in hospital and needs transport to there appointment in Tamworth, also for rehabilitation to Tamworth hydro pool for pre opp and after opp rehabilitation, people with disabilities and wellbeing. Also outings for our senior residents, Men’s bus, Ladies group, Bingo, Sunday school, shopping, residents at Manellae Lodge, CWA, View club, Auxiliary club and is used seven days a week. Residents of Manilla can hirer the bus when not in uses.
    Our current bus is unsuitable, 20yrs old and outdated. Seats are to small and uncomfortable, both exist wheelchair and side doors brake down frequently and repairs are very costly, aisle is too narrow to allow easy movement to the end of the bus. You have to walk side ways to get to a seat, bumping into people while seated, people with disabilities, walking sticks/frames and our senior residents find it very difficult to walk down the aisle. Kevin Anderson has been out in 2017 to look at our bus and agreed that it is unsuitable for our elderly and disabled residents of Manilla but no grants as yet.
    Leg room is too narrow as many residents have just had knee replacements/disabilities find it very hard to put their legs in front of them and keep their legs out in the aisle. Some of residents after going to the hydro pool find the ride on the bus undoes what benefits they get from the hydro pool and will not come back on the bus and miss out on there rehabilitation in the hydro pool.
    Prime7 news has interviewed us a few times throughout the years on our progress of raising money towards the purchase of a new upgrade bus. We also have a Facebook page called Manilla Community Bus which we keep everyone up to date and inform, also adds in Manilla Express what is happening and updates. Also I have been in contact with Kevin Anderson and Barnaby Joyce quite a few times but we have had no success with any grants from them. Tamworth Regional Council has donated $5,000. Towards a new upgraded bus
    Our community has raise so far $55,000. by donations, Community groups, events, raffles, recycling and book sales, that we have raised since December 2016. The Manilla Community Bus is a great asset to our residents of Manilla. Without this bus and service it provides it would be a great loss to our hospital and residents of Manilla community.
    Manilla hospital shelters our current bus at the hospital and pays for Registration, insurance and the up keep of the bus. Our residents raised money also for the current bus. Manilla Hospital will continue the same with the new upgraded bus.
    We are a small non-profit fundraising committee and we thank you in advance for your help that you maybe able to assist us in or any advice that you can give us on upgrading our community Bus.

    Kindest Regards

    Sue Yates

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