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08 Mar 2018

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By Sean Car

It was by complete surprise that former World Vision Australia CEO Reverend Tim Costello AO found himself to be a Southbank resident.

He told Southbank Local News that it virtually happened by complete accident, as he and his wife Merridie were heading to the Melbourne Writers’ Festival last year.

“We hadn’t discussed buying or moving,” he said. “My wife and I were driving in to the Melbourne Writers’ Festival as I was interviewing an author and we parked just off Southbank Boulevard because I had to do Sky TV.”

“I came out and my wife said ‘I saw an auction board up and I wondered in come over!’ I said ‘what? We’re going to the Writers’ Festival!’ and she said ‘ohhh just have a look!’ So I went and had a three-minute look and thought it was very nice.”

“I said ‘fine let’s go to the Writers’ Festival now’ and she said ‘well what if it goes for a good deal?’ and I said ‘we haven’t spoken about it, we haven’t looked, we’ve got no plans, this is madness!’

In a hurry not to be late for his interview, it was at that point Tim departed for the Writers’ Festival and left his wife at the auction on Southbank Boulevard. That wasn’t before advising her “not to do anything silly!”

“So I’m in the middle of interviewing an author Arnold Zable who wrote a book called The Fighter,” Tim said. “My phone’s on silent and then up comes a text from my wife saying ‘wow I’ve bought it! I think it’s a good deal!’”

“In the middle of the festival I go WHAT?!” he laughed. “So yes, it was completely spontaneous!”

Despite his unexpected status as a Southbanker, we’re proud to call him one! Having previously resided in Elsternwick, he said he and his wife had quickly taken to life in Southbank’s low-rise green village.

“The change has been terrific,” he said. “Our kids have all grown up, it’s perfect for the ABC, Sky TV and SBS, I could open my window and do an ABC interview without leaving my bed!”

“I’ve taken to walking the tan, enjoying the gardens and my wife loves theatre. The quietness has amazed us we thought being near the centre of the city it would be noisy but it’s not at all.”

“It’s a real community and village feel. People are relational because they’re often sitting out using the pool or the gym and it functions like a renaissance European village, which really surprised me.”

Tim Costello shouldn’t require much of an introduction. While his career has included various roles as a lawyer, politician and religious leader, to his core, he is none other than a passionate humanitarian.

Having spent 12 years in the top job at one of the world’s most recognised charitable organisations, World Vision Australia, his efforts in keeping global poverty on the national agenda has taken him to all corners of our planet.

Beyond that, he has long been one of Australia’s most sought-after voices on social justice issues both at home and abroad such as gambling, urban poverty, homelessness, reconciliation and substance abuse.

A former mayor of St Kilda and Baptist Minister, Tim has been named Victorian of Year (2004), an Officer of the Order of Australia (2005) and Victoria’s Australian of the Year (2006).

While he stepped aside from his role as World Vision Australia’s CEO in 2016, he has done anything but step away from his work. For the past two years he said he had been enjoying his new role as the organisation’s Chief Advocate.

“I’m loving it. It’s the fun part of the job rather than the slog,” he said. “I love the work in the field. You see terrible poverty and the mystery is that you still see hope.”

“At this stage of life being in my early 60s now I have to start thinking about slowing down. As my wife says to me the problem with you is that you won’t burn out. You’ll burn everyone around you out!”

“There is part of me that recognises that I do have to slow down and accept my age and start mentoring. The city and Southbank is a good place for coffee and conversation for mentoring for the next generation and I do enjoy that.”

As World Vision continues its global mission to respond to 65 million displaced people, conflict and poverty around the world, Tim continues to commit his energy to reversing such injustices.

He said one of his main goals in his new advocacy role was to encourage Australia’s younger generations against “turning inwards”, which he said started by forcing our politicians to put aid funding back on the national agenda.

“We need governments believing in our aid programs. We’ve gone backwards in Australia – our aid program is now at its lowest ever in our history,” he said.

“70 cents in a hundred dollars of gross national interest. That’s what we all promised for the world’s poor. When we’re at 22 cents we need to actually say that’s not who we are.”

“Is poverty natural or created? If it’s created, we can ‘uncreate’ it – we can change it. We can challenge it. I have great hope that the next generation will reject this turning inwards.”

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