The Yellow Line and The Giraffe – A Cautionary Tale of Compliance
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The Yellow Line and The Giraffe – A Cautionary Tale of Compliance

Sometimes it is useful to create a metaphor to remind us of the importance of things and make sure the meaning is as clear as possible. Compliance is an essential element of good governance in all sectors – and especially the higher education sector. Therefore the use of a metaphor is an excellent opportunity to reinforce the importance of remaining inside the rules and not over reaching.

Some of the most important (and possibly powerful) lessons learnt over a long period of time suggest that the notion of a metaphor is a highly useful concept when it comes to behaviour and operation. Some, more amusing than others, help us understand the importance of caution and appropriate behaviour.

The yellow line

At most train station platforms there is an obvious yellow line that is noted by regular announcements suggesting the importance of staying behind the yellow line as a train approaches. As one walks along the platform it is highly obvious and the meaning is anything but vague. In truth, irrespective of whether a train is approaching, it is best practice to stay away from the yellow line at all times to avoid unnecessary danger or misstep. It is about caution first. It is also about ensuring travellers remain safe and protected.

Likewise in terms of compliance – a set of standards and rules have been established and it is essential that institutions not only maintain these regulations but ensure all activities are compliant and are ‘behind the yellow line’. It is essential to be up to date with national and state regulations (COVID serves as an excellent example) and that being aware of the presence of ‘a yellow line’ reminds us to stay well within the borders and restrictions to avoid mischance.

The giraffe

One of the most striking features of a visit to Taronga Zoo, Mosman in Sydney - - via the ferry -  is that the giraffe can be seen above the fence line – standing majestically, and incredibly obvious. I have often pondered that of all the residents the giraffe has the best view of the harbour. Its image appears on the official website suggesting the importance of both the location and the animal itself.

In compliance terms the notion is not a particularly good one. It is better to stay below the fence line assured by ongoing benchmarking and a sensible and measured approach to operations and behaviours. The very notion of ‘sticking out’ would imply a possible disregard for the norm and the normal – and is probably not the best option.

The importance of compliance

As we recover from COVID (I am not completely convinced we are post-COVID given the number of cases still prevalent across the country) we should endeavour to be aware of changing rules and regulations and at the same time base our recovery practices on clear and well thought through compliance – standing behind the yellow line at all times and not over reaching above the fence line. This could become the mantra for ‘the new reality’.


Emeritus Professor Greg Whateley is the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive Officer at Group Colleges Australia