Australia Day Address

13th Annual Griffith Australia Day Awards

St Thomas' Catholic Primary School, Camp Hill

18 January 2012

Speeches, E&OE, proof only

In a time of very great change, what are the values that guide us through the uncertain waters of the future? When the waters arise what is a steady rock which secures our foundations as a community and as a nation?

Of this we can be certain, that the only constant of the world today is change itself. And just as we have been buffeted by the swirling tides around us in the past, so to will we be buffeted around again in the future, and more frequently so. Because the forces of change, these unsettling currents, are becoming greater than ever before in our history.

Greater not just in their number, but also in their depth, their power and their complexity.

Sometimes we simply feel lost in midst of it all, lost in this sea of change – it's simply lying beyond us to understand fully what is driving this change, where they are coming from and I'm certain therefore of what we propose to do about them, if anything.

Let's just look at the world today:

Where will, for example, political change in the Arab world lead us.

What happens in the next few years after China becomes the most powerful economy in the world, and perhaps the most powerful country. For the first time in more than 200 years since Arthur Phillip first sailed through Sydney heads we look now at the real prospect of a non-western country, a non-democracy being the most powerful economy and perhaps the most powerful country in the world. What does that mean for us?

Will Europe recover its former grandeur, or are we witnessing the slow disintegration of the idea that we call the West?

The bewildering, liberating, frightening pace of technological change – how many remote controls you now have in front of your television at home. Changes which once took a generation, which now seems to take but the twinkling of an eye.

Technology which is fundamentally transforming the very platform for our common discourse either as a community or as a nation. Because what we see now is the era of mass media being challenged by a highly individualised media and we are no longer watching all the same things or hearing all the same remarks made by our national leaders. How do we therefore continue to provide the basic fabric for a continuing national conversation among us?

Then there are our communities – greater per capita income than ever before in our history but with the gap between rich and poor becoming a chasm unsettling the twin foundations upon which our social fabric has been based for more than 100 years. Twin foundations which are how do we provide physical opportunity for all and at the same time how do we provide proper protection for those who cannot fend for themselves? These two basic and continuing Australian values.

And as families and individuals, the fracturing of the centuries old certainties of religious faith and customary belief, against the onward march of secularism, laying waste to many of the deep moorings of the past, but as yet failing to replace these moorings with agreed codes of civic values, as the new ties that bind.

These are just some, just some of the forces of change at work within our lives and within our world at the dawn of the third millennium – not all for the bad, but many in fact for the good, like breakthroughs in medical technology and science which no longer renders life, as Hobbes once said, as ugly, brutish and short but with an opportunity to live and to live long productive lives.

We now have before us unprecedented opportunities that empower us to improve the human condition. That old fashioned word ‘progress' is in fact still possible. We truly have it within our power to overcome endemic poverty; to overcome irreversible environmental destruction, and to say to one another as nations that it now lies within the power of our imagination to construct a sustainable peace for the future rather than succumb to the fatalism of the past which has taught us that conflict and war are the near-permanent condition of humankind.

So change can be for the good, or it can be for the ill. But change we must and change we are – and always lurking in the back of our minds; changing for what ultimate purpose? And in the midst of this ocean of uncertainty how do we remain confident of our bearings as we navigate the future with confidence?

It comes down to this time and time again. What are our enduring values? What therefore informs our vision for ourselves and our place in the world because as it is written elsewhere “without a vision the people perish”. A national day like ours is a time just once a year to reflect on our values, on our vision in the midst of this ocean of change. Number one, from my experience a fulfilled life is one which always gives to others. The unfulfilled life is one which only gives to yourself. This is the wisdom of the ages and in our country Australia it is so deeply enmeshed in our national soul that's now part of our national DNA. We call it the fair go and the most fulfilled of us are the ones out there in the business of giving. The most unfulfilled are those who are simply looking after me, myself and I. Let us hold fast to that value and the wisdom which underpins it.

The second is enterprise. I don't often talk about that. I think people will be here from business. Frankly our country and community needs people of enterprise out there generating wealth. There is nothing wrong with the generation of wealth. There are questions about its distribution. There are questions also about how it is used but there is nothing wrong with the generation of wealth. There is a lot that is right with the generation of wealth as without it we can do very little. So it's celebrating this value of enterprise. How do you create something out of nothing? How do you build a business which employs hundred, thousands of people? Providing opportunities for others to do the same. A second great Australian value.

A third one which is partly linked is what I describe as the value of creativity. How do you think of something that hasn't been thought of yet? Think of the arts, think of science, think of innovation think of Lawrence Hargraves, think of those pioneers in our history who dared to innovate, creatively and to go beyond what was accepted as normal. The spirit of creativity and innovation is actually etched deep within our spirit as well and let's hold fast to it because it can carve out a whole series of possibilities in the future. How do we get to the stage for example where we can attack and defeat Alzheimer's? How can we get to the stage in the future where we can attack and defeat heart disease? Where we can attack and defeat cancer? The innovation, the creativity, the desire to go beyond the thresholds as we know them. This is a value that we should hold dear to as Australians.

With all that, there is of course the ultimate mooring of family. Families come in all shapes and sizes in the 21st century multiply defined in the modern world. But families nonetheless anchor us in the great seas and the uncertainties of life that we all face. Who do we retreat to when times are tough? Who gives us encouragement when we become second rather than first or we become last rather than first? So families, it's our families that teach us how to cope with failure and to celebrate success. It's our families who teach us how to get on with one another to socialise ourselves into looking after other folks and unless we have of our culture and value as Australians always to nurture the family in its broadest definition in 21st century Australia but I think we are cutting one of our moorings loose.

A further value, community and soul, you've heard it said, you've seen it written. It takes a village to raise a child. Absolutely true. A kid when they finally leave a tearful mothers embrace usually in the last week of January each year and we've done it with three of ours. Off to school and off to a wider engagement of community life. It takes that village or that community to raise that child, to subject them to the challenges they will face – but also to nurture them as well. And to build the values of how do I look after that person who I don't know, who's not a member of my family but is a member of the community in which I live.

Nurturing therefore the community itself, writ large by the sorts of people that we have before us here today, is, I believe, fundamental. We believe in the intrinsic importance of communities such as this. We are not isolated centres of sub-suburbia. We are a community and we celebrate community life as we do so today. A critical Australian value not a group of anonymous individuals who barely say hello but in fact a group of people who know that their lives, their work and their being are intimately tied up with the folks who share the place in which they live, another great Australian value.

Inclusion as opposed to exclusion. I've always believed in Australia we are at our best when we are striving to unite rather than to divide. When we have about us a wisdom which says let us bring these folk from diverse places together rather than separate them and cause one to be anxious or fearful of the other. I think we are therefore heading in the right direction. The values of inclusion, it doesn't matter where we come from. I look at this audience before me today.

We have come from everywhere. When the rest of the world looks at Australia, and I've just been at the United Nations last week, when the rest of the world looks at Australia it blows them away, that we manage to carve out this life as Australians. This way of our national being, in harmony, irrespective of where we come from.

I'm the descendant of Irish criminals. Some say an excellent preparation for politics. You, I'm sure are all free settlers of one form or another. But as I look at the others who have come to this land to share this vast continent with the first Australians such as Aunty Margaret. Then there is something quite magical about this value of inclusion, we do it instinctively. Let's hold on to it, let's not be torn away from it. Let's not be torn into seas of mistrust about folk who come from a cultural or religious heritage other than our own.

Let's celebrate this diversity. It's a great strength. It's an enormous strength in the world at large. Many countries around the world they do not know how to deal with modern waves of migration. For us in Australia, we've been dealing with this for 200 years. By and large it's been a pretty successful story all anchored in this principal of inclusion of respecting difference, respecting diversity and as again has been written once in things essential unity in things nonessential diversity but in all things love. That is what Australia is about as well.

And finally, a value which is sometimes hard to encapsulate, one which I call – it is always better to build up than to tear down. You know the wiring inside our minds whereby we can readily spot the deficiency and the defectiveness in someone else we can always spot the spec in our neighbour's eye while not realising we have a log in our own. Well I think there is a message for us here because I think this value sometimes is under some real challenge. I worry about our country's future as we descend, I believe, into an ocean of negativity. The public discourse about Australia's future at the moment so much of it is characterised by the negative. I don't think intrinsically we're like that. We're a positive bunch. We like putting our shoulder to the wheel. We like getting things done. We like seeing the best in people rather than the worst in people. And so this is something we should hold fast as a very deep Australian and universal value because I feel this one is under very real and fundamental challenge right now.

So these then are our values, though there are probably more, but I've tried to distil them this morning. But what sort of vision do we have for our country for the future as well? I try to put it into these terms; we believe in a compassionate Australia, a competitive Australia, we believe in a creative Australia, we believe in an inclusive Australia. That's us, that's the sun lit up lands, that's the light on the hill, that's who we wish to be. The envy of the world not just because of how much money we have but of who we are as a people.

A skilled Australia, my vision for the country's future for example was how do we become the best educated, the best skilled, the best trained workforce anywhere in the world? A nation of bright people always out there on the forefront of science, innovation, creativity, thinking of the future, creative problem solving. That I believe is a vision we should hold fast to as well.

Anchored also a future Australia in the deep moorings of our family and our community and always, always with a positive vision for the future of who we might become and who we are becoming rather than what's wrong with them.

To conclude, here in this community of ours and on this day in particular we honour those who represent these values and this vision in our community here on Brisbane's Southside.

As your Federal Member I'm proud of each and everyone one of you because you go the extra mile, you do these things, you're the embodiment of what I have been talking about more broadly but as we honour each and everyone of you therefore we are reflecting on who we are as Australians, the values we hold dear and who we wish to become.

So a wayward change, oceans of change sometimes bewildering but if we are anchored in our values and anchored in our vision for the future, we've got enough ballast in this ship called Australia to navigate any storm and that's what we are on about as Australians.

Confident in our values, clear in our vision, building our future together.

Thank you.

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