Speech

17 June 2009
Address at The Weekend Australian Next 100 Launch - Parliament House - Canberra

Thanks very much. If I could begin by acknowledging the first Australians on whose land we meet and whose cultures we celebrate as the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

And could I also say at the very outset that this is a very good thing that you are doing, News Ltd and Microsoft, because you are in the business of encouragement, encouraging young leaders of today to become our nation’s leaders for tomorrow.

One of the lesser known lights of the New Testament - this is not a Bonhoeffer lecture - is a bloke called Barnabas. You’ve probably never heard of him. But he was referred to repeatedly in the writings as the Son of Encouragement. And in what is often an ocean of despair, the actual physicality of encouraging people, particularly those of talent and ability is of real importance in shaping a person’s life.

Not just to reach their own individual potential, but you take that further and to deploy that potential for the benefit of the wider community, the nation and broader humankind.

If we’re honest about it, those of us who would regard ourselves as self-made men and women and we reflect on our careers, there have been people out there in the business of encouraging us along the way, small ways, large ways, family, friends, coaches, bosses and for those lucky enough mentors - always seeking to identify that which is good and of potential in a person’s life and to show gently, occasionally firmly, but with direction a further way to go. And this is part of what is being celebrated here today.

Because in the oceans of negativity which often pass for public debate in this country, it is important, always important to be building up rather than to be tearing down. To create positive islands of possibilities rather than simply seas of despair and engaging in a fashionable celebration of the same.

To always be looking at how you can set things right, rather than simply wallowing in what’s going wrong. That’s the task of leadership. And that is why this important event today is being held. Because if there is one single continuing feature in the lives that I’ve seen described in this event today is that each and every one of them is seeking to make a difference.

Not simply content with the status quo in their own lives or in the professional environment in which they’ve grown up but a determination and a resolve to get out there and to make a difference, to push back the frontiers of what is known and to go on to do things which are not known but which are needed in order to advantage wider human kind.

I actually read through this list this morning in terms of those who have been part of this Next 100. Astronomers and astrophysicists, nanobot engineers, plant scientists, solar power innovators, bush fire scientists, oceanographers, water scientists, street university founders, youth mental health workers, eye surgeons, depression awareness campaigners, spinal pain researchers, metallurgists, artificial intelligence experts – we could just do with some natural intelligence around here; move to the artificial intelligence a bit later on.

AFL indigenous youth leadership coaches, Olympic champion divers, authors, conductors, choreographers of Aboriginal dance. Foreign policy analysts, Asia experts, environmental entrepreneurs, humanitarian campaigners, animal protection advocates, program designers for disabled youths, UN advocates. I just noticed in all this it’s also got Alister Jordan, my chief of staff, how did that happen John? I just rang him on the way here and I said “I’ve just seen you on the list, how did that happen?” Anyway, we’ll leave him to one side.

Can I just say this is an extraordinary impressive list of Australians out there seeking to make a difference. And I was taken by one of the references in this list in the science category to someone whose name is Nicole I think it’s Kuepper. Am I pronouncing it correctly if she is here? K-U-E-P-P-E-R. Solar pioneer innovator at the age of 24. What were you all doing at the age of 24?

And she said: “It’s often easier for scientists/engineers to work on the next bio-drug,” says Nicole Kuepper, a lecturer and PhD candidate at the Australian Research Council Photovoltaic Centre of Excellence at the University of New South Wales. “But there are some simple problems people in developing countries face. And that is how you can have low cost solutions for energy.”

And then she says: “We stumbled on a solar cell manufacturing process involving an inkjet printer, something like nail polish, and a pizza oven that has been deemed to be ‘i-JET cell concept’ and I am working on that today.” Well, as you do at the age of 24.

As I say, that’s what’s good about this, encouraging persons such as Nicole and the other 99 in this list to make a bigger difference for the future.

Which brings us back to the theme that we are here to celebrate today and that theme is encouragement and encouragement for leadership for the future.

What are the qualities of leadership that I believe are seeking to be inspired and encouraged here today? Leadership that dares to look beyond the horizon, to identify the opportunities of the future as well as recognising the threat and then to do something about it. Leadership that resolves to act, not simply to stand idly by. Leadership that seeks to inspire others to follow, rather than simply leaving people behind. Leadership that always seeks to build up rather than engage in the business of just tearing people down. And leadership above all that seeks to encourage the absolute best in everyone else. That is why I’m so pleased and honoured to be part of this event today.

These qualities I believe are alive in the life experience, in many cases quite short, of this list of 100 that has been nominated by News Ltd today. What our nation needs beyond politics, is not just the next 100. What our nation needs is the next 1,000 leaders for tomorrow in every field.

To chart Australia’s future, to have alive what I believe should be a vision for the nation. To become the best educated, the best skilled, the best trained workforce anywhere in the world. To celebrate the innovations in science and engineering and design. To honour our achievements, academic as well as in the sporting fields.

And beyond that, for ourselves and our particular part of the world, to have about us a vision which says, let us become the most Asia-literate, China-literate country in the collective west.

And to also in all of that have about us a culture which says, here is a land Australia, where you can have an idea, build a business up from scratch and turn it into a world beater, while never allowing the fair go to be thrown out the back door.

That I believe, these I believe are values which shape our vision for our nation’s future. But none of that is possible in the absence of leadership and that leadership and its qualities are being so honoured here today.

I believe therefore, our nation’s future is in safe hands when we honour leadership such as that which is being recognised today in this ceremony. I thank you very much.