Speech

01 May 2009
Speech at the Lions Club International
Australian National Convention
Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

[Acknowledgements]

The national roll call is important I think because you are a family. And the Lions community across Australia is an important part of our national family.

It doesn’t matter where I go in the country. What I have seen in town squares, in natural disasters, in all sorts of city and community occasions Lions out there working, working for the local community.

The fact that you have such extensive reach across the country and the fact that Lions has such an extensive reach across the world is because you are there doing good work for your communities and making them stronger. And if I could just say one word of encouragement to you today, all power to your arms here today.

You’re so much a part of the fabric of our national life. And it is worth thinking this: Were it not for community service organisations such as Lions out there doing the voluntary community work in each of the towns and cities and rural districts and communities that you represent each day, our national life, our national community life would be infinitely poorer. So as Prime Minister of Australia, I salute the work of Lions.

Lions are also to blame for me being in politics. So any of you who have reservations about the things that I might do these days, they all began in a Lions Club in Nambour back in the 1970s. Anybody here from Nambour? Sunshine Coast? Okay, good on you.

So Lions year to year and I gather you’re going to have a similar gathering here today with the national finalists. Now I first began public speaking at a Lions Youth of the Year competition, way back when. I think I made the local round, I think I got to the regional round and then I got to the district and then got knocked out. Something like that. And we kept the names and addresses of all those judges. I’m still here, you know. Cracking down to get to the end.

But the very important thing is you give young kids a go. And my father was a share-farmer, mum was a nurse and I wouldn’t been much past primary school. It was the first of hard times and many of you come from those times. But given the youngster of the day from a Queensland country town and from the local state primary school, local state high school, you provide young kids an opportunity to spend up, think about what they believe in and (inaudible).

And you give them experience. You give them opportunities, the same time you infiltrate into those some people sense that life is not just about me, myself and I, it’s about something broader as well. So, thank you Lions for giving me a go.

I said before that you’re out there part and parcel, the fabric of our national community life. I saw that (inaudible) recently, evidence to the Victorian bushfires. Let’s just pause and reflect for a moment about what that was. In the more than 200 years of settled history in this continent, this is our single greatest national disaster. Our single, greatest natural disaster. And the gates of hell were opened to the good people of Victoria.

When I in the days following that disaster, went around and talk to the people of those fire affected communities, it was organisations like Lions that I saw on the ground doing practical work.

I remember allocating a couple of hours to walk around in the community of Kinglake and many, many hours after that, talking, speaking with people whose lives had been destroyed in so many respects.

But then finally, the people making the hamburgers, the people making food, the people supporting those in the frontline, they were all from local Lions clubs, out there doing their work in a quiet, quiet understated by highly effective way.

And it’s not just seeing Lions at work, acts at the cold face in the Victorian bushfires. But if you were to roll through the list of every natural disaster which occurred in Australia, Lions has been there as well. Working hard, sleeves rolled up. And not just natural disasters but at all other forms of community engagement, making a difference. Small projects, larger national projects, intensely local projects which mean things to local communities.

There with sleeves rolled up, doing the work. And this again returns to the theme of my remarks here today, this part and parcel of being part of our Australian family and community life.

Not just what you do here at home, which your Lions International President, with us today, (inaudible) work which you do internationally. Because wherever I travel in the world, across Asia and across Europe, I always see the Lions photograph, the local club ready to deal with the local community challenges in that country, in that community. And this is a good thing.

I was talking to your International President before about the work which Lions had done in responding quickly, to the supply of tents to the victims of the Sichuan earthquake in China, not many years ago. Tents which you previously given to Sweden which were flown from Sweden to China, courtesy of the Swedish Government. To make a difference, a practical difference for local people on the ground suffering the calamity of nature.

So whether it is work in your local community, work for the nation, or work around the world, there is an underlying ethos here which is that you are working for something bigger and broader than yourself. Bigger and broader than your self-interest. Bigger and broader than what is often described as the ethos of our age, summed up in three principles: me, myself and I. And you stand out, as living examples of (inaudible) ethos. And this is a good thing.

If you look at the importance of the community sector more broadly, it is important to see the work that you do as part of the wider work which the community, charitable, not for profit, non-government sector is engaged in this country and around the world.

I have a strong view which is that governments, while they can provide strong, national direction, can provide a strategy for the way in which the nation should go. It’s made infinitely more possible and more effective by ongoing creative and constructive engagement with the community sector of which you’re a part. Because if you go to the local fabric of local community life, what governments do is important. What we do to provide national policy, what we do to provide economic stimulus, what we do to provide support for the unemployed, what we do to provide support for the church and charitable organisations directly ourselves. But, the effectiveness of what is done on the ground is added to immeasurably by being partners with what you do on the ground. It makes a huge difference.

The idea that somehow governments, from remote locations like Canberra, can dictate what should be the solutions in Whittlesea, in Wanniassa or in other parts of our country is just wrong. Local, effective creative engagement with the community sector, the charitable sector, the not for profit sector, makes it infinitely more effective.

Which brings me to the challenge all governments around the world are facing right now. And that is the great challenge of the global economic recession. The great challenge of the recession which now washes across Australian shores and therefore how should we respond. Our response as a government has been clear cut. We’re engaged globally through the G20. The largest economies in the world, Australia’s one of them. Representing 85 per cent of global gross domestic product. And we have taken decisions after our terrific meeting in London on how to chart a strategy of the global economic recovery.

Acting on a global economic stimulus together, acting on the need to restore to global institutions like the International Monetary Fund to deal with the challenges which lie ahead. Acting to deal with problems of systematically returning the health of the world’s leading private financial institutions, acting elaborately to craft the rules for the future of the global financial system, given the rules of the past have failed most dismally. And acting to draw a line under an outbreak of protectionism, which will retard any recovery and destroy jobs everywhere.

Nationally, engage also in every level of economic stimulus strategy to make a difference to jobs on the ground today while building the infrastructure for tomorrow. In a nutshell, that’s what we seek to do. The biggest school modernisation program in Australia’s history. The biggest investment in the social housing in the history of the Commonwealth. A strategy to make every Australian owner occupied dwelling energy efficient through the installation of ceiling installation. But all one objective in mind, creating jobs today and building the infrastructure we need for tomorrow.

And so for our long term infrastructure project, building a National Broadband Network again creating jobs today and it will begin in the great state of Tasmania in the second half of this year; a massive investment of up to $43 billion. Where the objective again is to create the infrastructure we need for tomorrow as well.

They’re our national actions. But on the local front, that’s where we come to partnership with organisations such as yours as well. Because we need to make a difference (inaudible) with each person, each valuable member of our human family who is affected and afflicted by the impact of unemployment. These are not statistics. These are valuable members of our Australian family. And therefore, this through no fault of their own, a person who loses their job or cannot find a job, or is at risk of losing their job.

Our job as an Australian family is to bond together around them, against one simple axiom and that is that we are all in this together. Each and every one of us. Governments: national, state and local. Business and unions. Governments and the community sector. All working together. Because this is a challenge and a threat which originated way beyond our shores. But its consequences we must deal with effectively at the local level.

The challenge of the local level is to make a difference. I’ve described this as a Jobs and Training Compact with Australia. And yesterday at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Hobart, we agreed as all governments of Australia, Liberal and Labor, national, state and territory, on a Compact with Young Australians.

What is it in a nutshell? For every young Australian under the age of 25, should either be earning or learning. Earning or learning. And that is, if you don’t have a year 12 equivalent qualification, we’re going to make that opportunity available to you. If you’re under the age of 20 and you don’t have a year 12 equivalent qualification, either through school or the vocation employment sector, to make a training opportunity available to you. If you’re under the age of 25 and you can’t find a job or you lost a job, to make a training place available to you. This guarantee, this entitlement to a training place for our young Australians, I believe is so important, so important to dealing effectively with the impact of this recession for a local level.

There are two points to it. One, to learn from the past and not create a generation of unemployed Australians. So that when this downtime occurs as a consequence of the flows on from the global economy, we turn adversity into opportunity and provide training opportunities for our young people to attain the skills necessary to upgrade their skills when the recovery comes. And secondly, it is very important also, that when the recovery comes that all of the skills available within the nation are tuned directly to participate in the demands of business. That’s our guiding philosophy.

But it’s also reinforced with the second principle, which is to make our welfare support plan for our young people conditional, on the way in which those young people engage in training opportunities. We need to do both these things together. Because what we want is to make sure that our young people are supported, which through no fault of their own can’t find a job. But at the same time that they are provided with a training opportunity in order to secure a job once the recovery comes.

So we in Government are engaged directly with that work on the ground. But one of the things that makes it important, working with local community organisations is how can we team together to make a difference nationwide, with local community projects, local initiatives like local government, local training opportunities and other social enterprises to make a difference in your community. Each one of the communities that you come from, from across our great country.

When I leave here, I’m going to a conference for the better part of the day, co-hosted between myself and the Brotherhood of St Lawrence in Melbourne, to look at one question. How can the community sector, the not for profit sector, the social enterprise sector, partner with Government - state, local and national - to make a difference with local jobs and local training opportunities.

The intention is not simply to have fine words. The intention is to have local deeds. How does it work? And I’m not about to dictate from Canberra and from the distance of the nation’s capital, what (inaudible) community.

So we want to engage every family and community organisations in each community of the country to make a difference in their community about the human face of unemployment. How do we generate local projects? How do we generate local social enterprise? How do we build local training opportunities? Taking maximum advantage of the national programs we put in place.

But that’s for organisations like Lions (inaudible). Each one of you as community leaders will have an idea about what could and should happen in your community. So my invitation to all of you is to get involved. Walk into your local government authority and say ‘I’ve got an idea about what we can do’. There’s a local jobs fund which will be established by the Australian Government, it will be delivered through the priority employment coordinators in the most unemployed affected, employment affected areas in the country.

But that is just half the equation. The other half is building on local community enterprise effort and initiative. And so what I’ll be saying to your organisation and organisations right across in the country is one simple principle: we are all in this together and together we can make a difference.

I can’t stand before you as the Prime Minister of Australia and say I can stop something as large as the global economic recession. What I can say, is that by deploying the efforts of government and engaging directly in the not for profit sector, we can make a difference. We can reduce the impact. We can cushion the blow.

And if we actually have a spirit about us which harnesses all the nation’s energy and intellectual effort and its passion for justice and doing the right thing by our fellow Australians, then we’re going to come through this in fine shape. But it will be tough and the road will be hard. But I’m confident of the ethos of (inaudible) and see Australia through.

To conclude, your organisation as I said in my introductory remarks is also active globally. Building the ties that bind across the world. Lions clubs everywhere. You may not be conscious of it but the work that you do and other international community organisations do, has actually created this great fabric of ties across the international community which transcends the great divide, which transcends religious divide, which transcends the political divide, which transcends the national divide.

This is important work and I commend you in it. Because when you take that work into account and build into it, the other work of global, community and service organisations, we again move towards our point in our global discourse of nations, that the big challenge of the future, the challenges for us all, challenges of the economy, challenges of climate change, challenges of water, challenges of police security - each of them beyond the purview by and large of single national governments. But as the global community acting together and cooperatively, we can make a global difference as well. As you seem to do with the good work of Lions International.

I congratulate you in your work and wish you every success in this great conference of this great organisation.