Graduation Ceremony, University of Southern Queensland, Fraser Coast
17 May 2014
Brolga Theatre, Cnr Walker and Lennox Streets, Maryborough, Qld
Good morning. It is an honour and, indeed a privilege, to be here and to be part of such an important milestone in the lives of those who are graduating today.
For some, today completes their schooling and they begin a new phase of their lives.
For others it signals a change of career direction and work in areas where they are newly qualified.
For others it will be the time for a new decision about what the future may hold.
But for all it is a time to focus on values, goals and objectives to plan for the next phase of our lives.
I think back almost 24 years ago to the day—when I delivered my maiden speech in parliament…my ‘first speech’ in these politically correct days.
On that day I spoke about the honour and the responsibility of being chosen to serve the people of my community.
I professed then, and still do, a straight-forward philosophy—to develop government policy that supports the family, encourages initiative and rewards achievement.
In that speech I talked about how Australia became a great nation because there were people who were prepared to put in the effort and endure hardship where it was needed.
They were the explorers who sought out the land, the pioneers who opened it up, and the servicemen and women who fought to protect it.
The scientists and the researchers who brought international recognition to our shores, the miners, farmers and businessmen and women who created our modern economy.
I spoke about the advantages our country enjoyed with bountiful resources, and enormous capacity to produce food and fibre, education and tertiary services not just for ourselves but also for other places.
I observed that Australia was referred to as ‘the lucky country’ but we had not always used our luck as wisely as we should have.
But I predicted Australia would have another opportunity to be lucky.
Back then I knew that Australia is strategically located in what would become the fastest growing part of the globe and predicted that within my lifetime South East Asia would be the most important economic area in the world.
These words hardly seem controversial today but they were criticised at the time—but the prediction came true faster than even I thought.
In the past we had excuses. Australia was way away from most important markets in the world—Europe, America—now we are closest to the economic powerhouses of the globe.
But that opportunity for national greatness would only be realised if we were prepared to grasp it, to encourage industry and initiative and to support those who are prepared to give it a go.
If I were to deliver my maiden speech today, even with 24 years of experience, it would be much the same.
China has incredibly quickly become our number one trading partner and Japan and Korea are in the top four. The top seven will be Asian within a decade.
But in it I would add that we cannot take Asia for granted. China is our number one trading partner, but that is true also for 100 other counties.
And others can provide mineral resources, food and fibre, education services just like us.
And I would add that we all have a responsibility to shape our own futures and put in the effort, just like the explorers, pioneers and service personnel of old.
We must take advantage of opportunities available now because the challenge of maintaining our lifestyle in decades to come will be the big issue of the next century.
We live longer but aspire to retire earlier.
We spend longer at school and university so have less time in the workforce to save for retirement.
By 2050 there will only be three people in the workforce for every person over 65.
In Australia, between 2010 and 2050 the number of people aged 65 to 84 is expected to double and the number of people 85 and older is expected to quadruple. One in three people born in Australia today can expect to live until they are 100.
People quite rightly work their entire lives with the expectation that the age pension is there at the end of their working lives as a safety net.
We have to make sure that safety net is secure, and capable in the future of catching the people who need it.
We must work now to build economic infrastructure. We must save and invest for the responsibilities ahead.
That means if we want to maintain our quality of life, if we want to have a prosperous future, we need to take some responsibility towards achieving it.
This could mean restarting our working life after 45, 50 or 55 years of age, possibly doing something different.
People should be given the opportunity to work as long as they are able and willing, because they are contributing not just to their own well-being but also that of their community and their country.
I know this will require a major shift in attitude in the business community that age should be no barrier to an employer, and we have to change the framework of the debate to focus on how every generation can contribute to economic growth.
Critical to achieving this change in mindset is access to higher education.
Educational Hub Expands Learning Opportunity
USQ's commitment to provide relevant high quality educational opportunities for the Maryborough and Fraser Coast region has made a real difference to our region.
I have been a keen supporter of USQ since it came to Hervey Bay- when Harvey Bay was part of my electorate.
I am delighted to see work begin on the opening of a new study centre at the Maryborough Educational Hub.
The initiative will make it even easier for locals to take-up university study in line with USQ's vision to give more people the chance to enrol in a degree level qualification by accessing our Tertiary Preparation Program and Head Start offerings.
It will be ready for the start of Semester 2 on July 21 this year.
The new centre will share teaching space with the Institute of Professional Learning, which provides professional development for educators within the Education Queensland North Coast Region.
The University's efforts in establishing the M-Hub are focussed on offering learning support and career counselling advice to Maryborough residents wanting to take the first steps towards a university level qualification.
It will also provide a convenient location for local students who have difficulties with travelling to the Fraser Coast campus at Hervey Bay to take up the Tertiary Preparation Program.
I hope changes to tertiary education announced in the Budget will provide impetus to this development and growth for the Fraser Coast campus.
The Father of Modern Australian Education
Australia's longest serving prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies, is credited with laying the foundations for the university system we have today.
In 1939 when he was first became prime minister, Australia had six universities and there were 14,236 higher education students in a population of seven million.
By the time he retired in 1966 there were 16 universities and over 91,000 students.
Today, Australia has 39 universities and over 1 million students.
This has been an era when Australians learned that if Australia is to take its rightful place in the world we will need a higher education system that provided students with a broad education and developed a strong sense of values, ethics and civic engagement.
Menzies reasoned that the individual stood to gain not just from the technical skills he or she learned, but also from the formation of an enquiring mind.
And society, as the sum total of the individuals in it, is also the winner.
Menzies believed in opening the opportunity for education to as many people as possible because of the benefits it would bring.
In his response to the 1957 Murray report, the first national and wide-ranging investigation of Australian university education, Menzies noted:
“It is not yet adequately understood that a university education is not, and certainly should not be, the prerequisite of a privileged few … We must, on a broad basis, become a more and more educated democracy if we are to raise our spiritual, intellectual and material living standards.”
Lifetime Benefits of Higher Education
It's a statement and an idea as true today as it was almost 60 years ago.
Some form of higher education is almost essential for individual prosperity and social mobility, and in a modern economy is increasingly a source of economic growth.
Higher education and research develop skills and fuel innovation. They lift our productivity and competitiveness in what is becoming an increasingly globally competitive economy.
This is particularly important now, at a time when our own economy is undergoing great change, and as we live longer as individuals and age as a society—which is creating greater demands on our health and aged care systems.
As well as believing in the crucial importance of research, this government believes in opening up opportunities for all Australians to prosper.
A good education leads to a good job, higher incomes, a rewarding career and opens doors to opportunities we haven't thought of yet.
On average, Australian university graduates earn up to 75 per cent more than those who do not go on to higher education after secondary school.
University graduates are less likely to be unemployed, enjoy better health and live longer.
That's reason enough to stay at school…maybe forever.
The jobs of the future will need workers who can use new technology and develop new ideas.
Australia has a long-standing reputation for producing world-class research, especially in fields such as medicine, technology, biology, water management and mining.
For these reasons the government is determined to support more Australians to get a good education so they can achieve their goals and become their best selves.
It is an investment in our future.
I thank you again for the opportunity to be part of a very special day for you and your families.
Today is the culmination of a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice as some of you have worked full-time while studying part-time or balanced work, family life and study to achieve your degrees.
It is the beginning of new decisions and new experiences, as well as opportunities and challenges, all created by the combination of your own personal endeavours and your education at the University of Southern Queensland.
As graduates, you have the capacity to make a great and, indeed, inspiring contribution to Australian society in areas of local, national and global significance.
And we expect a lot of you.
As you leave today I firstly encourage you to celebrate your achievement.
Once you've done that and you go into the world as a graduate, I encourage you to be true to your values.
I encourage you to reach out and grasp opportunities that often come in the most unlikely of places and ways.
I encourage you to consider that your university education is just the beginning of a lifetime of learning and accomplishment.
For now, please accept my congratulations and best wishes for what will be bright and productive lives.