Speech, NIDA Graduation

Thanks so much to Aunty Nola for Welcoming us to Country. I think we often forget what a generous thing it is to be welcomed. You look at the history and think of all the things that could be said, and yet, time and again, at the beginning, at an event as significant as this, the words are simply welcome. The generosity of that is something which I don't think should be lost on us. I stand before you as a member of a government that hopes that the Australian people show a similar level of generosity later this year. Now, I've been given a set time limit, so I'm going to talk more quickly than you've all been trained to deliver lines, so I apologise for that.

But I come here very much with a sense of gratitude, a sense of admiration and a sense of envy, and I want to be able to talk about all three.

The gratitude is how hard you have worked, and the work and training here at NIDA is different to the work and training at a whole lot of courses that people do throughout Australia and throughout the world. The work here is intellectual, but it's beyond intellectual, it's emotional. You will oscillate during your time here between moments of high adrenaline and moments of total exhaustion. Sometimes the exhaustion that comes with long hours, sometimes the exhaustion that just comes with emotionally giving it all, with the combining that imagination of who you are and then going beyond your experience to inhabit something else.

Whether you're inhabiting in your own performance, in how you direct or in the costume, or other aspects of design that you create for people. There is an extraordinary effort that has led to today, an effort for every graduate and an effort that every graduate might not entirely be aware of, but I'm sure goes to every family member of every graduate. I also have a real sense of admiration. You today are graduating to be essential workers in Australia. Essential. Never let it be said by anyone that you are anything less than that. Never let it be said by anyone that because your work can bring so much joy that somehow, it's less worthy, that because your work can hit people and reach people in a way they never suspected, then somehow, it's less essential. Never let anyone tell you for a minute that because you touch someone's soul that is somehow less significant than a job that only touches someone's wallet. The work you have trained to do, the work that you have decided to do – your career is essential for who we are as a nation and who we will be in the future. I've got an absolute sense of admiration for you, for the work that you've done to bring that to a conclusion, or to the conclusion of the study part of it today.

Finally, though, a sense of envy. 35 years ago, a student went to his careers advisor and said, “I'd really like to be a theatre director”, and the careers advisor said, “let me go off I'll check, if a course exists”, came back and lied and said, there are acting courses, there are no courses for theatre directors.

It took until 25 years later, when the Gillard government's new Minister for the Arts turned up to a dinner at NIDA and saw on the wall the director's course that I realised I'd been lied to. And so – I get sort of aspects of it, I get to work on the set of Total Control, I get to direct a program that runs on ABC TV on parliamentary sitting days between 2:00 and 3:00 – called Question Time, half of its scripted half of its improv, but it’s never great.

But hopefully in the circuitous path I've found to finally make it to a NIDA graduation, hopefully, the work that we're doing and the work that I'm doing, which will never create a show, which will never create a theatrical moment or nuance, which the work that we do in government will never tell the story. But if through how we invest in the professionalism of places like NIDA, if how we get behind now the small to medium and independent sector that was starved for ten years.

If with the work that's yet to come because Revive is only a cultural policy for five years, if we stay in this job long enough there is a lot more to come. But out of that, our job is to enable. But who are we enabling? If we get it right, we're enabling you, and there will be stories that you haven't imagined yet. But you will.

People who you will meet, where you will come up with emotions and ideas and situations that have not yet been written. With scenes and costumes that bring ideas to life. With a quiver in the voice or a strength in the resonance that makes people feel exactly what you know you want them to feel in that moment. You'll be those storytellers and through your work, Australians will know themselves, will learn about each other, and the rest of the world will discover us. That's ahead of you, and it's ahead of all of us because of you. Congratulations.