Albert Street Lecture
19 September 2018
Speaker: Jennifer Westacott
Venue: St Kevin’s College, Heyington Campus, 31 Moonga Road, Toorak
Delivery: Wednesday, 19 September 2018
Version: Final, 19 September 2018
Thank you, Paul, for that kind introduction, and welcome to everyone here tonight.
Can I acknowledge and pay tribute to my friend and colleague Paul O’Malley and thank him for his incredible work in the Australian business community.
The luckiest generation
My generation has been the luckiest to have lived on the planet.
Yours potentially is.
For the students in the room.
For your parents who want the world for you.
And for the St Kevin’s College school community, who along with your family, has prepared you for your journey into the wider world.
I want you to know you live in a prosperous, healthy and optimistic nation where opportunities abound.
From a country with a very small population that once suffered from the tyranny of distance, we worked hard and we found ourselves in the right region at the right time when China opened its economy.
And, as a result we have some of the highest living standards on the planet.
We live longer, we are healthier than we have ever been, our unemployment rate is low.
Women’s participation in the workforce is at a record high, and we’re also among the world’s best educated people.
Australia can boast three cities in the top ten of the latest Global Liveability Index – your hometown of Melbourne, now in second place behind Vienna, as well as Sydney and Adelaide.
But along with your parents and your school community, I want you – the young people of St Kevin’s – to inherit an even better life.
While there is much you must do as individuals, it is also the responsibility of my generation to ensure you really can realise this ambition and that Australia’s advantages continue in your favour.
When St Kevin’s was founded one-hundred-years ago, it was the matriculation centre for Christian Brothers’ schools in Melbourne.
A beacon of aspiration and academic success.
As we look back, it’s worth remembering that despite the march of time, our core Australian values of mateship and fairness have endured.
They’ve allowed us, as a nation, to survive, to develop, to adapt, to prosper, to triumph – all with the constant of doing our best to make sure no one is left behind.
One hundred years ago, the defining event was, of course, the Armistice that ended the First World War.
From a young nation with a population of fewer than five million people, more than four-hundred-thousand men enlisted and many women joined them on the battlefields and in the hospitals.
As we know, more than sixty thousand Australians never made it home.
When I’m in Melbourne, I often walk past the Shine of Remembrance and pause at the inscription on the east wall written by Sir John Monash:
“This monument was erected by a grateful people to the honoured memory of the men and women of Victoria who served the Empire in the Great War of nineteen-fourteen to nineteen-eighteen.’’
And, to this day, we remain a grateful people.
Almost one million Australian men and women served in the World War Two.
About thirty thousand Australian servicemen were taken prisoner, one of them was my uncle, John Kethel Hardman.
And, more than thirty-nine-thousand gave their lives during that war.
Estimates of the worldwide death toll for World War Two are staggering, with more than fifty million people felled during the conflict.
Our diggers fought against the tyranny of Fascism.
They fought for a set of values and the enduring principle of freedom.
They fundamentally believed their children should live in a better world than theirs.
We should never forget the responsibility we have to honour their sacrifice and leave Australia in better shape than we found it for the next generation.
This must be our legacy.
The type of Australia I want to leave the next generation
So, what type of Australia do I want you to inherit?
To start with, I believe there is nothing more fundamentally important to human dignity than ensuring you live in a society where you are free.
A society that values freedom of speech and freedom of association
A society where you are free to make choices about your religion.
Free to choose your partner
Free to choose how you want to live your life.
I want a society that is peaceful, where people do not live in fear.
An Australia where you can travel and be global citizens.
I want an Australia that cherishes its abiding commitment to freedom and choice – the very things our ancestors fought, and died, for.
Jobs and Education
I want an Australia that rewards aspiration and ambition.
Where people feel that when they work hard, no matter what they do, they are getting ahead.
I want a society where you can work all your life in jobs that are well-paid, satisfying, and where you feel a sense of purpose and fulfilment.
I want an Australia that views education as intrinsic to a person’s capacity to realise their full potential and where you have the choice of going to university or into vocational education.
I want you to have the right information to make that choice.
I can’t tell you what job you’ll have when you are thirty-five.
I might have been able to tell you that thirty years ago, but I can’t tell you that now.
But I want you to have access to the right skills and training all of your life so you have the confidence and capabilities to keep working and advancing throughout your life.
I want an Australia that acknowledges the best way to build an inclusive, stronger and more vibrant society is to unleash private enterprise.
By this I mean small businesses, family businesses, corner shops, and big businesses like the ones I represent including BHP, BlueScope, Woolworths and Qantas.
Small, medium and large businesses employ ten million of the twelve million Australians who work.
They’re responsible for eighty per cent of Australia’s economic output – all the things we grow, produce and make.
I am extremely proud to represent this sector because it is the engine of the quality of life we enjoy as Australians.
We should never be ashamed to aspire to be a wealthy society because there are very few things you can do in poor societies.
Growth and opportunities are intrinsically linked.
I want an Australia where strong budgets allow us to reinvest in:
- the best infrastructure in the world;
- a world-class health system that can be sustained and improved over time as our population ages;
- and the skills, training and education that allow us to grow the economy and create the jobs of the future.
I want an Australia where we can preserve a strong safety net for the most vulnerable in our society.
The wealth of our society is built on the strength of our economy.
But when you hear the word economy, don’t worry about the numbers and bar charts.
At its heart, it’s about whether each and every one of us, not just a few, can read and write, have access to clean water and food, decent shelter, and health care.
When you travel, you’ll come across societies without strong economies where the simplest things we take for granted, are out-of-reach.
They are incomprehensible luxuries.
I want an Australia where our economy grows so that each and every Australian has more money in their pocket to spend on improving their life.
And that will require a more competitive economy so we can hold our place in the world, safeguard employment opportunities, and create the jobs of the future.
I want an Australia that is an innovation, technology and knowledge-driven economy that thrives off the back of continued openness to trade and investment around the world.
I want an Australia that is an energy superpower with affordable and reliable energy for Australian businesses and households.
And where exports of our coal and gas turbocharge the economy.
Let’s unleash what we are good at.
We are fantastic at quantum computing, not that I understand it, but I know Australia excels in this field.
We are terrific at technological transfer and brilliant at high technology design and manufacturing.
We are the best in the world.
We should unleash that potential.
But I never want us to shy away from the industries and people who have made this country great and delivered our ongoing prosperity: our mining sector, our agriculture sector, and huge resources sector.
I want an Australia where you are not denied opportunities because you choose to live in regional areas like Shepparton, Busselton or Toowoomba.
But to ensure our regions can thrive and retain their brightest people, we need to coordinate infrastructure in these areas outside metropolitan Australia, drive investment, and drive skills investment development.
And mostly, I want you to live in an Australia that is united, not divided.
The divisions that exist, not too far from the surface, must end.
The division between the regions and cities, the division between small and big businesses, and the division between religions.
We must call out those on the extreme, devoid of goodwill, who seek to isolate one ethnic group from the rest, and those who attempt to fan division by seeking to resurrect the archaic notion of classes.
After all, Robert Menzies long ago observed that:
"In a country like Australia the class war must always be a false war.’’
I want you to live in a country with one society shared by all its citizens - whether you are a refugee, the grand-child of post war migrants, an Indigenous Australian or the descendants of First Fleeters.
One country where we all belong.
A country that values inclusion, equality, tolerance and diversity.
A country that embraces freedom, the rule of law, and fairness through opportunity.
It won’t be plain sailing
As we endeavour to leave you this nation, we need to remember it will not all be plain sailing.
It hasn’t been for my generation, and it won’t be for yours.
Just as they are tail winds, there are also head winds.
Advances in technology will fill your sails, delivering enormous benefits to your lives and to our society.
Unprecedented connectivity and digitisation will deliver innovation, increase our productivity, and create new jobs.
But it will see big adjustments in almost every aspect of our lives.
Some say it will be no different to the industrial revolution, but let’s pause and consider that these days products and ideas race around the world faster than we have ever seen before.
It took television thirteen years to reach fifty million users.
And while it is not comparing apples to apples, Facebook reached fifty million users in a fraction of that time.
Pokémon Go took just nineteen days to spread around the world.
That’s the pace of change have today.
In its first ninety days after release, Fortnite earned one-hundred-million US dollars.
Almost nineteen per cent of the Australian population aged fourteen and over used Uber last year – that’s getting close to four million people.
It was just under one million people, two years’ ago.
As we work to maximise this new world of opportunities and adapt to seismic changes designed to make our day-to-day lives easier, we need to ensure no one is left behind.
Everyone says, "Oh, well we got through things before."
Well, we did as a nation. But a lot of individuals didn’t.
We need to ensure as we navigate these big adjustments to our economy that no one falls victim to the transition.
Our economy is now in its twenty-eighth straight year of growth. A period of record expansion that has shielded your generation from the very real pain of an economic downturn.
Recession isn’t a technical word. It is a reality, a terrible reality for the people who fall victim to it.
Many of you in the room tonight have never experienced a recession, and I never want you to because this is what a recession looks like:
The unemployment rate peaked at over eleven per cent in December nineteen-ninety-two – nine-hundred-and-sixty-thousand people were looking for a job.
In today’s terms that would be one-point-five million people looking for work.
Imagine that today?
During a downturn it’s young people like you who struggle to land their first serious job.
If people lose their jobs, paying a mortgage becomes increasingly difficult and people default on their home loan.
Businesses only just surviving at the start of the recession may close their doors permanently.
And of course, back then industrial unrest was much more common. Back in the early nineteen-nineties, more than one million working days a year were lost to industrial disputes on average.
Before we reformed the economy, there were beer strikes at Christmas, snap walk offs that clogged public transport networks.
And, there were frequent strikes that led to petrol rationing where you could only buy petrol on odd or even days, depending on your licence plate number.
Imagine if that was happening today?
Our generation - and yours - needs to guard against the type of complacency that turns a blind eye to a little bit of unproductive creep on one building site over here.
And little bit of un-competitiveness in a workplace over there.
A little bit of conflict here, and a little bit of over-regulation there.
Instead, we need to use this period of economic expansion to consolidate our gains, buttress our resilience and take out insurance against bumps in the road.
The long-run prosperity we enjoy today is because of the hard decisions made by governments, companies, and the community – they have not come by accident.
We opened our economy to the rest of the world, we removed tariffs, we floated our currency, we lowered our corporate taxes, and a Labor government brought the industrial relations system out of the dark ages.
Both sides of politics knew we couldn’t keep going on as we were.
So now, once again we need that national determination to lock in our progress and keep it going.
But I do grow anxious about our ability to double down to deliver you a future of endless opportunities.
So, you must hold us to account.
You must ensure we do not let you down.
You must be bewildered by what has played out in front of you in our national capital.
I know I am.
But we have to be better than bewildered.
We have to rise above any attempts to entrench a small-minded political culture, characterised by a decade of retribution and revenge, irrespectively of which political party is in power.
We have to do better than a system, whether at a state or federal level, that encourages our leaders to take the do-nothing route because doing something would be too controversial.
So, please, please don’t throw your hands up in dismay and consider joining a new political group, I’d call it, the “Why Bother Movement’’.
Why bother voting, why bother having a say, why bother being informed?
Resist taking the easy option.
Instead be empowered.
Have a voice.
Be the positive force the nation can rely on
Values, purpose and advice
Now, I want to share some advice on how you shape your generation.
I urge you to live lives of purpose.
I’ll go to work first because you will spend most of your awake hours there.
Purpose at work is not just about position.
It’s about using authority and influence to make positive change to get things done.
Think about what you want to influence and the change you want to bring about.
Consider not only what you want to achieve but how you will achieve it.
The most valuable member of a board, a team, a government, is the person who says, “What is the right thing to do?”
Don’t dwell on a job title or job specifics.
Consider how best to nurture your skills and capabilities, your values and relationships, through a life that will most likely involve many jobs, some of them unimaginable to us today.
Be a problem solver, not a blamer.
Be a risk taker.
I moved so many times, I put myself up for big tasks and it paid off.
The biggest risk is to take no risk at all.
Work overseas if you have the privilege to do it.
Work in regional communities if you can.
Take on challenges, and don’t be afraid to step up and lead.
Don’t be afraid to unleash your imagination and your inner creativity.
And to borrow from the TV series House of Cards, remember imagination is its own form of courage.
Don’t surrender to orthodoxies. Be entrepreneurial.
Who would have thought that the frustration of being able to get a taxi in Paris on a snowy evening would be the spark that led to Uber?
Or how the idea of shipping rental DVDs in the mail to customers would become Netflix.
And in every walk of your life, persist.
Don’t let other people tell you what can and can’t be done.
Don’t let other people define what success looks like for you.
Never let others define what is possible.
Impossible is a word humans use all too often.
Where would we be if these authors hadn’t ignored repeated rejection letters - J.K. Rowling, William Golding and Dr Seuss?
Or if Michael Jordan didn’t overcome the embarrassment of failing to make his varsity basketball team at his first attempt, or Lady Gaga didn’t pick herself up after being dropped from her first record label.
Success is about hard work and persistence.
You have to put in the effort to achieve great things.
Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t telling you the truth.
I’ve had to work hard in every job I’ve had to make a difference.
Participants, not observers, taking part in the community
I’ll now turn to your life outside of work and in the community.
Be part of your local community whether it is through a community organisation, a political party, or being really active in your workplace.
I encourage you to be participants, not observers.
A few weeks ago, I was honoured to be at NSW Government House for my Order of Australia investiture.
What really struck a chord with me was the celebration of Australians coming together, looking after each other. Lending a hand.
These are our neighbours, our friends, or strangers who we pass on the street.
They were the people who worked tirelessly to keep a local sports group afloat, those who helped farmers during the drought, and the passers-by who saved a life.
Be those people.
I chair Mental Health Australia. I chair that because I have a personal interest in this issue and it is tremendously fulfilling.
I chair it because I think it is one of the big issues of our time and I want to bring all of my skills and knowledge to helping that sector come to terms with the challenges they face.
There will be issues that you will be struck by in your life. Don’t walk away from them.
Use the skills and resources you have to turn them around for somebody else.
I know there must have been times when school was a serious drag.
You’re probably saying to yourself, “I have university or VET to go but at least when that’s done I won’t have to do anymore.’’
Well, I’ve got news for you.
You are going to have to do this. Time and time again, and I want the post-secondary education system to make that easier for you.
But be a constant learner, and relish in the quest for knowledge.
Cultivate the gift of curiosity.
The inquiring, questioning mind is the most powerful tool any organisation or team can have.
And it is the greatest single force behind discovery.
Be students of history.
I worry that we're losing the art of understanding history, and how it shapes our present.
Be the person who loves to understand things at their deepest level.
You can’t really do anything if you don’t understand things, and you certainly cannot run a major corporation if you skim across the detail.
Once you leave school, don’t give up on reading books.
The good news is you’ll be able to experience reading them for pleasure instead of cramming for an exam.
You’ll be able to enjoy music without the piano teacher harassing you.
Now, I want to turn to the kind of person you want to be.
The most important determinate of that is your values.
Values matter including the values you have learned and lived while at St Kevin’s.
These values have prepared you to make a difference in Australian society.
Ethics, integrity, honesty, humility, courage, compassion and commitment.
One of the people I admire most is the Queen. She has held fast to a set values that have guided her reign.
Instead of locking her into a rigid way of thinking, she has been able to adapt and change but within a core set of values and principles.
And she has never departed from her strong Christian faith and her sense of duty as the head of the Anglican Church.
You must never be embarrassed to say you are a Christian because we are in a Christian society.
And never apologise for holding the true values of Christianity including compassion, forgiveness and tolerance.
Be the generation that rises above resentment, bitterness, envy, retribution and revenge.
It is such a destructive way to live your life.
Everybody has set-backs.
You have them in the classroom, on the sports field, and you have them personally.
The challenge is how you get back up, not only with renewed purpose but also with positive energy.
Nourish the art of collaboration.
Nurture the colleagues and friends you have made and will make.
Trust me, you will find yourself reaching out to those people for expertise, guidance and friendship more often than you can imagine.
Be a team player.
A team player is a person who passes the ball.
A team player recognises when someone is stronger and lets them shine.
Be part of a champion team, not a team of champions.
In an interconnected world, this attribute is more important than it ever has been.
I really urge you to be respectful and courteous. It will serve you better than almost any qualification you will gain.
Be a respectful person - even if someone has a different point of view from you, comes from a different background, or even if you just don’t like someone.
Be the person that others come to for help and advice.
Be the person that others trust to confide in when something is wrong. That’s the person you want to be, especially in a leadership position.
Don’t be the person that people are too afraid to share the bad news with.
Leaders with enduring success are the people who are respectful, courteous, inquiring and good listeners.
They are the people who have twenty and thirty-year careers at the top.
The people who are brash, rude, and discourteous have moments of greatness but generally flame out.
And I know you’ll all be sitting there pointing to lots of famous people who have bad attributes but you have to be seriously rich to get away with it.
You are young, and you have the world ahead of you.
It must seem like a long time to go.
But as I stand in front of you at age fifty-eight, it seems to have gone by in a second.
I urge you to cherish every moment and make every day count.
Live every day as your best day.
And, never forget that supportive and caring family relationships will be the most important force for good in your life.
Your parents are here with you tonight.
There is no greater institution in our society than family, whatever form it takes. Those forgiving people who love you because you're you.
Treasure those relationships.
So, when you go outside tonight, give mum and dad a hug, say ‘thank you’, and then over dinner maybe renegotiate the debt repayment for your education.
Just as your family has nurtured and guided you on your journey from childhood to adulthood, so too has your school.
A school is not just a place of education. It is a community.
Never forget the contribution your teachers have made in moulding, shaping and supporting you.
As you prepare to graduate, be proud that your family and your school community have equipped you with all the armoury you need to succeed.
Don’t take your opportunities for granted.
Be the generation that embraces positivity.
Be the generation that values compassion and inclusion.
Be the generation of ambition, of aspiration and you will be the greatest generation that has ever lived.