Thursday, 15 December 2022

Conferral of Degree of Doctor of Laws, Australian National University

It is the greatest of honours to be returning to the Australian National University, a place I visited throughout my public service career, to receive the Degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa and to speak you in that wonderful post-graduation reflective moment.

I thank the University Council on both counts.

Congratulations to all those who are graduating today, whether after undergraduate studies or at higher level, and whether you are a domestic or an international student.

University study is not an easy path at the best of times. Education is transformational and that rarely happens without the sustained application of considerable effort.

All of you will have completed at least part of your degree during the global pandemic, with all the disruption that has brought, and some of you will have known only a COVID study experience.

That makes today even more meaningful for you and your families.

As parents of a son graduating later this afternoon and a daughter still studying at ANU, my husband Rod and I share your sense of pride and joy mixed with admiration at what our children have achieved.

The College of Asia and the Pacific is, of course, one of the schools which has made ANU a truly great university, not just nationally but globally.

For decades, Australians have understood that our security and prosperity is to be found in Asia and the Pacific, now indeed in the Indo-Pacific.

Through your studies, many of you have been drawn to Asia and the Pacific, just as I was drawn to it as a young diplomat on my first posting in Hong Kong in the late 1980s.

The more we learn of our region, the more we appreciate its people, its cultures, history, its sights, sounds, dynamism, its “texture” even.

And that’s a good thing because your interest in Asia and the Pacific is in Australia’s national interest.

Much of our engagement with the region happens not through treaties or strategic partnerships or memoranda of understanding, useful frameworks though these provide, but through people doing what people do.

People like you.

Educating each other, Inspiring each other, collaborating, enabling, researching, discovering, making things, creating things, buying and selling things, visiting, speaking each other’s languages and listening to each other.

This is true the world over, of course. Some of you will choose to make your careers elsewhere, but I do particularly urge engagement with the people and countries of the south-west Pacific, our neighbours to the north and east and with whom we share so much, including values and aspirations.

And I urge international students to continue to engage with us and with each other.

During your lifetime the world will change, just as it has during mine.

The Cold War of my twenties gave way to a uni-polar moment and then power shifted and strategic competition grew and has intensified.

After decades of inaction, action to slow the rate of dangerous climate change has become an imperative.

This is a consequential time.

What you choose to do may well make a difference.

And how you choose to do it may make a difference, too.

It is easy for me to say “be guided by your values”, but let me also acknowledge that that may be hard in practice. Ashton Calvert, Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in the late 1990s and early 2000s, used to say “when in doubt, stand up for Australia”.

I found that advice useful years later, when, as Australia’s Ambassador to China, I made representations on bilateral issues and found it helpful to conjure up an image of the Australian people sitting on my shoulder, listening to what I was saying. Sometimes, you just have to hold yourself to account.

Many of you will become, if you are not already, leaders in your fields. How you lead is also worth reflecting on.

I encourage you to be generous, inclusive, culturally aware leaders, who really listen and are able to create a sense of belonging among those with whom you work.

That is what I tried to do while I was Secretary of DFAT. That is the kind of leadership you have the right to expect as you enter the workforce and I hope you will have the opportunity to demonstrate as leaders yourselves.

More, I think, than any other university in Australia, ANU brings people together from across the country. Your networks are valuable and will grow. Nurture them in all the ways the twenty-first century enables and be kind to each other.

While graduation ceremonies naturally focus on academic achievement, university provides much else that can be valuable in life.

All those hours at the Adelaide University Boat Club spent in rowing training and racing taught me invaluable lessons about teamwork, determination, perseverance and resilience.

My committee roles, including as the first female captain in the club’s then 103-year history taught me about governance, seeking and acting on advice, taking responsibility when things go wrong and giving credit to those who deserve it when they go well.

I’d like to say something to the women among you and to the men who will want to support you. Your Vice Chancellor is one of those.

As graduates of the Australian National University, you have been well educated, as have your male peers. You know there are many women who have gone before you who have achieved firsts in a wide range of fields. Your Chancellor is one of them.

You may have heard the saying that “you can’t be what you can’t see”. I simply want to say that you can be what you haven’t yet seen. That’s how firsts are made. You may have opportunities, should you wish to take them, to break new ground. But I also want you to know that being the second, third or fourth to do something is important too. That’s what normalises gender equality and enables us as a country to draw on the full talents of our people whatever their gender.

And, finally, to take a longer view, a life-long view. Having spent much of my career working internationally and here in Canberra, over the past year as Governor of South Australia I have had the privilege of getting to know people in local communities across the state.

I have seen the impact that volunteering can have. I have seen how not for profits enrich the life of Australians and the amazing contributions of those who give of their time and talents.

You well understand the importance of lifelong learning. You will do that naturally.

Can I encourage you, finally, to be just as natural in the giving of your time and undoubted talents to those who need them?

Thank you.

Coming events