Bill's Speeches

MONASH UNIVERSITY LAW FACULTY 50TH ANNIVERSARY ADDRESS

MONASH UNIVERSITY LAW FACULTY 50TH ANNIVERSARY ADDRESS

 

MONASH UNIVERSITY

 

WEDNESDAY, 11 MARCH 2015

 

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Thank you and my apologies for being late, why break the habit of a lifetime coming to uni.

 

But it is lovely to be here upon the celebration of 50 years of Monash Law.

 

I do have many fond memories of this place.

 

My mother worked here from 1968, I grew up in Oakleigh just down the road.

 

I went to kindergarten here, during school holidays mum would have us play here in the education building where she worked.

 

When I was a teenager I’d go to the Monash University Open Day - it never occurred to me that I would go anywhere else, provided I could get the marks to get into Monash.

 

In many ways Monash helped me, in some large part, become who I am today.

 

I’ve always been interested in helping people, and indeed that has guided me in the choices I’ve made.

 

It guided me to choose law. It’s guided me in terms of working for a union. It inspired me to become a Member of Parliament.

 

But of course in my teenage years and at university I spent a lot of time trying to work out what is authentic and what isn’t.

 

I thought about the best way I could make a difference and that’s where I think my time in the law school helped me.

 

What I couldn’t have predicted is that I’d come back here as the Leader of the Australian Labor Party and the Leader of the Opposition.

 

To be fair there are a couple of my lecturers who didn’t predict that either.

 

It is a privilege to be here and what I want to do is talk about the future.

 

I know that the historians amongst you are familiar with the saying that if you don’t understand your past you’re destined to repeat the past.

 

We cannot be a nation that lives in the past.

 

We need to focus upon the future.

 

And it’s Labor’s view of the future which I wanted to expand on in a couple of areas – in particular higher education.

 

Now, there are plenty of fundamental differences between ourselves and the current Liberal National Government – on climate change, marriage equality, an Australian Republic, indeed the looming Constitutional recognition of the First Australians.

 

I could talk about the differences in policies on how to address gender inequality in our society.

 

And any other issue in what time we have for questions.

 

But I do want to talk about what your future holds - and what a conscientious national government, optimistic and energised by the future can do to help guide us towards the future.

 

I want to talk to you about a challenge that, at the age of 22 or 23, I certainly never predicted: a century of life, well lived – and up to half a century of learning and meaningful work.

 

When this Law School opened in 1965, life expectancy was 70.

 

Today it’s in the mid 80s – and getting better every year.

 

Diverse Careers

 

Of course, this doesn’t mean 50 years of eating the same lunch at the same desk in the same firm.

 

None of you expect to have one job for life – you already appreciate that you will have a diverse mix of careers.

 

Fifty years ago, when this faculty was opened, women were not encouraged to have a career – and men weren’t expected to change careers.

 

Now the average time spent in a job is 3 years and 4 months - less time than it takes to get a law degree.

 

Already, we average 17 different employers in a lifetime and at least five separate careers.

 

Those numbers are only going to increase as we diversify more and more.

 

So even if, at the age of 18, you chose law over science, or arts over commerce, or university over TAFE, these decisions are actually not final.

 

You will have a lifetime of learning.

 

You could easily end up doing two or three TAFE courses over your working life and probably go back to uni - as well as completing a range of shorter courses through private providers.

 

And your multiple careers won’t come in some neat chain of causation.

 

There will be overlap and interaction; success in one field might drive you to another, a contact you meet through one industry might inspire you to move to a different one.

 

You will travel, you will work and study overseas.

 

There will be shocks and jolts along the way too; a sudden restructure of your firm, a business project that goes belly-up, a risky investment that falls through.

 

And what American poet laureate Robert Frost called the ‘shafts of fate’: a sudden illness, an ageing parent to care for, divorce, a brother or sister who urgently needs your help.

 

None of this can be planned for – but you can train your resilience, develop the flexibility to change and adapt to what the future brings.

 

The motto of this university – Ancora Imparo – is attributed to two of the great geniuses of the Renaissance, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, it means:

 

‘I am still learning’.

 

This is the ethos all of us have to adopt.

 

We have to become a learning society: from early childhood right through to training and re-training in our 60s and 70s.

 

We have to embrace the key to all change – education.

 

The key to advancement – education.

 

The key to national prosperity – education.

 

Future Workforce

 

This is why is higher and further education is so important.

 

It’s about ensuring everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

 

We understand the need for a more educated workforce: the price of our minerals will rise and will fall but without a doubt the greatest resource we have is the minds; the capacity, the potential, the imagination of our people.

 

Two-thirds of all the jobs created in Australia by 2020 will require a diploma qualification or higher.

 

Our economy will need:

 

  • 60,000 new teachers and education assistants.


 

  • 100,000 new medical professionals and carers to help our ageing population and oversee the implementation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.


 

  • And engineers, designers, architects and scientists to build the clean energy revolution and modernise our urban life.


 

But investing in education isn’t just about training people to fill vacancies created by our changing economy – it’s about preparing our society to anticipate change and shape it - not just react to it.

 

Today I want to be really straight with you, about our economic challenges and our opportunities.

 

The State of the Economy 

 

Australia has enjoyed 23 years of unbroken, continuous economic growth – for some of you, perhaps an entire lifetime.

 

Now, as the economies of our region transform and evolve, we must navigate our transition out of the largest capital investment in the mining sector in our history.

 

But right now the decline in mining investment is not being seamlessly balanced by a pick-up in non-mining investment.

 

Unemployment is rising, wages are growing at the slowest rate in more than a decade and yesterday we saw business confidence hit zero – proof that last year’s unfair Budget is still ricocheting through our economy.

 

So, what does all this mean - and what can governments do?

 

I refer you to the great reforming Treasurer and Prime Minister, Paul Keating. He used to talk about ‘pulling the levers’ to keep the economy ticking over.

 

In 2015, we live in an economy with fewer levers and reduced government influence.

 

When this Law School opened, Australian pounds, shillings and pence were tied to the gold standard – and the government would manipulate the exchange rate to suit government policy of the day. We don’t have those levers anymore and nor should we.

 

But it does mean it is more important than ever for governments to use the tools we have within our grasp to intelligently and strategically guide us through the future – and investing in higher education is an essential lever.

 

It prepares our nation and our people for a future they can control.

 

The alternative prophesy is widely advertised.

 

We’re told Australia will struggle to compete in a more innovative, globalised marketplace.

 

The problem with the view that the world to very hard to compete with is stagnation - an extended period of slow growth in jobs, income and productivity – unless, according to the ideologues, we cut wages.

 

I think we have an opportunity reject this this diminished view of the future of our country.

 

We should not believe the world is too hard for Australia to compete in.

 

We should welcome the rise of Asia, the march of women through the institutions of power, the digital revolution.

 

We need to welcome a wealth-creating, competitive, productive society in which all have the opportunity to fulfil their potential.

 

I do not believe that we need to engage in a race to the bottom on wages to compete with low-wage economies.

 

Instead of cutting pay, we should be boosting productivity.

 

Instead of pushing up the price of university degrees – we should be broadening our knowledge base.

 

Instead of trading away our strengths – we should be playing to them.

 

We should choose to get smarter – not poorer.

 

The big winners in the digital age won’t be the low-cost labour nations, but the countries that create machines that make high quality products and deliver specialised services.

 

That’s not just about building machines but designing, developing, financing, operating and refining them.

 

Those are the jobs that we need you to be doing.

 

And if governments are to ask that of you, we have to do our bit: investing in science, research, innovation and training.

 

We have to support a world class education system – producing graduates with the accomplished skills to compete and succeed in the new economy.

 

Higher Education: A Return on Investment

 

The current government have made it clear that they see university education as a private privilege – a reward for the individual.

 

Labor has always understood that education benefits not just individuals, but society as a whole - economically and socially.

 

The OECD supports this, the Labor view.

 

The report found that for every one dollar Australia spends on a university student’s education, the average return is five dollars.

 

This is the second best return of all the OECD nations.

 

And that’s before we consider that universities provide us with the doctors in our hospitals, the teachers in our classrooms, the lawyers in our courts, the social workers in our community and the countless other occupations that make this the splendid country it is.

 

The same OECD report also sounds a note of caution.

 

It identified the strong link between the quality of the education you receive and the rest of your life: the career you choose, the income you earn and your overall health and wellbeing.

 

Accessible and affordable education acts as a tremendous agent of social mobility, helping people to rise above their current circumstance.

 

But if university education is available only within the circle of families who have already enjoyed its benefits, then all it does is perpetuate and exacerbate inequality.

 

This is why Labor has opposed every tired incarnation of the Pyne Plan for $100,000 degrees and a lifetime of debt – not just because of its unfairness, but because it weakens Australia’s ability to prepare for the future.

 

University Reform

 

Labor’s last wave of university reforms were based appropriately on the principles of access and equity.

 

In 2009, we set two ambitious goals:

 

  • By 2025, 40 per cent of Australians under 35 to hold a bachelor’s degree – up from just over 30 per cent.


 

  • By 2020, 20 per cent of students in universities to come from disadvantaged families. Young people previously denied the opportunity of a degree.


 

We are ahead of schedule to achieve that first goal – and we will certainly reach it within the decade.

 

For students from disadvantaged backgrounds, we are still hovering at just under 17 per cent. There is more work to be done.

 

What do access and equity look like on campus?

 

  • More people becoming the first in their family to go to university.


 

  • More students from disadvantaged families, and more students who speak a language other than English at home.


 

  • More mature-age students, upgrading their skills and fulfilling the opportunity perhaps previously denied.


 

And I know Monash has worked especially hard to extend the opportunity of a university education to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students – another group who have often missed out on the chance to earn a degree.

 

Equity and access are core Labor principles.

 

The next wave of university reforms must focus on guaranteeing quality as well as equity.

 

Starting university, completing university and getting a good job.

 

That is the contract that students, parents and employers accept as the offer from Australian higher education.

 

Across the board however, completion rates have been falling in recent years

 

In recent years, there has been a steady increase in offers to lower-ATAR university applicants.

 

A recent study that tracked students with an ATAR of 59 or below who started their studies in 2005 found that by the end of 2012, just over half had completed a degree.

 

This study, which fed into last year’s Kemp-Norton review of the demand-driven system, also found that nearly a quarter of students with ATARs below 50 don’t re-enrol for a second year.

 

They leave university with a student debt, but no degree.

 

This growing group of Australians who enrol in university but don’t graduate, poses a fundamental question for the future of higher education.

 

How do we ensure and preserve that fundamental principle of accessibility and equity?

 

How do we grow participation rates for students from disadvantaged backgrounds without undermining the quality and value of a degree?

 

This is the big conversation Labor is having with the university sector right now.

 

So let me be very clear.

 

We will always support growth in the system – and reports of freezing enrolments at 2015 levels are plainly untrue.

 

This is not a matter of forcing down enrolment to improve quality – it is about lifting standards to catch-up to the new levels of access and equity.

 

Governments and universities both need to evolve – we need to move our focus from purely enrolment to including completion.

 

It’s not just about getting first-years signed up and in the door, it’s about making sure our students complete their degree.

 

We must ensure that when you leave university after three, four or five years, you are equipped with the confidence, the skills and the knowledge to drive a new economy.

 

And a sustainable funding model is central to this.

 

Universities need resources to focus on quality teaching, and the individual attention that prevents students from slipping through the cracks in massive institutions – and they need certainty.

 

The alternative is a system where students are collected and their fees harvested, rather than developing the talents and aspirations of the next generation.

 

To do this simply leaves the student, the university and the nation worse off.

 

We will continue to discuss the best way to provide universities with the support and security they need to produce the graduate workforce of tomorrow.

 

We want the best combination of excellence, equity and accessibility, driving innovation and boosting productivity.

 

This is true for all our educational institutions: our universities, our TAFEs and private providers.

 

The ‘Fourth Quarter’

 

Twenty years ago, the neuroscientist and philanthropist David J. Mahoney gave a great speech at Rutgers University where he challenged the graduating students to start planning for an ‘active fourth quarter’, from the age of 75 to 100.

 

He said:

 

Medical science will give most of you the body to blow out a hundred candles on your birthday cake, and brain scientists will give you the life of your mind.

 

More than ever, this is a reality.

 

The first three quarters of your lives will be shaped by the learning society: engaging with it, educating yourselves, re-training and re-skilling to succeed.

 

And it is the job of the national government to invest in education, to build a system of excellence, access and equity.

 

I know it seems a long way away now, but your active fourth quarter will be, in part, defined by the decisions you, and your governments make today.

 

When this Law School opened 50 years ago, universal superannuation was still 27 years away – and guaranteed retirement incomes were the preserve of the very few.

 

Today we aim higher than this, much higher.

 

Every Australian deserves dignity and security in retirement – because you shouldn’t work hard all your life only to retire poor.

 

Yet, the major message from the Government seems to be that our ageing population justifies cutting pensions.

 

This is the same government who froze superannuation for nearly 11 million Australians – twice, last year.

 

This decision, combined with their unfair raid on the super accounts of 3 million Australians earning $37,000 a year or less, will leave our national savings pool $983 billion worse off by 2055.

 

An average income earner, aged 25, will retire with $100,000 less in retirement savings because of the decisions of this government in the last 18 months.

 

How can the Government claim a fair pension is unsustainable while trying to wreck our superannuation system - the single best method for easing pressure on the pension and giving all Australians dignity and security in retirement?

 

This attack on Australia’s world-class universal superannuation system will undermine retirement savings by nearly one trillion dollars and put greater pressure on the age pension.

 

As a result of this short-sightedness, pensioners will be poorer and superannuation holders will be poorer.

 

Australia is better than this.

 

I am sufficiently ambitious for this nation, that if we were to meet again at this Law School’s 75th birthday – you would say, “remember when Labor said we should lift superannuation to 12 per cent– not freeze it”.

 

And we can say: we should, we could and we did.

 

Conclusion

 

I’m always energised by visiting Monash, by visiting universities and speaking to students.

 

I’m energised by talking to people who believe that the future is up for grabs and that what matters is the quality of a political party’s ideas.

 

Each of you remind me of the feeling of freedom and possibility and potential that this time in your life brings.

 

But I remember the flipside of this feeling too – a sense of uncertainty, not knowing what you will do next or what the future will bring.

 

Looking to the future always brings this mix of emotions: but on balance much more exciting and exhilarating than not.

 

Your future is a century of life in a changing economy, with constant learning and re-learning.

 

It’s a century where you will pace yourself, smooth your wealth over long life, enjoy a life outside of work, meet upheaval with resilience and embrace change.

 

That’s our shared future – your energy, your imagination and your ideas, matched by a national government with that same focus on the future not one stuck in the past.

 

ENDS

 

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