Griffith University Occasional Address

  

Griffith University Honorary Doctorate Graduation Ceremony

16 December 2008

 

Chancellor, Ms Leneen Forde AC,

Vice Chancellor and President, Professor Ian O'Connor,

Members of the official party,

Graduates,

Families and Friends of Graduates,

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

In the spirit of reconciliation and harmony that we wish to see embedded in our community, throughout our State and our Nation, I recognise the Jagera and Turrbal peoples, the traditional caretakers of Kurilpa, and acknowledge their ancestral relationship to the land on which we are gathered.

I am greatly honoured by the award of the degree that has just been conferred on me.  Since its establishment in 1975, Griffith University has developed remarkably to claim its place as one of the best institutions of higher education in our State and our country.  I have had a lot to do with it over the years and I've watched it grow with interest and admiration, seeing it expand steadily, pioneering many new courses, setting benchmarks for innovation, defining itself as a University with a strong vision for the future, offering courses and degrees that will equip its students to deal with the demands and the challenges of today and of tomorrow.

This is a vision that I share - and see captured perfectly in the stated Mission of the Business School, whose graduates we have recognized and we honour today.

On the website, under a bold heading "the Bigger Picture", the School says: "Griffith Business School is all about seeing what's important to Queensland, to Australia, to you.  We're addressing the big issues today and giving our students a head start in the workplace of tomorrow".

As someone who has spent a lifetime addressing the big issues confronting the world and Australia and now, in my new role as Governor of Queensland, wanting to see our State flourish and thrive and become a model of excellence in every respect, I know we need skilled graduates who will bring to the workforce and to our community a desire, not just to earn a living, but to make a difference, to contribute to the larger good.

You have worked very hard to complete your studies; Christmas is around the corner; holidays loom; you probably feel that you've earned a good break and that the world can wait - let somebody else worry about global warming and climate change, about the melting ice-caps, the global financial crisis, about rape in the Congo, malaria in Zimbabwe, poverty and homelessness in Australia and elsewhere in our region -and maybe you are a little bit right....for a little while.

My message is to ask you, as the new graduates of whom we and your families and friends are so proud, while you are enjoying and celebrating your success and as you plan your future, I'm asking you to keep that bigger picture in mind and to ask yourself whether there is something that you can - or should - do to add an extra dimension to your life and work that could help, even in a small way, to make a difference. Here in Australia, we enjoy a remarkable quality of life: we are a peaceful, stable country, where people live essentially in great freedom and great harmony.  We live by the creed ‘a fair go for all'; in other words, of respect for the rights of others.  We are, in relative terms, a rich and a prosperous country, with abundant natural resources and assets; we have access to good education and health systems; again, in relative terms, our economy is strong, with plenty of opportunities for resourceful people to secure good jobs and do very well; similarly the opportunities to enjoy sport, travel, and a myriad of leisure and cultural activities (like that wonderful musical interlude that we just heard), are probably second to none in the world.  Our scientists and artists, right now - and especially here in Queensland - are extraordinarily creative and innovative, boosting Australia's image on the world stage.  And as will appreciate, having listened to the citation read out by the Vice-Chancellor, providing details of my career - given the many different places in which I have lived and worked, I do have a basis for comparison and for making those  judgments.

All in all, life in Australia is good-but my question is: can that good life that we enjoy, that you've enjoyed here as students - perhaps even taken for granted in some ways - be sustained in the future?

There are many people who will tell you it cannot be, that it is simply not possible.  And certainly, there are many developments and changes taking place - especially internationally - that feed the ‘naysayers' and the ‘doom and gloom' predictions.  I can understand that people feel anxious - especially with the media constantly presenting negative headlines and stories ( I listened to the news just before coming here, and almost all the headlines and the language used to present information to the listener, instead of being measured, sober and factual, was over-dramatic or emotive and tilted to the negative: jobs are being "slashed", the Barrier Reef is "doomed"; such claims are exaggerated and they feed a psychology of negativism); I also understand that in some circumstances, alerting people to problems, is valuable, because it  can stimulate us to take action to deal with those problems.

But I've never been able to fathom or accept the ‘We'll all be ruined, said Hanrahan' approach to life.  Maybe business students - and I'm thinking particularly of the many graduates here today from our neighbouring Asian countries - won't  be familiar with this poem; but there is a wonderful Australian poem called "Said Hanrahan", by John O'Brien.  I won't read or recite it all  to you, but do look it up, because it's worth reading in full.  Hanrahan  came from a farming community and all his life, in every situation, saw the worst of things and predicted the worst possible outcome.  His life refrain - and the refrain of the poem - was to say, always,  "We'll all be ruined", except he pronounced it, with his country, outback accent: "We'll all be rooned".

The poem begins:

"We'll all be rooned," said Hanrahan,

In accents most forlorn,

Outside the church, ere Mass began,

One frosty Sunday morn."

Through verse after verse, talking about the drought, Hanrahan predicts "we'll be rooned";  then when the drought breaks and it rains,  Hanrahan predicts flood and ruin; when neither occur, he predicts bushfires! and so it continues - for everything that happens, his response is "we'll all be rooned" - he never sees any good in anything.

Unlike Hanrahan, I have always been an optimist. I recall once, when I was Australia's Ambassador for the Environment, being approached by a despairing young student, in the Philippines, after a depressing presentation about the dramatic loss of biodiversity on the planet and the impact of climate change on coral reefs.  She  asked how I could  remain optimistic, in the face of such terrible threats and our seeming inability to deal with them. My answer was obviously important to her. I thought a bit, and then said, quite simply, "How can I not be?"

This was a truthful reply, based on my conviction that we cannot afford to be pessimistic.

I have dealt with many challenges and crises over the years - political crises - in China, over Tiananmen Square, the East Timor crisis, the ANZUS crisis, confrontation between India and Pakistan; humanitarian crises; with awful human rights violations; horrid instances of discrimination, and violence and cruelty.  I've dealt first-hand with the challenges of poverty, terrorism, of pandemics like HIV/AIDS; and here in Australia, in Queensland, I see that there are problems, of a lesser scale, but still troubling, of disadvantage and discrimination.

And yet, I have always believed that it is within our capacity to respond to and to deal with these challenges - and why? Or perhaps rather how?

Given my own history and also the fact that this is a graduation address - I am sure you can guess the answer: it is through education.  This is not a platitude or a panacea - it's just a plain fact.  Education is the great transformer - of individuals, of families, of communities, of countries.

And here, today, with your new degrees and diplomas, you are part of that transformation.  I do not know your individual stories or ambitions - I am sure they are as diverse as the parade of bright faces (and quite remarkable shoes!) that marched across this stage a few moments ago - but with the education and the qualifications that you have gained, you now have the capacity to make a difference - in your own lives and those of others.  You now have choices that others do not have - that maybe, for some of you here today, your parents did not have.  To those parents and families, I express my very special thanks and congratulations to you - on your children's achievements and for your support to them through their years of study.  You feel justifiably proud of them today - but I believe that they also, have reason to be very proud of you and of the sacrifices that you have made to give them both an education of quality and the promise of a better future.

To the students - Business School graduates - each of you has completed a momentous journey, of study and of discovery - self discovery perhaps most of all.  You are holding in your hands the proof that you have finished what you started; you have held the university and yourselves to the promise entered into on your enrolment, and you have achieved something that no-one can ever take away from you.

I hope also that you have taken more from your time at Griffith than just your degrees: that in the busy and demanding whirl of lectures, tutorials, part-time jobs and share houses, sport, parties, assignments and exams - you have made friends, good friends (it certainly sounds as if you have, listening to some of those noisy, happy calls of congratulation as you walked across the stage).  The bonds of friendship forged at university are very, very special: as you launch yourself into your new jobs and careers, into the challenges of the future, don't leave your friends behind - take them with you; next to - and eventually perhaps, beyond - your families, they will be your greatest support along the way.

And finally, just to focus for a moment on the world of business that you have chosen to study and now to enter, whatever your area of interest or specialization, we can all see that the times ahead are particularly challenging.  In business faculties around the world graphs are being re-drawn and theses are being re-written in the face of one of the broadest and unpredictable market downturns the world has ever experienced.  The very architecture and superstructure of world finance is being reassessed. 

Of particular concern over the recent period have been the stories of excess and greed, of business leaders more economical with the truth than with their shareholders' funds.  While the worst of these stories have not been Australian, there is no question that Australians have been shaken by a world where unscrupulous lending on the other side of the planet has led to economic repercussions close to home. 

In these circumstances, more than ever, we need qualified business graduates, schooled in ethics (a word that I noted also was used earlier, by the Chancellor) and in proper decision-making, to help shape the future of our economy and of the economies of the countries to which some of you will be returning.  It is not just the esteem of the wider community that is at stake: it is the economic security of our nation and of our very interconnected world that is going to be dependent on people such as yourselves.

If I talk of risks to our economic security, it is not to be gloomy - it is to lay down a challenge to you professionally - as I did earlier to you more personally, when I asked you to seek to make a difference in the larger world that we all inhabit.

Looking just one more time at that larger world - at "the big picture" broadcast on the Business School website - I see a glass decidedly more than half full; I see optimism and opportunity for this group of business graduates.  We are still in the infancy of what writers have called the Asia Pacific Century.  For Australians today - and particularly for Queenslanders, with  Asia on our northern doorstep - Australia's enmeshment with Asia and the Pacific is natural and unselfconscious, and if you didn't see this before as  part of our reality and our identity, just recreate in your minds the wonderful stream of graduates from all parts of the Asian region - Vietnam, Korea, China, Singapore, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Japan - that just flowed across the stage in front of you!  Seen not from an Australian viewpoint, however, but from a global standpoint,  when you combine it  with our economic strength, our robust institutions and our pro-business culture, Australia is wonderfully positioned to weather the current storms and to become a leader of global growth in the future: and you, too, whether you choose to remain in Australia or return to your own countries within that wider Asia-Pacific region, are wonderfully positioned to play a distinctive part in what yet promises to  be a very exciting process.

I congratulate each and every one of you on your graduation.  I wish you a happy celebration; just as I  wish you every success and happiness in the future.

I thank the University for the honour that it has conferred upon me today.

And I thank you all for your kind attention.