Remarks to Westbourne Grammar School Assembly, Truganina, Melbourne
Posted on Friday, 1 June 2012
Thank you so much for that very warm welcome. I was particularly thrilled to be described as a fine athlete because as some of you might have noticed this week, I’m not so good over short distances and I was outraced by Christopher Pyne over about 10 metres earlier this week.
Ladies and gentlemen, young men and women of this school, it’s an honour to be here. I’m pleased to be here in the company of my colleague, Senator Scott Ryan, who is what we in politics call the duty senator for this area. It’s a delight to have these few moments with you and I want to make just a few simple points, if I could.
The first is, do not underestimate the importance of these days in your lives. This time is a great time. This time is a formative time. This time is when you stock your minds with the intellectual capital which will last you for a lifetime. Don’t think that school is something to get through, and then life starts when you leave. This is living. This is real life. The lessons that you learn here at this school are so vital for all the days ahead.
Now, I can remember when I was your age I had some excellent teachers at both my primary and my secondary school, and those lessons have stood me in good stead. I remember particularly my Year Seven and Year Eight English teacher who told me to, I quote, “Read with voracious appetite”. This was the lesson that I got, that my colleagues got, and I want to repeat it to you because you will be very busy in the years to come, incredibly busy. Whatever you do, you will be busy and you will find yourself drawing down on the intellectual capital of these days. I am, as you know, honoured to be the Leader of the Opposition and one of the things about being in the forefront of politics is that you read thousands of newspaper articles, you read hundreds of briefing papers, but to read a book is very, very difficult, so please do as I was advised all those years ago: "read with voracious appetite."
The next point I want to make is that when I was at school, I didn’t get the chance to learn Japanese or German, but I did get the chance to learn Latin. The motto of my first school, Ad Majora Natus, was roughly translated, ‘Born for higher things,’ and the motto of my second school, Quantum Potes Tantum Aude, roughly translated, ‘Try as hard as you can’ and if I can run those two together, I think what my school education was really saying to me was, "try as hard as you can and you will do great things" and I’m sure that’s the lesson that you are getting from your teachers here at this school. Try as hard as you can and you will do great things and certainly looking at the results, you are doing great things. I was extraordinarily impressed to see how many of the students of this school go on to do good degrees at university. I was very impressed to see how few of the students of this school seem to find themselves idle after they leave. So, congratulations to you, but particularly I say congratulations to your teachers and your parents for the values that they inculcate into you because strong values are the foundation of a successful life.
The final thing I want to do is to say how pleased I am and how thrilled I am to see that this school takes languages so seriously. It seems to me that if we are to take other cultures seriously, we owe them the honour and we owe them the courtesy of taking their language seriously. Now, we can’t learn every language, but it is a mark of the accomplished person that he or she can speak at least one other language and the fact that all of you for most of your school years are learning one other language and many of you for all of your school years are learning another language is a sign of the quality of the education that you are getting and a mark of the accomplishment to which you all aspire.
Again, it is a credit to your teachers, it is a credit to your parents, it is a credit to the overall school community that this is so and may every school community right around our country move in this direction. In the 1960s, 40 per cent of Australian Year 12 school leavers, or the equivalent in those days, had taken a foreign language. Today, the figure is about 12 per cent. I think the least we ought to do if we are to take advantage of what is often called the coming Asian century is to lift our linguistic ambitions back to what they were in the 1960s. That’s the least we can do. Obviously, you’re doing more than that at this school and may other schools lift their game. As a country, may we lift our game.
My final point is that I know that often you must look at the Federal Parliament and wonder what all the fuss is about; wonder what all the argument is about. I don’t say that we always present the most edifying spectacle, but in the end, every single member of that Federal Parliament - regardless of his or her political persuasion - wants to do the right thing by our country. The objective of what is done in the Federal Parliament - I don’t say necessarily the attainment, but the objective of what is done in the Federal Parliament - is to help all of us to more closely approach our best selves and we will be a better country, we will be a better people if we improve our linguistic attainments and I’m very grateful for what is being done here and I look forward to seeing more of that in my time here at the school.