Thank you very much, Ewen – thank you. And thank you, Meredith. And Rhonda, thank you for that very warm Welcome to your Country. I, like all of us, we acknowledge your elders past and present and recognise that we are here today, gathered today, on Aboriginal land. So thank you very much indeed.
Boy, you have a great school! You really do! Your school – Kirwan High – is a leader in the science and technology that is going to make Australia even more successful in the 21st century.
Meredith has picked up the reins from Mr Livingstone, of course, who sadly died after 27 years as your Principal and his leadership created your school as an absolute beacon of the technologies, the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering, mathematics – that are going to ensure that you have the most remarkable opportunities.
You know, I know sometimes teenagers feel miserable – none of you look very miserable today – but sometimes you might do. Can I say to you, there has never been a better time to be a young Australian today. Believe me, the opportunities that are available to you are greater than were available to your parents or your grandparents – greater at any time in human history.
And I’ll tell you the reason for that. It is this: that we have seen extraordinary technological change. The change that has occurred in just a generation is extraordinary. Imagine – can you image a world without the internet? Obviously not! I was talking at a school the other day with some year 11s, actually it’s the school, the high school my daughter teaches at in fact, year 11 girls and I was explaining to them that when people wanted to, you know, buy a car or sell a car or look for a job, they used to buy a newspaper and wade through pages and pages of small ads and these kid’s eyes started to get wider and I think they were thinking this guy’s putting us on, this can’t be for real, surely people just checked it out on their phone. And, you know, that’s the rate of change. The fact is that most of the world’s population, in the developed world, is connected to the internet 24/7 and before too long most of the whole world will be.
That is a gigantic transformation. Do you know, 40 years ago which you would think is an eon, another age, believe me it’s not that long ago, 40 years ago China was barely part of the global economy and yet today you read, every day you read about the importance of the Chinese economy, you read about the extraordinary opportunities from the China Australia Free Trade Agreement. China, 1.4 billion people, either is or shortly will be the world’s largest single economy. And you’ve seen similar growth in the rest of Asia – the rest of East Asia, South East Asia – 650 million people in South East Asia. That doesn’t even count Japan and South Korea and then you’ve got India in the Subcontinent.
Believe me, you are living here in north Queensland, you are living here at the time of greatest opportunity for Australia. Those markets are opening up, we have flung the doors open wider thanks to the hard work of our Government, in particular our Trade Minister Andrew Robb and the opportunities are never greater. But how do you capture them in a time of great change, which is what we’re seeing at the moment, driven by technology. Obviously some people would say “that’s scary” and they’ll want to hide under the doona, pull the pillow over their head and pretend it’s not happening.
But I know that you have the imagination and the sense of adventure that recognises – as you should – that this is in fact the time of enormous opportunity. Change is good – change is great, particularly if you’re young, because it means there’ll be openings for younger people for more imaginative people, for those that are fast and fleet of foot – and that means you. This is a great time to be a young Australian; this is a great time to be at Kirwan High.
Now, let me tell you about a few things that the Government’s doing to really ensure that more schools are like yours. We’re investing $48 million over five years to ensure that students – and I’m talking now about your little brothers and sisters in preschool – to older students engage in further study of STEM, in particular computer coding. It is absolutely critical that we do that because most of the jobs in the future are going to require a familiarity with machine languages and you’ve got to learn to be familiar with coding so that you’re not just a savvy consumer of technology, which is I guess, what I would like to think I am, but you actually understand the language, the algorithms that make it work. And that is as important as knowing how to read and write and to do mathematics. So, it is critical, believe me, that we are a more technologically advanced, more numerate, more scientifically aware community. And the Government is focused on providing the support to schools to do that.
So, you’re a shining example here of Kirwan High, of a 21st century school with a 21st century agenda. And opportunities greater – believe me – opportunities for you, for each and every one of you greater than any previous generation. And those opportunities are limited only by two things; your imagination – and I’m sure that is boundless in each of your cases – and your enterprise, your readiness to work hard and I can see that you’re all ready to do that.
You see, we’ve had a mining boom in Australia and mining will remain a very big part of our economy and some of your fathers and mothers may be involved in the mining sector or be consultants or working in that area. You’d understand how much money has been invested in new projects. And once those projects are built, of course, and they continue, they produce whatever it is they’re producing – coal, gas or iron ore and any other commodity – the labour component, the number of people working there is less. You know, the big employment comes when you’re building it. And so mining remains a very big part of our economy, but the next part is what we call the ideas boom. And the ideas boom, because it is limited only by our imagination and enterprise, can go on forever – and it should, because it is taking advantage of the most important capital we have, not financial capital, not industrial capital, but human capital - your brains, your imagination, your idealism and your energy.
Australia’s future is in safe hands, it’s in excitingly safe hands, in the hands of the imagination, the enterprise, the innovation of you young men and women of Kirwan High.
It’s a great pleasure to be with you today. Thank you very much for being here.