VICTORIA UNIVERSITY OCCASIONAL ADDRESS - THURSDAY 12 DECEMBER
12 December 2019
BILL SHORTEN SHADOW MINISTER FOR THE NDIS SHADOW MINISTER FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG
STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS
VICTORIA UNIVERSITY OCCASIONAL ADDRESS FLEMINGTON RACECOURSE, MELBOURNE THURSDAY, 12 DECEMBER 2019
I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land upon which we meet today, their elders, past and present, and all people of indigenous descent who are here with us today.
Chancellor ... Vice Chancellor, distinguished guests, academic and professional staff, graduands, families and friends.... And in particular those who are the first in their family to attend university.
I love history.
And one of my favourite scientists in history is Sir Isaac Newton. One of the greatest minds the world has ever produced.
Sir Isaac Newton was an English mathematician, physicist, astronomer, theologian and author who lived in the 17th century.
Newton used science to explain the mysteries of the celestial heavens around us.
He created a device that allowed us mere mortals to stare into the wonders of deep space.
He was, in other words what we Australians would call - a bloody show off.
You could forgive Newton after a life of achievement if he was a bit proud of himself. If he had a few tickets on himself.
But Newton famously credited his success to those who had gone before him.
He said: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
By contrast, some of the less impressive people you will meet in life will be those who think all their good fortune is self-derived, and that they don’t owe anyone anything.
But Newton was not like this. Newton was right. We all stand on the shoulders of someone else.
As I look out at you today my feeling is very personal, as a father, as a graduate I can appreciate some of what you’ve been through to get here today. Whilst regretfully, I do not know each and all your individual backstories of effort and perseverance that got you here today, but rest assured I know enough to admire your accomplishment. Today marks your personal success and celebrate it for it is worth celebrating!
But you are also here today as citizens, and - to the graduands from 27 other nations - adopted sons and daughters of Australia. You are here because your families, your partners, your professors and teachers and your country has given you this opportunity.
You stand here today as a result of the sacrifices of your loved ones and for that not just the graduands, but every parent, every family member, every friend who is here supporting you, you too should feel proud that this is in part your success.
It is traditional in these addresses for sage, wise, and possibly mature people to give you fresh-faced, bright-eyed newly minted graduands some hard-won world-weary advice.
But I only have one piece of advice for you today.
It’s this: Give something back.
Get involved in society, get involved in your community, get involved in some form of public life.
Be a pair of shoulders for someone else. Make Australia a better country.
Nothing feels better. No-one can take that feeling of accomplishment away from you when you contribute to greater society, no matter what happens on your journey of life. What we accomplish is so much more important than what we accumulate.
That’s the difference between making a living and building a life.
The last time I wore academic regalia like this was 18 years ago when I was graduating my MBA.
The world has changed a lot in those 18 years driven largely by the speed of digital technological disruption. In 2001 the first iPhone was still six years away. Today I would be surprised if any of the graduands were not packing an IPhone or an Android phone in their pocket or their purse.
But in this last 18 years of massive change, which bits are for the better and which are for the worse?
How do we take the good from this digital revolution shaking up our world while jettisoning the bad?
We are only really starting to untangle that. But I have little doubt it will be a dominant abiding theme in your lives.
My generation - X - will be the last to remember a world before the internet.
Your generation may one day have to imagine or research a world before the internet to find solutions to the darker or less pleasant side of the digital revolution.
From social media free days and digital detox to community projects.
And that is why I say: Give something back, and get involved in a public life that is bigger than just yourself.
And don’t just do it because someone tells you to, but because it will be good for you as well. Nothing is better than giving back.
The Class of 2019 will carve a path in a world where isolated individualism is rampant.
You the graduands will make families and lives, careers and history at a time where the notion of community has never been more trampled upon and where society has never been more atomised.
The digital revolution is good for many things …
… but the digital revolution is not, we are finding, always good for human relationships.
The boundless global market may be good for some things …
… but the boundless global market is not, as we are finding, always good for the human soul.
I always had the view that in Australia today is always generally better than yesterday and tomorrow would be better than today and I still fundamentally have that view.
But you, Class of 2019, will inherit a world full of challenges.
They are the challenges that have long informed the Labor Party and my own personal political vocation but they are challenges that are larger than ever.
Will we have full employment - not living gig to gig - as the rising tide of automation comes crashing in? Will we defend rights at work and the right to work? Can we promote the equal treatment of women? Will we take real action on climate change? Can we include the disadvantaged and the marginalised and the vulnerable? Will we finally have Constitutional recognition, truth-telling and Treaty with our First Nations people?
And I’d like to add to the ‘to do’ list for the third decade of our century, 2020 -
We need to renew Australian democracy. We need to defend civil and informed debate at a time of shrill polarisation and shouting largely driven by the self-selection of social media and the besieged business model of traditional non-opinionated news. Can we defend the agreed-on facts where truth itself is under siege from technology like ‘deepfakes’ which can create a video of anyone doing anything or Lyrebird Ai which can create audio of anyone saying anything? Fostering social cohesion in a world rapidly changed by automation and artificial intelligence. That is something worth giving back.
I’m sure, Class of 2019, that you understand the need to give back to our nation our home
but it will not be easy.....
It will require all your brainpower, all your energy, all your idealism and all your goodwill.
You have seized your opportunity at an education and have not wasted it which is a credit to all of you.
Many of you plan to be teachers - early year educators - sports coaches, and so have already taken a vocational altruistic step choosing a career helping, empowering, leading others to fulfil their potential.
But our nation will need a little more help from you in the future. Australia will need your shoulders to stand upon.
I encourage all of you, particularly as your lives get busy, to hold on to a commitment to community, to public life. Join in. Volunteer. Stand up. Speak out. March and demonstrate if it matters.
A charity... a sporting team....a park run … a surf life saving club ....a conservation group... a choir ..... a band....a trade union... a political party....a faith group....a neighbourhood watch... the RSL .... the local fire brigade ...the ses....a service club and .......and always turn up to vote.
Just join in
We fear what we don’t know and who we don’t know.
Joining in will be a bulwark against the pitfalls our society could find itself in. Divided we are conquered. United we stand.
Being part of a successful democracy, of an inclusive society, means more than just conceiving of your own rights and freedoms.
Real freedom is built on a respect for the rights of others. It is about retaining a fighting conviction that the rights of others must be maintained.
Remember Isaac Newton.
Remember you are standing on the shoulders of others.
And remember that your own shoulders are not just there for you.