Well thank you Vice Chancellor Glyn Davis for those words of introduction, to Acting Chancellor Ross McPherson, to the members of the university council and faculties, to all the graduates of course and to families and friends.

I was very pleased and honoured to be asked to contribute this evening; to publicly acknowledge my esteem for this university, a great institution and you will find through life, your working life that it will be a great source of respect, a place where you achieved what you’ve achieved and it will be a great source of continuing encouragement if you choose to stay involved.

It is also of course gratifying to have the opportunity to play a part in this graduation and my sincere congratulations to all of you on getting here today. And when you have done something really significant, when you have worked for and achieved success it’s very important to celebrate your achievements and accept the well-earned congratulations that come your way.

It is very important to acknowledge success because from my experience, nothing of consequence in this life is ever easy and in the years ahead, when you inevitably strike a hurdle or two, think back on this success, this very significant achievement and draw confidence and strength from it, let it be a source of self-belief throughout your life whatever you end up engaged in.

I always think it is like winning a Melbourne Cup, no one can ever take it off you, this achievement we are celebrating here this afternoon. Take pride in what you have achieved but also don’t forget to acknowledge the people sitting behind you, your family and friends who have been part of your journey, supporting you along the way.

Ladies and gentlemen it has been said that a graduation speaker should think of themselves as the body at an old-fashioned Irish wake, the graduates need you to have the party, but no one expects you to say all that much. So to those of you graduating today and to everyone, rest assured, I will try and be reasonably brief.

Though, I am a politician, just to warn you. Again, to those of you graduating, I do hope that in looking back at your time here, you now have a greater sense of the possibilities for your careers ahead and an appreciation for the promise and the greatness of rural Australia.

As one of the most urbanised countries in the world, for many decades the great significance and strengths of Australia’s rural sector has been grossly underestimated by 85-90 per cent of the population. But I have got to say to you that your timing is perfect, things are changing. The emergence or in some cases the re-emergence of the countries in the region around us, it does present extraordinary opportunity. For the first time since European settlement of Australia, the drivers of global economic growth are to be found in our own backyard in China, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, India and the remaining ASEAN countries. And this will prevail in my view throughout this 21st century.

Over the next 35 years, not 100 years, not 50 years, over the next 35 years, the OECD has forecast that the 600 million people who currently make up the middle class from India through to China and every country in between, within 35 years that 600 million will be something of the order of three billion people in the middle class. It is not only an economic phenomena, it is a humanitarian miracle that we are witnessing and for those graduates here today, you’ve got in so many ways a unique opportunity to help and to ensure that the 600 million do in fact turn into three billion in the middle class enjoying the sort of life that so many of us just take for granted. It is almost incomprehensible to think of that measure of change and the consequences, but it is rich with opportunities and challenges.

The effects are well and truly becoming evident. The increasing demand for quality goods and services, for protein, particularly meat; two years ago we sold 60,000 tonnes of meat to China, they were our 12th biggest market, last year we sold 260,000 tonnes of meat to China; they were our third biggest market in one year. This sort of story I can repeat across so many different commodities, for fruit and vegetables, for grains, for dairy, for seafood, timber, you name it.

But not only the products, that often get a lot of the attention, but 75 per cent of our economy is in fact services , nine out of 10 jobs are in services, often they are services that cluster around the great strengths of our country such as agriculture and agribusiness and resources and energy.

And so you see demand for Australian know-how, including our animal husbandry and veterinary services, for our 21st century water management, for our soil management, for our pest control, for our agricultural chemicals expertise, our research into disease, into new crops, into higher producing livestock; they are after our food processing technology, they want our logistics and storage services.
There is also demand for our superior regulation, for our environmental and conservation management skills, for our marketing skills and for our applications in a digital world to all of these endeavours, for our 21st century agriculture and agribusiness innovation.

Often we play ourselves down especially in this field but we are recognised as world leaders and not just in production but in the innovation that has driven so much of it; the 21st century technology that we are applying to all of these areas I’ve just articulated and more. In all of this, Australia’s brand, and I travel the region extensively, I’ve spent 400 days in the last two years overseas and much of it in the region around us, and our brand is gold standard, absolutely gold standard. Our clean, green, healthy food products are in huge demand, you see it with the infant formula and these sorts of examples, there are many other examples I can give you.

Our world-class, knowledge-based expertise with areas I have mentioned, again it is seen as gold standard and yet we often don’t recognise as Australians how we are viewed, especially in the region around us. We are viewed very much as, and we are, a knowledge-based economy and we’ve got so much to offer and that know-how is in serious demand in all of these countries. In many cases it will require you to be available to establish a presence in these countries.

It is now with the digital age, with the connectivity that is now around, the numbers of aircraft, there are 40,000 aircraft in the air at any one time, of any minute of any day, the cheapness and the availability, it is now just as easy to start up or to extend a small business from Melbourne or Sydney to Guangzhou or Tokyo or Seoul or Jakarta to set up in these places and small business and medium business, and now because of the digital age they have got that opportunity because it is not hugely costly. You usually have to set up with a joint-venture partner so that you have got the feel of the local environment but a lot of these opportunities will come about by raising your eyes and looking at the opportunities that are there in spades in the region around us.   

Like veterinarian Chris Richards who studied at Melbourne University. Next month Chris plans to list on the Australian Stock Exchange his chain of 12 clinics, specialising in livestock, pigs, dairy, feedlot cattle and sheep.

He hopes to raise $40 million, which would take the market capitalisation of the company he started 16 years ago to almost $100 million. He believes the strengthening demand out of China and Japan and South Korea and other countries in due course, off the back of the Free Trade Agreements, will provide new levels of demand for the types of services he provides both here and in those countries themselves.

So while endless opportunity and success is there and emerging in a most profound way, it won’t fall into our laps, you have to seize it, we have to do some things differently to what we did before. It is your chance to be creative, to shape the future in your own way, given these opportunities and we are so well placed, we are well liked, we are well regarded we have got the background, you have now got the background to really excel and to make the most of these opportunities.

To that end, I thought I would spend my final minutes passing on a couple of the things that I have observed that are common to success, factors which seem to consistently underpin people who achieve success.

Of course, success has many contributing factors, but a couple of things seem always to be there. The first is to go with your strengths.

It sounds almost clichéd but I can tell you, having employed people for over 30 years, in all sorts of businesses, you would be surprised by how many people seem to spend their life trying to prove that their weaknesses are not really weaknesses.

I suspect we are all a little bit vain, and peer pressure and peer criticism and peer judgments, they are a most powerful force in most of our lives. But I urge you to resist the urge to conform to the attributes that others might rank highly. My point is to be brutally honest with yourself about your real strengths – and then follow them, use them, capitalise on the unique talents and quirks that are you. Don’t spend your life chasing someone else’s vision of you.

From my own observation, people who spend most of their time focussing on what they are really good at, whatever that might be, they are the happiest and most productive and ironically, in the end, most accepted.

The second characteristic I have observed of successful people is they always have a plan; they have an objective they are aiming for, and a plan to get there. But at the same time they have an eye open for the unexpected which may then move them to a new or modified plan.

I found if you are following a plan of where you want to be, you make progress, but often things happen along the way, things turn up that you haven’t anticipated, things that may inform a different or better plan – but those unanticipated things wouldn’t have occurred if you were not pursuing a deliberate objective and pathway.

For example, I initially did a Diploma of Agricultural Science at Dookie Agricultural College. I had a plan for a scientific career in agriculture. At Dookie I was introduced to the subject of economics by an inspiring lecturer. Prior to that, I had no exposure to the discipline of economics at secondary school. The subject back then wasn’t available.

And I found I was good at it. I enjoyed it. I changed my plan. I started work after I finished my Diploma, as an Animal Health Officer, while at the same time undertaking part-time study at La Trobe University for a degree in economics, with my new plan of becoming an agricultural economist.

In my second year I took a subject called comparative economic and political systems. And at the time I thought it was really a ‘filler’ if you like, just a subject to go towards completing my course.

There was lecturer, Llaso Csapo, who had come to Australia after the 1956 uprising in Hungary; he was refugee who fled the Soviet tanks. He was the lecturer in comparative political and economic systems. It was my first real introduction to the power of different political and economic systems and what an extraordinary impact it can have on people’s lives. What it can do for good and for bad depending on the system that might prevail and how quickly things could deteriorate or things could improve.

 

And I was reminded when I was in Myanmar or Burma recently that in 1962 Lee Kuan Yew was visiting and said “I’m going to make Singapore similar to Rangoon”, the capital of Burma of Myanmar. At the time it had 123 universities, it had hospitals that were the cream of the region; people sent their children to be educated and their sick to be treated in the hospitals that was in 1962 when the military took over.

Now, when you go to Myanmar, 70 per cent of the people are illiterate, there are no universities, there are no hospitals of any consequence and fortunately the military have backed off and the spirit in that country is unbelievable and the anticipation of turning it back into what it was. In 40 to 50 years that place has gone from being the Singapore of Asia, back to being a very poor and unfortunate country.

So Llaslo Csapo introduced this in such a passionate way and gave us all wonderful insights and compared all sorts of different systems like I have sought to do briefly with Burma and he introduced the importance of real freedoms, one of the great objectives of this university, and the fact that in Australia we do have charge of our destiny in terms of what systems we do support and put in place and the importance of democracy. He compared it to other systems around the world.

I would not be here tonight if it was not for the experience of that course and that man, developing in me a keen interest in political outcomes which has been fostered and nurtured ever since. Those few months being taught by Llaslo Csarpo ultimately changed my plan again. I moved progressively into jobs which helped me influence public policy. That became my passion in life. First as an agricultural policy economist, then as the head of the National Farmers Federation, then as federal director and campaign director of the federal Liberal Party and then ultimately, directly as a politician – interposed with experience in the commercial sector.

My point is, keep an open mind and consider the opportunities when they present themselves. They may not match your well laid path but they may identify a path to a more fulfilling career, a greater use of your personal strengths and interests.

In my maiden speech to the Australian Parliament 11 years ago, I claimed that true happiness and true freedom come from achievement. That was my observation through life. In using whatever god-given talents we have, to chart our own course, to take the consequences of our decisions – to have a go.

It remains my strong belief and observation. And I think there is no better time, no better opportunity, especially for the graduates here today to follow that simple prompt.

So today, I wish you all the success that life presents to you, all of the happiness, good health, and I urge you to seize opportunities as they arise; have a go.

Thank you.

Media enquiries

  • Trade Minister's Office: (02) 6277 7420
  • DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555