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Peter Costello

Treasurer

11 March 1996 - 3 December 2007

Speech of 26/06/06

ADDRESS THE BULLETIN TOP 100 MOST INFLUENTIAL AUSTRALIANS LUNCHEON

MACHIAVELLI’S RESTAURANT
SYDNEY

MONDAY, 26 JUNE 2006

Well thank you very much, Jana. It is a great pleasure to be here. When you see a list of the 100 most influential Australians that have ever lived you begin looking down that list starting with the letter that your own surname begins with. I went to ‘C,’ no joy there, and I thought maybe they were doing it on the basis of first names so I went to ‘P,’ I couldn’t find anything there, I thought what about occupations, so I went to ‘T,’ and I didn’t find anything there.

But alas you look in vain to see my name on this list of 100 influential Australians. I turn up here today and I see so many of them in the room. Michael Gudinski over here, Jack Mundey, Pauline Hanson, people who have definitely outclassed me. I say to those influential people, thank you for letting me in here today.

The Bulletin of course is one of Australia’s most influential organs itself nurturing a talented stable of writers such as Henry Lawson, Banjo Patterson, paying the wages of distinguished editors such as Peter Coleman, whose daughter is my wife. The Bulletin championed causes such as the republic (unsuccessfully) and White Australia which for many years was part of the masthead itself. And isn’t it fitting that we are sitting here in a restaurant bearing the name of a Florentine who lived 500 years ago, certainly one of Italy’s 100 most influential people?

Today we are all half Italian. Tonight Australia fronts up against Niccolo Machiavelli’s old team. We live in a country that Niccolo would not have even known existed. Let’s hope that the Italian coach isn’t employing any of Machiavelli’s tactics for the Italian soccer team and the match tomorrow.

I thought maybe The Bulletin could even hold Wednesday’s edition because if Australia wins overnight there ought to be a ‘G Hiddink’ listed as one of Australia’s most influential people.

Of course since European settlement Australia has been one of the most successful societies on earth in every way – politically, economically, in the quality of life. A colony which started as a penal settlement has led the world. There is so much that we can be proud of.

And we have certain characteristics which people throughout the world will always remark on. The great travel writer Bill Bryson, in his book Down Under said these words:

    The Australian people are immensely likeable - cheerful, extroverted,
    quick witted and unfailingly obliging. Their cities are safe and clean
    and nearly always built on water. They have a society that is prosperous, well ordered and instinctively egalitarian.

You read that word a lot, that word ‘egalitarian’ when you read about Australians and Australian values.

Let me illustrate it this way. About ten years ago I came home from Canberra and decided to take a nap on a Saturday afternoon. And I called my 11-year-old son in and I said, ‘I am going to have a nap, if the phone rings, I don’t care who it is, tell them Dad is not be woken.’

A couple of hours later I woke up and I said to my son, Sebastian, ‘Did the phone ring?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Who was it?’ He said, ‘John Howard.’ I said, ‘What did you tell him?’ ‘Dad doesn’t care who it is, he is not to be woken up.’

An 11-year-old kid can say that to the Prime Minister, or as Charles Krauthammer writing in the Washington Post recently said, the mother of a grieving soldier can get on the telephone and let her emotions out to a Prime Minister without any fear. That is the kind of society that Australia is.

We would expect that the values of our country would reflect the values of influential people, after all they are the people who have influenced those values. If you were doing the 100 most influential people in British History you would have Kings and you would have Queens but you won’t find Kings or Queens on our list today. If you were doing the 100 most influential people of the United States, you would have Revolutionary War heros and Generals from the Civil War era, but you won’t find them on our list today. You will find pioneers and settlers and founders of industries.

And people who interpret ourselves and our nation back to ourselves.

We would all agree that one of the most decisive events in our national history was the landing at Gallipoli in 1915. This was the first great event since Federation which shaped our sense of identity and the nation like no other. But the people on today’s list who come to us enshrining that legend in our consciousness are not the actual soldiers who went ashore on that fateful day. No Albert Jacka VC, no Major-General Bridges. Monash is on our list but his moment of greatness was still to come after 1915.

The legend of Gallipoli comes to us through a Sydney Morning Herald journalist turned war-historian, CEW Bean. The legend of the outback comes to us not through the people who went through great privation and suffering but through the poets, Lawson and Patterson. Our fascination with the Snowy River – which even as recently as this month defeated Government policy – comes through a poet and the Cinesound news-reels recording great Australian achievements.

And so the writers and the poets and the artists become important because they fire our imagination and our emotion. You have heard the expression ‘movers and shakers.’ Perhaps we could call this list ‘Australia’s 100 movers and shakers.’ But do you know where the term ‘movers and shakers’ comes from? Arthur William Edgar O’Shaughnessy, a poet, wrote these words:

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers,
Of the world for ever, it seems.

The poets in O’Shaughnessy’s mind were the movers and shakers. And so we find on this list artists, not enough artists in my view, we have artists like Sidney Nolan and Albert Namatjira. I think we should have had more artists. We don’t have Roberts or Dobell or Fred Williams or Arthur Boyd, people who helped us see ourselves and our country in a new light.

Now one of my predecessors as Treasurer complained about the lack of leadership in this country. We’ve never had a Lincoln, he said, we’ve never had a Roosevelt. And I think the reason he used to talk like this is he rather thought he might fill the vacancy. Will Australia ever have a Lincoln? Well if we have a civil war over a great moral question, where our national leader managed to get on the right side of the moral question, lead the nation to victory, preserve the Federation and lose his life in the process, we may have a Lincoln.

Let us suppose that the South had not seceded in the United States for another 20 years, would we remember Lincoln anymore than we remember Rutherford Hayes or James Garfield? Events make the man or woman just as the men or the women make the events.

For much of his life Churchill was considered a failure, shamelessly chasing wars around the globe, a struggling Home Secretary, a propagator of failed military strategy in the First World War, an undistinguished Chancellor but his moment came in 1940. If it had not, his career could well have been marked as a failure.

Which brings me to my next point. A person’s influence can only be judged at the end of their career, preferably judged hundreds of years thereafter. Influential Australians are those who will stand the test of time. Richard Nixon, used the quote of Sophocles as saying:- ‘One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.’

And so as I think of these 100 most influential people in Australia’s history four tips come to mind for those wishing to join the list. The first is, become a poet, writer or artist. Secondly, if you can’t become a poet, a writer or artist have a poet, writer or artist at close hand as you do your deeds.

My third tip is, is to time your contribution to coincide with great events. Great events can make the great man or woman. My fourth tip is overcome great odds, the greater the odds the greater the achievement.

And now let me conclude by asking this question. Who will be on our list of the most influential Australians in 2100 when we get our cyber edition of The Bulletin magazine.

For those of you who have not made this list but would like to, can I suggest some avenues that you might like to explore. I come from the field of politics and public policy so let me suggest a few here.

The person who can solve the problem bedevilling Australian political life in every area, the problem of federalism, will be there. In 1900 Federation was a great success, the coming together of colonies in a customs and economic union within an empire. But the empire has faded and the nation now has consciousness of itself. We are no longer dealing with self-governing sovereign colonies. I believed that by giving the States a revenue base - a financial free kick - we would restore that sense of sovereignty. It was a failed hope. States are moving towards the role of service delivery more on the model of Divisional Offices than sovereign independent governments. Legally, constitutionally and practically we must fix the problem of federalism.

The second person who might be on this list in 2100 is the person who can solve our water problem. We are the driest continent on earth, water storage has not been the subject of proper investment, we have wasted water and we have not properly priced it. Scientific, economic and engineering reform will be essential to fix this problem.

The third problem solver who could be on our list in 2100 is the person who arrests Australia’s fertility decline. We are an ageing society, we need to rebalance. Hopefully not just rebalance but have a larger population which is essential for our national aims and our ambitions. Arresting our fertility decline will be of enormous importance to Australia’s future. Hence my frequently stated refrain to have, one for Mum, one for Dad and one for the Country.

Fourthly, the person who provides a model capable of winning genuine public support to improve and preserve our democracy and translate our current legal arrangements into those of a Republic will be a person recognised as influential. A Republic is where we are already in our sympathies and in our imagination. And the person who can accomplish this in a legal and a constitutional sense will win a place in the list of 2100.

Fifthly, there will be a place for a person on the list in 2100 who has a genuine workable way of lifting our indigenous people from the margin to the mainstream. Many have tried, many people of goodwill have tried and there have been no shortage of resources, this is not a question of spending. There has been no area where we have had more ideological experimentation and more failure. There will be a place on the list in 2100 for that person.

But because we are a young country our greatest glories are still in front of us. That gives the people in this room plenty of capacity to win a place as an influential Australian in the years that lie ahead. We have been served well as a country. Although we have had failures and although we have not on every occasion lived up to the best practice the Australian achievement, political, economic, and in lifestyle is one of the great successes of the world. And there is still plenty more room on that list of influential people in the years which lie ahead.

Congratulations to those people who are with us today. I acknowledge the debt to those that went before that made this country what it has become. A reminder to those who will take us into our future, there are still many glories to be won in every sphere of life as long as our country continues. Thank you all very much.