The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

8 February 2008

NO.002

Address to the
Mick Young Scholarship Trust Dinner

Sydney

8 February 2008

Prime Minister; Ministerial and parliamentary colleagues; Bob and Blanche; Bob and Helena; the wonderful Mary and Janine Young; sponsors: Emirates, and Australian Income Protection, and supporters and beneficiaries of the fantastic Mick Young Scholarship Trust.

Well, what a marvelous event to remember and continue the legacy of my old friend and my great early political mentor, Mick Young.

I can think of few people in our great movement – indeed, few Australians – who could draw not only the PM but most of the Government to a dinner in their honour.

In fact, with a quorum present, Kevin, I suggest a quick Cabinet meeting after the second bottle of wine when everyone's in an agreeable mood.

Thanks to Peter Costello; Lindsay and I have a few spending cuts to sneak through.

Mick's life, as we all know, was tragically short. As Bob Ellis called it: "a story unfinished, a symphony interrupted by an earthquake". It lasted only 59 years, but what a life it was.

Mick was an inspirational man of character. Someone who had an understanding of people and knew the power of plain speaking and strong beliefs.

He had an extraordinary – and it's not an exaggeration to say – historically significant influence on the Labor Party.

He was above all a great moderniser, who as National Secretary helped Gough get us back into power after 23 years of opposition.

He was a steadying, moderating and uniting force.

I know that Kevin will agree that Mick had a great influence on him.

I mentioned just now how Mick played a key role in the election of the Whitlam Government.

He was also there at the conception of the Rudd Government.

I date the beginning of the thinking that led to our recent victory to those meetings Kevin and I had with Mick during the early days of Wayne Goss' premiership. When the three of us swapped ideas about what contemporary social democrats need to do to gain and hold office.

We learnt then that getting Labor elected would need us to be simultaneously modernisers, idealists and hard-headed realists, especially where economics was concerned.

This idea of Mick Young as a great moderniser and realist may surprise some people who know only that Mick came from the shearing shed and was one of those semi-criminal hate figures of the Howard era, the so-called "selfish union boss". Mick's life gives the lie to that absurd stereotype.

Extraordinary people like Mick were able to go from being nearly 200-sheep-a-day shearers to someone who could appreciate classical music, develop a fascination for Chinese culture and feel at home in the company of Zhou En-Lai.

In fact, Mick's life exposes the lie at the heart of the culture war waged by the previous government – that blue collar Australians have no interest in culture and lack compassion and empathy for others. That culture war was essentially about looking down on working families and sneering at their talents and abilities. It was a shameful episode in our history. Thankfully, one now ended. And one which, fittingly, through the antics of the Liberal Party in Penrith, contributed directly to John Howard losing Bennelong.

I know that if Mick was alive today, he – like so many Australians from blue collar backgrounds – would support a far more generous and tolerant outlook. Including a compassionate idea whose time has come: saying sorry to the Stolen Generations.

For Mick, higher education meant self-education. And that meant opportunity. Self-education is a wonderful thing.

But Mick knew that for every person like him who managed to break through, a hundred others who were denied access to a university or TAFE would miss out.

The fact was, in Mick's day, higher education of the sort the sons and daughters of working class people can now obtain, simply wasn't available.

People like Kevin and Julia and I and probably half of you in this room were able get a higher education the easy way because people like Mick helped Gough and Kim Beazley Senior make education according to talent a reality.

Sadly, over the last decade, as I moved around Australia I saw pockets of Australia where that idea of education and self-improvement for everyone, had disappeared.

I wrote about it in my book Postcode – how opportunity was becoming a function of the suburb in which you were born.

You know, nothing captures the failures and culpability of the Howard years than the fact that today there are entire suburbs of Australia in which few teenagers can realistically expect to achieve their dream of getting a tertiary education or becoming a tradie.

It's not only holding young people back; it's holding the country back, because as we know: opportunity means prosperity.

That's our mission in Government: to create prosperity so we can spread opportunity.

Which is, of course, why we are here tonight. To raise funds that will make it that little bit easier for people to say ‘yes' to opportunity.

The scholarships we're supporting here tonight may not at first glance seem large. But they are significant, very significant. It's easy to forget that for so many Australians just a few hundred dollars to pay for fees can help them make a decision that can literally change their lives.

I find it extraordinary that at the very time the rest of the world – in Europe, in America and in Mick's beloved China – was increasing its investment in education, the previous mob were disinvesting in it.

It was part of a wider problem the Howard Government had: the idea that we could opt out of the world and present-day reality, that we could relax, refuse to adapt and return to the golden years of yesterday. It was in many ways an 11-year long weekend of wasted national opportunities. Opportunities not only to educate, but to invest, to reach out to the world culturally and economically, and to make more effective spending decisions.

That's why this new Government led by Kevin Rudd is getting to work to address the new economic challenges facing Australia.

As Lindsay Tanner and I have indicated, it will involve hard spending decisions and not everyone will be happy.

But I want to reassure people that no matter what economies have to be made, there will be no retreat from the central principles that Labor took to the people last November – investment in the future, modernisation, and the interplay of prosperity and opportunity.

Our approach to the economy is simply this: to strengthen it we must modernise it.

Smart economists today recognise the interconnectedness of economic growth, education, welfare reform, social opportunity and the environment.

You can be a tough-minded economist and still have compassion.

This inclusive, compassionate and modern approach will inform the way we address Australia's economic challenges.

Friends, we can cope with whatever the world throws at us without turning our backs on the future or on the needs of hard working Australian families.

Toughness, compassion, modernisation and practical answers – these were the things that Mick Young exemplified. They're given continuing life by the work of the Mick Young Scholarship Trust.

And they lie at the heart of the Government led by the man it's my pleasure to introduce. Mick called him mate, we know him as Kevin. Ladies and gentlemen, the Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd.