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

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

1 March 2013

Education and Opportunity: The Mick Young Legacy

Mick Young Scholarship Gala Dinner

***Check against delivery***

Thanks, it's a great honour to be here. This dinner is always one of the highlights of my year, so in 2013 it's great to witness the launch of a new chapter for the Mick Young Scholarships.

A night like tonight brings together so much that I care about, that I know everyone in this room cares deeply about too. Especially education, and I'll be having something to say about the current struggle for a better school funding system in just a moment. All of us understand that the power and promise of education can never be underestimated. Like never before it has the power to change people's lives and make the country stronger. It's something Mick Young understood, and there's no finer way to remember him than by giving educational opportunities to more young people.

These events always bring together the Labor family and so many others in our community to whom education is a passion and a calling. It's great to see many of my parliamentary colleagues past and present in the audience. I know Bob Hawke wanted to be here tonight but he's pulled out crook. This is unfortunate as celebrations of this significance are always added to considerably when Bob is in the room. Now, I've read a lot in certain newspapers recently about how Labor should sever its links with the trade union movement. When the PM had the audacity last week to reiterate our Party's commitment to the labour movement it sent some quarters of the media into a feeding frenzy. When my colleague Bill Shorten spoke at a union conference just the other day, it was front page news you could be excused for thinking was a national scandal. Well, Bob Hawke, former Rhodes Scholar, former ACTU leader, former Prime Minister, is living proof of why we shouldn't ever take that hysterical commentary too seriously. And I'm reliably informed he'll be back on his feet in no time, prosecuting the Labor case as strongly as ever. We have other distinguished guests here too, like this State's admired and long-serving Governor, Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir. And of course the valued sponsors of the Trust, including: Matt Sandblom and Pascal Press, Robert Adams and the Transport and Logistics Industry Skills Council, Bob Rogers and the Sutherland District Trade Union Club, and John Borghetti and Virgin Australia. Thanks to all of you for making this night and this organisation possible.

Above all, tonight brings together a group of people bound together by a special memory. The memory of a lion-hearted politician. A loved husband and father. To me, a friend, a defining mentor and an enduring inspiration. The great Mick Young. It's wonderful to see Mick's family here again tonight. In particular I want to thank Janine and Mary, who give so much of themselves to keeping alive the legacy of Mick's life work. Mick's memory and passion lives and breathes through these scholarships. I often reflect on how influential Mick was on my life, particularly when I was finding my feet as a young man in the rough and tumble of the Labor Party. I still miss Mick, and regularly find myself considering what he would think or do. His advice was astute, considered and always governed by his values. I feel incredibly blessed and honoured to serve the hard working people of Australia as Treasurer, with Mick's sense of social justice and big beating heart still motivating me every day. Those values are there in every single decision I make. Others I know feel the same way – people like our Ambassador to the United States, Mick's great friend, Kim Beazley. Today, we are in the fight of our lives. Under fire from all quarters, we will draw from his spirit again. I think I know what he'd say to us: stick together, fight it out, have the courage of your convictions, and you will come through. It's Mick's memory that reminds us of what we're here to do. In so many ways, he remains our Party's conscience. His voice was one that could speak to our highest ideals. His world-view was always firmly planted over the horizon, looking at what we could do in the here and now to deliver for those who come after us. Mick was an innovator, truly in the 'future business'. Look no further than Mick and Gough's ground-breaking trip to China in 1971, the two of them acutely attuned to the possibilities of opening up this valuable relationship. When he became a Minister in 1983, he didn't miss a beat.

I'll never forget the day Mick and I went to Tasmania to speak to workers about the newly-elected Hawke Government's decision to halt the Franklin Dam. Mick being Mick, he instinctively understood the workers he was there to speak with, but he knew the environmental argument was too strong to ignore as he set about making the case. I know many of you will remember the fight – all the way to the High Court – as the Government put a stop to the construction of the dam once and for all. Then as now, we felt a heavy weight of responsibility to protect Australia's environment for our children and grandchildren to come, just as we felt an obligation to support the local workers and their community. Then as now, the fight was tough. But we took it on. Willingly. Gladly. And Mick wore that campaign badge as proudly as any other. Think about it: some 30 years ago, a working class bloke from Port Adelaide, who worked as a sheep shearer and union organiser, fighting to save a rare and beautiful wilderness for future generations to enjoy. The Franklin Dam episode demonstrates the struggle to protect the environment is embedded in the Labor story, as is our determination to build a modern economy which supports jobs and growth. These challenges have always been at the centre of our plan to build a better future for Australia. Because the best Labor governments will always strive to leave a stronger economy, a better environment and a more sustainable world for those who come after us. That's why Julia Gillard and this Government have fought so hard to put a price on carbon pollution, despite the vicious, vile and untruthful scare campaign whipped up by Tony Abbott and his goons. That reform is already doing its job, cutting emissions as our resilient economy continues to outperform the world. Mick would've been proud if he'd been here today to see it. He was part of a Labor Government which tackled some big, tough reforms in the face of strong opposition from much of the establishment. This is the archetypal model of the Labor reform story in many ways. Many of you would also remember that when Hawke and Keating brought in a resource rent tax on petroleum, our political opponents screamed that it would be the end of the industry. They also screamed when it didn't raise any revenue in the first few years – but 25 years and over $28 billion later their credibility is shot to pieces. That tax has built a lot of schools and hospitals – vital investments of the character the Minerals Resource Rent Tax will fund in years to come. Mick and his colleagues knew they'd be on the right side of history. Not many Australians would now admit they were on the wrong side of the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax debate. Just as few would now confess they opposed floating the dollar or bringing down the tariff wall. And in 25 years from now, not many will stand up and say they opposed carbon pricing or a fair share of our mineral wealth for all Australians.

I remember Mick used to regularly spout the phrase 'there is no sixth tackle rule in politics'. He may well have coined it. For those not initiated with League – or from Victoria – what he meant by that is that in politics, you don't have to volunteer the ball back. When you get your chance to carry the ball, there is an obligation to hold on tight and run hard to achieve what you believe. As I've already outlined, there will always be countless people wanting to stand in your way when you're in the reform game. For an international comparison, we saw this very clearly last year in the United States' Presidential Election. All the guns of the vested interests and their cheerleaders in the conservative media were squarely trained on President Obama, but he didn't blink. He never dropped the ball. He didn't even break his stride. He showed that the politics of fear and misinformation will always be trumped by facts and reason. He showed that an agenda for jobs and growth about the future will always prevail when the alternative is divisive and unrelenting negativity. So as a movement in 2013, we must take inspiration from President Obama's historic victory, in the great tradition that we inherited from Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Mick Young.

Mick Young was a warrior – and a fierce one at that. Sure, he was a larrikin, winding us up, leaving us in stitches over a beer or three. But first and foremost – his cause above all else – was to be a champion of the transforming power of education. For Mick, education was his North Star. Just like Julia and many of you here, he believed in his soul that a decent education was the best way to give our kids a better life. But it was more than that. Mick knew a great education is the only sure way to get a fair go for every Australian child, no matter which postcode they are born into. He learned this in his own life. He knew that it was education that could lift anybody from disadvantage. Mick believed in education as the great enabler that smashed the barriers of inherited privilege and created a country where success is built on opportunity and merit. And that's also how our Prime Minister remembers him in her message to us tonight.

She writes:

"Mick Young and education were inseparable in his lifetime and they remain inseparable today because education goes to the very heart of our collective purpose – that none of us should ever be defined by our birth, our postcode or how we look and speak."

Of course, Julia's own passion for education pours out of her every time she speaks. You can feel it just standing next to her. As she has said herself, education to her is a moral cause. A crusade. The PM's own story is as powerful example as any other. It's interesting to compare Mick's educational opportunities and Julia's. Mick was one of the most intelligent people I've ever met. But for someone born working class in 1936, university just wasn't possible. A generation later it was easier. Julia could do it. Why? Because people like Mick Young helped elect a man called Gough Whitlam who invested in state schools and removed the barriers to university for people like her. That's why. Julia's parents, denied by circumstances from finishing high school, encouraged their daughter to seize that chance they never had. It was an opportunity she grabbed with both hands. She grew up to become the Prime Minister of her parents' adopted land. An inspiring tale by any measure. And let me assure you: her wonderful old dad was proud of her – incredibly proud – and rightly so. And I couldn't be prouder to serve next to her as her Deputy, or to call her my friend. In many ways she's helped fill part of the void I feel every day since Mick passed on.

The Prime Minister believes – as we do – that education is the key to overcoming entrenched disadvantage. She believes – as we do – that our nation's prospects are inextricably linked to us winning the education race. That's why education and skills are smack bang at the heart of our plan to deliver jobs and prosperity in this Asian Century. And why we have pledged that under our National Plan for School Improvement, every school will be supported by a Resource Standard based on evidence of what it costs to educate a student at the schools we know already get strong results. We will ensure that no Australian child will miss out on going to university or getting a trade because they came from the wrong side of the tracks. I'm incredibly proud to be here tonight as we mark a new chapter in the proud history of the Trust. For over a decade, Mick Young Scholarships have helped thousands of students complete their studies. Very often it's the small things – the textbooks, toolkits, uniforms or computers – that have helped them persist and prevail. Among the annals of the Mick Young Scholarship Trust there are wonderful stories of success illustrating the difference a little bit of support can make for someone in need. Across families, communities – even generations – education's beauty is that it breaks the cycle of poverty. Educate a young adult and you don't just give them a good start, you give it to their children and eventually their grandchildren too. Like so many of the best things in life, the results of the Trust are only possible as a result of the tireless efforts of all those behind the scenes. Along with the longstanding support from businesses, institutions and individuals who have donated so generously. These dinners, which attract such a diversity of people from every corner of the community, are testament to the affection in which Mick is held.

Tonight, I'm especially glad to be able to speak about a new direction for the Mick Young Scholarships. So I'm very pleased to personally announce tonight that TAFE Directors Australia have set up a National Scholarships Foundation that will continue to award Mick Young Scholarships. Now, under the umbrella of the TDA National Scholarships Foundation, it will continue to thrive into the future. This new Foundation is an historic step in the development of an Australia-wide programme of corporate philanthropy for the benefit of technical and vocational students. It's a partnership that makes a lot of sense, linking these highly regarded scholarships with the TAFE Institutes that are the bedrock of so much of this country's skills development. Australia's TAFEs have a cherished place in the history of this country's skills development, and many TAFE students have benefitted directly from Mick Young Scholarships. I'm sure that this initiative by the TAFE Directors will strengthen that partnership and ensure that many more Australians get the chance to pursue their dreams.

Promoting education is a duty we all share – whether we're parents with our own children, supporters of the Mick Young Scholarship Trust, or members of a government. This Labor Government has already made vital changes, like uncapping university places and announced landmark reforms in the VET sector. Only Labor will deliver the National Plan for School Improvement – the Gonski plan for a better future for our kids. Landing big reforms in Australia is hard yakka – and we already know these vital reforms to education funding will be met with resistance. So Tony Abbott has a big choice to make: between his own political interest and the interests of Australia's children. My message to Mr Abbott tonight is simple: the Gonski reforms have been designed by non-political people in a spirit of goodwill, with the intention of advancing the national interest. So put the negative politics aside, do the right thing by the generation of tomorrow, and stop inciting the Liberal states to undermine the schools agreement to the detriment of their states' children. As Mick always said, education is a right, not a privilege, and the Gonski reforms will make that a reality.

Friends, before I finish I want to touch briefly on one other issue close to Mick Young's heart: the need for Australia to become a republic. Earlier I spoke about the PM's personal story, from modest migrant to Prime Minister. I can't help but reflect on the absurdity of the fact that under our current constitution, she or indeed anyone else here tonight will never be eligible to be our nation's head of state. I'm well versed in the counter argument: 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'. I must say, the longer I'm in public life, the more that simplistic idea jars with me. Because the fact is, by any credible yard-stick, it is broken. This isn't to say our democracy doesn't tick along and operate well, that is clearly the case and beyond contest. But how else can you describe a system that sees a country as successful and proud and smart as ours unable to supply its own Head of State? It doesn't add up. Particularly not now, well into our second century as a nation. Simply put, I don't believe in inherited privilege. It runs counter to the Labor philosophy. The very idea of a title taken by 'birth right' runs completely at odds with the value of achievement based on merit. Which is at the very core of what we're so focussed on here tonight in our discussion about access to education for everyone. So I do think the time has come that we renew a respectful national conversation about us moving to become an Australian Republic. We ought to say this loud and clear whenever we get the chance. I know it's an issue that may not be front-and-centre in the minds of hard working Australian families trying to make ends meet. And it is quite clear that constitutional reform of this nature won't happen overnight, and nor should that be our objective. But after a long decade of inertia on this matter, I do believe the time has come to revisit our relationship with Britain on the cusp of the Asian Century. It's unfinished business that we must have the courage to complete.

Friends, when it comes to reform, you've got to believe what you are on about. That's why I'm so confident that our Gonski school reforms will prevail in 2013, and will become part of the fabric of Australian prosperity and opportunity for generations to come. Because as far as we're concerned, opportunity through education is the trunk from which all else grows. Mick Young knew that. It is Mick who brought us here today. It's Mick we think about when we reflect on the things that make us Labor. His determination to never give up on seeing education's promise realised in every Australian life still inspires us. If you doubt me, just watch the next few months and see. Watch our stand for better schools for every Aussie child. I know Mick would've been proud of us for taking that stand. And I know he would have loved what tonight is all about: the great Labor principle of equal opportunity for all. Thank you once again for celebrating his life.