Address to Ballarat Grammar, Ballarat

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Address to Ballarat Grammar, Ballarat




Well headmaster Stephen Higgs, thank you for the opportunity to be here today and speak to the students of Ballarat Grammar.  I also know there are students here from Ballarat High School, Loreto College, Ballarat Specialist School, Glenvale School, Ballarat Christian College, Damascus College and St Patrick’s College.  And I want to welcome each and every one of you. 

Can I also thank the Chaplin for his prayer this morning.  It is certainly the first prayer I have ever heard that included the Current Account Deficit.  More prayer in that respect would be gratefully received!

I am disappointed I didn’t see the snow here in Ballarat.  I was told that if I got here today I might see the snow and it would have been a wonderful sight.  As you know there is a cold snap which is over much of eastern Australia at the moment.  And it caught me last weekend.  I went out to start my car last Saturday and the battery was flat, completely flat.  So I had to ring up the RACV to get someone to come around and start it.  When I rang up the RACV the operator on the end of the line asked me what the registration number was and I gave it to her.  She then said: ‘what is your surname?’  And I said: ‘Costello.’  ‘And what is your Christian name?’  I said: ‘Peter.’  And the lady on the other end of the telephone said: ‘Peter Costello, fancy that.  You have got the same name as our Treasurer!’  I said: ‘I sure have.’  She said: ‘I suppose everyone says that to you, do they, you have the same name as the Treasurer?’  I said: ‘you wouldn’t believe how many people tell me I have the same name as the Treasurer.’

Of course being in public life does lead to funny situations.  But it also leads to great opportunities.  Government is a trust, it is a trust that the people put in their leaders.  A trust that they put in them to so manage the country, its services, its economy, its defence, its security, to create a better life for all of us. 

The Commonwealth of Australia is our nation, our country that we all participate in.  And one of the opportunities I have as Treasurer every five years is to conduct the Census.  The Census is the largest peacetime undertaking that we conduct in this country.  One of the things that we try and find out, when we do a Census, is how many people there are in Australia.  You would be surprised that this is not a matter of exact science.  We are trying to find out what age they are, where they live, what their housing needs will be, where the schools will have to be set up, where the roads will have to be built.  And we send collectors out throughout the country to gather all of this information. 

We got our results from the 2006 Census just two weeks ago.  And it gives us a snapshot of our society.  We can compare the snapshot of 2006 with 2001, 1996 and so on.  Can you imagine if your Mum and Dad had pictures on the wall of you at zero and five and 10 and 15, 20, 25 and 30, 35.  You would see snapshots of how you have grown, how you have aged, how you have lost your hair, how you have got fat – or glamorous as the case might be. 

This is what the Census does for our country.  It gives us a snapshot – every five years – on how we have changed.  And it shows some very interesting changes between your generation and my generation.  One of the changes that our Census has shown us has occurred since I was at school nearly 30 years ago, for example, is that you are expected on average, to live seven years longer than my generation.  When I was born life expectancy for males was 71, today it’s 78.  In my lifetime, life expectancy in Australia has increased seven years. 

When I was at school 35 per cent of Australian children finished Year 12.  Today 75 per cent finish.  The number of Australian students that are finishing school today has more than doubled.  When I was finishing school, 7 per cent of the population had a university degree.  Today 20 per cent of the population has a university degree.  In 1981, average weekly earnings were $270 a week and today it is $1,070.  Even if we adjust it for inflation, in constant dollars in 1981, it was $750 compared to $1,070 today.  Today 58 per cent of Australian households have the internet.  When I was leaving school the number of households with the internet was zero.  The internet hadn’t yet been invented, nor had the mobile phone or the fax. 

And so, your generation will be very different to previous generations.  You will live longer.  You will have higher incomes.  You will marry later and you will have fewer children per family.  You will be more highly educated.  You will have access to information at a rate that previous generations couldn’t even imagine.  And you will be doing it in what I hope will be one of the most prosperous countries in the world. 

We have 21 million people in Australia according to our Census figures, that is 0.3 of 1 per cent of the globe’s population.  Think about that for a moment – 0.3 of 1 per cent of the globe’s population.  In global terms Australia is a small country.  And although we only have 0.3 of 1 per cent of the globe’s population we are the 14th largest economy in the world because this is a country with very high per capita income. 

I don’t need to tell you in Ballarat I am sure, of some of the great industries that created the modern Australia.  The mining industry has been one of the greatest – and that is why Ballarat is here.  I am sure I don’t need to tell you that people came here looking for opportunity, and they built a life here, and they started a town.  The thing that always amazes me, as you see these cities, these buildings, is the way they built for the future.  They built educational institutions, churches, mechanics institutes.  These were people who came to work, and they worked, and they saved, and they invested.  And I want to see Australia do that in the years which lie ahead.

So what will you do for the future, you the education generation, you the generation that will live longer with higher incomes and information than any other generation in Australian history?

Well one of the things that we can and we will do is we will reach out to the region around us and lend them a helping hand.  When the Tsunami hit Indonesia, Australia reached out with financial help.  As we speak today, there are young soldiers, not much older than the senior students here, who are serving in the Solomon Islands, 20-year-olds who I have met that are keeping the peace in the Solomon Islands and East Timor.  There are Australians who are in the mountains of Afghanistan, not much older than you.  Young Australians are training Iraqi security forces to help stabilise that country.  I heard the headmaster tell me about a project you have got called Mothers with AIDS in Africa.  Last year I had the opportunity to go and see the Australian aid project in Soweto outside Johannesburg where Kindergarten teachers are working with orphans whose parents have died of AIDS.  There is a whole pre-school of 50 kids with no parents because their parents have died of AIDS.  Australia is lending a helping hand to fund that Kindergarten and to help out in various regions of the world.

What else will you do?  We invest in the education of our young people because you will be the drivers of our future.  What is that you think drives an economy?  What makes one country prosperous and another not?  Sometimes it is resources but there are plenty of countries with resources that are not prosperous countries.  And there are some countries with no resources that do well – Singapore and Hong Kong.  The skills and ingenuity of a people create the wealth of a country.  You have got to give people the skills that they need to create wealth and enable them to apply them to grow a modern economy.  And so we must invest in our education. 

What else do we do with our economic strength?  We must invest in our environment.  This is a wonderful country, but it is dry.  And we have been reminded of that with the recent drought.  We must harvest our water better and invest in it better and use it better and not waste it, and confront the great challenge too of global warming, which will be a great challenge for our generation. 

And how will we use this prosperity in lending a helping hand, in helping those around us in investing in education and dealing with the environment and global changes?  We are an ageing population.  A larger and larger proportion of our population is at retirement age for two reasons.  One is we are all living longer and the other is we are having fewer children.  So a larger proportion are now in the older age group and it is going to take a lot of healthcare.  One of my colleagues once said to me, he said: ‘Peter, why do you spend all your time worrying about the ageing of the population and what is going to happen in 2040?  You are not going to be in government then.  Surely they will have found another Treasurer by 2040!’  I said: ‘but I am going to be in an aged care home and I want to make sure somebody is funding it, and bringing the meals in, changing the beds and doing all of those things for our generation.’ 

And so I have got bad news for you: it is going to be your generation that is going to be funding aged care and health care for the aged and all of those things.  And so I have decided that if I can set up an intergenerational fund which can ease some of the financial costs for your generation, this will give you a much better go and a much better start in life.

This is the focus of good economic policy.  It is not just today, but it is for future generations to see what we can build.  And this is a great tradition of Australia. 

The miners came to Ballarat and they dug their mines and they built their buildings so that the next generation could come along and use them and enjoy the benefits of a better country.  Each generation should build and save and invest for the next, not mortgage the prospects of the next generation, but pass on to them a better prospect, a better town, a better country.  This is what I call intergenerational equity:- fairness between generations.  And you have wonderful opportunities to take part in all of this, and our Census would show it, that opportunities are as good but most probably much better than any previous generation.  And we will look to you to pick up the challenge, to take our country forward and to achieve these goals and make it what it can be – to lend a helping hand, to educate our young, look after our old, to care for our environment and confront the great challenges of the future. 

Be the best that you can be.  Use your opportunity to the fullest extent and give back to your community, your city, your State, your nation, everything that you can. 

Thank you all very much for your time