Graduation Awards Speech

Release Date: 
13 March 2014

Ladies and gentlemen

It is a great pleasure to be here today at this Graduation Ceremony here in Brisbane.

I live in Melbourne and work most of the time in Canberra, as the Prime Minister's Parliamentary Secretary - a grand title, but it means one of his junior ministers.

But I was particularly keen to come to this Ceremony and wish you well on behalf of the Prime Minister and the Australian Government.

Because what we are recognising today is of course your personal achievement.  But it is more than that.

Your achievement is also a step towards a national achievement.

And because of that, it brings extra responsibilities upon you that perhaps other graduating people elsewhere will not have.

There are two groups that we are recognising here today.

First, the 16 people who constitute the graduating class in their Certificate III.  By graduating today, you have earned your ticket to opportunity. Congratulations!

And that opportunity is to work -- or in most cases continue to work -- in one of the most important fields in Australia:  early childcare care and learning.

As you no doubt know, how well one does in those early years of life determines so much about a person's trajectory later on.

Those who are read to, receive love and care, are more likely to do well in all aspects of life.

We are finally as a nation starting to realise this and consequently invest in it.

As a parent, there is nothing more important than the care and safety of your children.

You are now qualified to do this.

To achieve this, many of you have no doubt overcome hurdles and obstacles that I can only imagine. So I salute you for your achievement and I am proud to be here with you.

The second group we are recognising are those who have now been in employment for two years or more.

You are heroes for the commitment you have shown and the impact on others that you will have made.

But more, you are now the role models for others, showing what can be achieved with persistence and determination.

Congratulations to you also.

I said at the outset that what you have achieved personally is also a step towards a national achievement.

I am part of the new Abbott Government, and we have never had such a strong commitment from a PM to Indigenous affairs - to bridging the gap and for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to be reconciled.

Each year the Prime Minister tables a report in parliament which shows how we are going in 'closing the gap'.  The PM of the day reports against 6 indicators. And like in many reports, this year's report was mixed.

On the measures which look at the early years, we are doing well as a nation. Infant mortality has almost closed and 95% of Indigenous four years olds have access to pre-school.

On other indicators we are just holding – in particular, the health and education indicators.

And on one indicator we are going backwards - the gap is getting larger. And that is in employment.

This is particularly disturbing because arguably employment is the most important indicator of all.  Because we know if you have a job, then the other factors tend to follow - your health, your housing, your care for children and your overall well-being.

I also believe that employment is central to reconciliation.

Because at its heart, reconciliation is about people meeting, walking together and learning about similarities and differences.

It is almost impossible to have reconciliation without those personal connections.  But where do we get those connections in adult life?

For most of us, it is through work - doing a project together, around the staff common room, at Christmas parties etc.

So what you have achieved today is a step forward for yourself and your families, but also for the nation. You are still in the minority among aboriginal people in having a job. We have to turn this around.

You are part of this and consequently have bigger responsibilities.  We want you to continue to succeed. We need you to continue to succeed. We want to put in place mechanisms so that others can follow in your footsteps.

Because if we are to be reconciled as a nation; if we are to close the gap, then we must get more Indigenous people into work.

And that can only be done one person at a time - completing their training, acquiring the job and sticking at it, even when times are tough.

I am very proud to be with you today.  You have achieved so much already for yourselves and your family and you are making a great contribution to our nation.