SPEECH: National Schools Constitutional Convention Official Opening

SPEECH
NATIONAL SCHOOLS CONSTITUTIONAL CONVENTION OFFICIAL OPENING
OLD PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
TUESDAY, 19 MARCH 2024

Thank you, Selina for the Welcome to Country.

I acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, the Traditional Custodians of the land we gather on today, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

And I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here today.

I would also like to acknowledge:

  • The facilitators of the National Schools Constitutional Convention Emeritus Professor Clement Macintyre and Professor John Williams, who are both from the University of Adelaide.
  • Keynote speakers, Professor Kim Rubenstein, University of Canberra and Professor Anne Tiedeman from University of Sydney.
  • The National Curriculum Services, whose invaluable work of has allowed this event to happen once again this year.

And the support from state and territory education departments, as well as the Australian Curriculum Studies Association for all of their assistance in making this possible. 

It’s a great privilege to welcome you to the 29th National Schools Constitutional Convention, here in this shrine of Australian democracy, Old Parliament House. 

This building is where a young democracy came of age. 

Where some of the most consequential decisions facing our nation were made. 

During times of war and times of peace.  

I was fortunate enough to have a very similar experience to you when I was around your age. 

That was a long time ago, back in 1988. 

That was the year Parliament sat here for the last time. 

The year it moved up the hill. 

I was a kid from Cabramatta in the outer suburbs of Western Sydney. 

Seeing this place for the first time blew me away. 

To see where history was made. Where decisions are made. 

The place where Prime Minister John Curtin and his war-cabinet made decisions that would save Australia during World War Two. 

The place where the National Service Act of 1964 was passed into law and required many young men to serve in the armed forces during the Vietnam war. 

The place where the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 was passed, following the scrapping of the White Australia Policy and the creation of our great multicultural society. 

The decisions made here, and now up the hill, matter. They impact all of us.

And they are all made possible by our Constitution. 

That is what you will be exploring today and the next few days. 

Looking at the program it can seem pretty dry. 

Constitutional law. 

How the Constitution works. 

The powers of the Commonwealth versus the power of the States and how you work together. 

But it’s the foundation upon which our country is built and that we still to build on today. 

Everything from the doctor you see, the nurse that aids you, the ambulance that picks you up, the hospital you go to when you are sick… 

From the classrooms you learn in… 

The teachers that teach you… 

To the roads that you drive on or the trains or planes you catch. 

None of this happens by chance. 

It happens because of the laws that State and Commonwealth Parliaments pass.  

That’s built on the Constitution. 

They are made possible by the Constitution. 

But there is something even more important than that document. 

That’s the people that are part of this. 

I am not talking about politicians. I’m talking about you. 

As Barack Obama said, “the most important title is not ‘president’ or ‘prime minister’; the most important title is ‘citizen.’” 

Being a citizen is not just about voting, it’s about contributing. 

So, it’s important that you are here. 

It’s really important that more Australians are aware of how our system of government works. 

And not just know how it works but play a role in making it work. 

In shaping it. Improving it. 

And that doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a politician like me – although if a kid from Cabramatta can do it, you can too.  

What it really means is becoming an active and informed citizen. 

Caring for your neighbour, caring for our community and taking an informed and engaged interest in our democracy. 

And out of everything you learn in the next few days, I hope it’s that that you take home with you. 

It’s now my pleasure to officially open the National Schools Constitutional Convention for 2024.