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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 15167

Speech at the James Ruse Agricultural High School,Carlingford

Photo of Howard, John

Howard, John

Period of Service: 11/03/1996 to 03/12/2007

More information about Howard, John on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 12/01/2007

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 15167

Subjects: Education policy.

E&OE ...............................

Well thank you very much Theresa for that very nice introduction. To Mr Michael Quinlan the Principal of James Ruse, to Matthew Rudd the President of the SRC, to my Parliamentary colleague, the Federal Member for Parramatta, other very distinguished guests, teachers of the school, parents and members of the student body. It is for me a special privilege to come for the first time I think in my life and certainly the first time in my public life and certainly as prime minister to this very distinguished and highly regarded school.

Over the last few weeks as all Australia has reflected upon the remarkable success of the Olympic Games. Remarkable not only for the great achievements of the athletes who represented Australia. Remarkable not only for the smooth organisation. Remarkable not only for the very high levels of attendance. Remarkable not only for the incredible enthusiasm generated not only here in Sydney, but around Australia. But also most of all and for me most importantly of all remarkable because it put on display to the rest of the world all that is good and meritorious and worthy about our country. Not only our efficiency and our capability, but also our friendliness and our capacity because we are essentially an egalitarian nation as well as a nation that strives to achieve our capacity to make a great international event work like that in a smooth and harmonious fashion. And there can be little doubt that the whole event has done our country proud. It has demonstrated to the rest of the world what a friendly, open, decent people we always suspected we really were. But it's nice to feel that we've had an event that drives home the point to the rest of the world.

And in the wake of all of that there's been a lot of debate hasn't there about what does it all mean for the future? How do we garner and harness this tremendous surge of legitimate pride in what Australia represents and what Australia really is? How do we convert the, the emotional momentum of the Olympic Games to the greater national good? There have been plenty of theories, plenty of ideas about what we ought to do. And I've thought about this a lot as prime minister. I've shared the sense of pride as an Australian. I've shared the sense of excitement. I've felt a great sense of satisfaction that the rest of the world could see us in such a positive light. And I've thought to myself, if there's one thing that came through from the Games very strongly and that is that we are a country that believes in striving for the very best in sport. Sport's a very important part of the national cement of this country. It's part of our psyche. It's one of the things that helps define this country as being special and distinctive. We're not the only country that loves sport, but we seem to love it in a particular way and there seems to be an accessibility to sport for people in this country that is denied even in countries such as the United States and other countries with which we normally make comparisons. And as I think about what is the great legacy of the Games that can best be converted to our national advantage as Australians and I would think the very thing that we strive to achieve in sport we should strive to achieve in every aspect of our lives and that's striving for excellence.

Now you may not think that is a particularly original text if I can put it that way for a speech by the prime minister at James Ruse which sort of has that as its school motto. But I think it is very relevant to the sort of things that face this country. We should never as a society lose sight of the fact that one of the great qualities of Australia is that we are an egalitarian society, we do believe in that great colloquialism in a 'fair go' for everybody. But there's nothing inconsistent with a fair go for everybody and striving for excellence. And if we can take out of the Olympic Games a renewed commitment to achieving every element of excellence we can in every part of our endeavour as Australians. If we can see the pursuit of excellence as school or in university. If we can see the pursuit of excellence in business life. If we can see the pursuit of excellence in cultural life. If we can see the pursuit of excellence in public life. In all aspects of life with the same degree of concentrated, focused commitment as we displayed as a sporting nation at the Olympic Games then we will be putting down a far greater legacy of long-term benefits for Australia than I can possibly think of.

This school has every reason to be particularly proud of what it represents. It is by common acclaim amongst the very front rank of secondary schools, government or independent anywhere in Australia. It repeatedly outperforms most if not all in higher school certificate results here in New South Wales. And it must rank in the history of illustrious government schools of Australia, very much amongst the very greatest, such as Fort Street and Perth Modern and Melbourne High and many other government schools around our country that over the years have made such a massive contribution to the educational life. And it's no accident this school does so well. It is firmly committed to the selective principle. And there's nothing wrong with that. And I am very pleased indeed that the New South Wales' education system under successive governments has preserved the notion of having selective high schools within the public education system. That is not in any way to confront those who do not get to selective high schools with any concept of elitism. Rather it is to recognise that if we are to get the best out of our young people and if we are to give them the best then an element of selectivity within the education system is necessary.

There are many things we need to make the education system good. We need to provide choice, not only between systems of education, but within systems. We need strong parental support. We need to provide an underpinning and a safety net for those who struggle more than others. We need to have a focus on basic standards of literacy and numeracy. We need to pursue and honour excellence as your school constantly does. And very importantly we need to honour the teaching profession as playing an incredibly important role in moulding the future of this country.

Whenever I address school gatherings and I have opportunities from time to time -school gatherings like this, smaller gatherings, larger gatherings, younger, older children, all sorts of different schools in different parts of Australia - I think of two things constantly, I think of the choice that is available within the education system of Australia and that's a very important component of a fully developed education system, but I also think of the dedication of teachers. It is harder to be a teacher now than it was forty or fifty years ago because the pastoral responsibilities that are thrown on teachers now are much greater than what they were forty or fifty years ago. And therefore I think the burden that is carried by teachers now is infinitely greater. There will always be within our community debate about what emphasis and in what area should be placed on different aspects of education.

But I hope that there will always remain a strong consensus across the board that any country that seeks to achieve excellence must within its education system and certainly at a primary and secondary level adopt the sort of principles of pursuit of excellence and selectivity that James Ruse has adopted. It's been no accident that this school has done so well and won so many laurels and tributes deservedly so, because it's based its practice upon some very sound principles. It's worked within the education system of New South Wales, but it has also developed a culture and ethos all of its own. And as somebody who's visited many schools over the years, that distinctive culture and ethos is very apparent. You are obviously a school that treats every student as an individual.

The Principal spoke of the collaborative decision making process that is involved between students, staff and parents. You are a school that has a nice mixture of tradition and modernity and isn't that about the right balance that we ought to have? We should never be hidebound by tradition, we should never be slaves to tradition, but we should never pretend that our past doesn't in some areas validly and honestly instruct us about present and our future. But you have also embraced the challenges of a modern, globalised world in which we live. The emphasis of your curriculum, the way in which you have properly this morning honoured Olympiads in knowledge and academic achievement, that is a recognition of the real world in which Australia and all of you live. And of course as I move around you are a marvellous representation of the mixed ethnic position of Australia in the year 2001. And you are a reminder to all of us of the tremendous nourishment that Australia has derived over the years through successive waves of immigration from different parts of the world.

Now all of it, in a sense, comes together in a school like this. The recognition of excellence, the right balance of tradition and modernity. A collaborative approach between the students, the teachers and always of course the parents. I think all of those things speak well of what you have achieved here and it is no wonder that so many speak so well of this school and so many seek to be part of this school community.

So ladies and gentlemen if I may conclude where I began and that is that if the Olympic games had the impact on us that we all know in our hearts it did, if we are seeking a permanent legacy or a permanent monument let that legacy and let that monument be the constant pursuit of excellence in all aspects of our lives. Thank you.


Transcript 15167