Remarks at the Fulbright Scholarship Gala Dinner, Canberra

Simon Birmingham: Thank you very much and good evening ladies and gentlemen. Melissa, thank you for your welcome to country before. I’d like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people and elders of the Canberra region and indeed all Australia’s traditional owners.

It’s a real thrill to be with you all tonight and a pleasure to be representing Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who, of course, has just returned from the United States where he reaffirmed the very close friendship, a long, indeed, 100 years of mateship between our two countries. Ambassador [indistinct] welcome back, albeit for a good time and a long time it seems from this trip. Other distinguished guests, Fulbright scholars, alumni, family, friends, supporters, educationalists, ladies and gentlemen, all.

William Fulbright said that bridges can be built across the chasm of ideology. Now, when he said those words it was in a vastly different era. In the era, of course, at the end of World War II, at a period of time when establishing this program, he was envisaging bridging those chasms in the face of what was seen as profound ideological differences and battles that occurred around the world.

Today, we see a very different world but a one where there are perhaps even more chasms at times to be breached, chasms that exist across a range of different fields of knowledge, activity pursuit, and sadly still between nations. And it’s for this reason why Fulbright, and other programs like it, continue to better provide such a valuable basis on which provide not just life changing experiences for individuals, but also to provide, of course, the type of relationships, knowledge that can indeed change the nation and change the direction of our world.

In just a few short minutes of coming in here tonight, I had the great pleasure of being introduced to a few of the scholars, and in those few minutes I could have been tied up for the next few hours if not days with engaging conversations about transformative power, digital technology across vocational education. The impact that climate change will have on nutrition, the management of energy systems in the face of the rise of renewable energies and technologies. And I particularly acknowledge that if you have a look down the back at the policy work there, there are even some front pages from my hometown newspaper where the energy policy’s been a notable topic of recent time. Lessons for the shale gas revolution, Indigenous education in comparison between United States and Australia. Of course, the list goes on and on right around the walls of this great hall, the diversity of topics, but more tellingly, the passion, the skill, the expertise of the individuals. It’s for this reason why our Fulbright scholars have had such incredible impact throughout the rich history of this scholarship.

Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners, High Court justices, imminent scientists, CEOs of top companies, even humble members of parliament or ministers. In fact, two of my current ministerial colleagues, the Health Minister and the Urban Infrastructure Minister are both Fulbright scholars. It is, without exaggeration, the largest and most prestigious amongst the academic scholarships of the world, it stands very proudly.

This year, some 58 individuals will push the boundaries of academic knowledge. From agricultural policy, head injuries in rugby players, to nuclear disarmament, and theoretical physics. Likewise, we welcome American researchers and academics undertaking their programs here in Australia, bringing with them valuable expertise in public health, greater technology, astrophysics, amongst others. The quality of this year’s participants is particularly high but building, standing as such on the shoulders of the giants who have gone before in the Fulbright Scholarship.

I note there is not one but two Australian recipients of the prestigious Anne Wexler Scholarship in Public Policy, which the Australian Government is particularly pleased to fund and support. Anne Wexler, as many would know, having had a long and abiding interest in fostering Australian and American relations.

This program wouldn’t be possible without the support of the Australian and American Fulbright Commission, the United States Embassy, along with the companies, universities, organisations that recognise its importance.

But most of all, most of all it wouldn’t be worthwhile without the extraordinary talent, expertise of individual scholars, the support they receive from their academic institutions, families and others.

So, tonight, a hearty congratulations to all those participants in the program this year. You have much to be proud of. But from that we also expect much from you, and know that we will receive rich rewards for the investment that has been made in you through the Fulbright scheme, because of the knowledge, talents, and skills that you bring to it.

Thank you very much.