Speech to the Commonwealth Bank Teaching Awards



Simon Birmingham:     Thank you very much Adam for your welcome. It’s wonderful to be with you all today. You are right, there is no national space agency that I get to announce today, but that was, indeed, a momentous event – an event at which we were able to talk about aspiration, to talk about vision for our nation, which I was also able to link it back to the dreams and hopes of young children. And I told a story at that event of one of my daughters telling me as we went off to school one morning – a day when I was happily in Adelaide and able to take her along and she said: daddy, after school today, can we go to the moon? I said: it’s not that easy to go to the moon. She says: after school today, can we go to the moon? I said: well, you need a spaceship or a rocket to get to the moon. Oh well, after school today, can we get a spaceship or a rocket to get to the moon? I said: well, I’m not sure that mummy and daddy can afford a spaceship or a rocket and I’m not sure where we’d go to get one; they’re very hard to make and build and very tricky, and they’re very, very expensive. And she said: well, really, why can’t we just go and buy one? I said, they’re very expensive. And she said: well daddy, you’ll just have to work harder.


And I was sort of inspired that at least she had an appreciation of work ethic and direction, but of course, more to the point there, the lesson is, absolutely one of that sense of dream and vision and hope that young children have in all of their innocence, and that is in part what we are celebrating today.


Uncle Alan thank you for your welcome to Gadigal, and I acknowledge the Gadigal people and all those of the Eora nation and as I do often, as Australia’s Education Minister, acknowledge all Australia’s Indigenous peoples and that as a nation we are continuing to learn more of Indigenous culture and knowledge; to learn more from Indigenous culture and knowledge, and together, to build on that Indigenous culture and knowledge as a country.


Can I also acknowledge my ministerial colleague, New South Wales Minister Rob Stokes. It’s wonderful to be here with you Rob and for the work that you continue to do in cooperation with us nationally and across states and territories to help to build, indeed, a wonderful education landscape in Australia. And I acknowledge all of those, of course, who do such great work here with Schools Plus: the board; Rosemary and the leadership team – those pioneers who have contributed.


And most significantly, of course, all of the teachers and educators in the room today, who we are here to celebrate. Saint Francis of Assisi said that it is in giving that we receive. It is in giving that we receive, and in gathering here, this is absolutely a celebration of giving in all of its form. The pioneers who give- they’ve given of dollars and time and inspiration and money to establish Schools Plus, to make sure that the support is there to put a highlight upon the work of our wonderful educators and to help build an even greater school and education system across Australia.


But, of course, underpinning that: the giving of teachers and educators across Australia, who every single day give of their time, their labour, their energy, their inspiration, their knowledge. That is what they are seeking to do: to take children, such as my young daughters, to take that innocence and that inspiration and to harness it. And often times they do it in some of the most difficult of circumstances; circumstances where the home lives of the children are not as easy; circumstances where the challenges that children bring to school are difficult ones and require additional focus and support. Often times I know that teachers are working to overcome all of those additional barriers that aren’t just about the learning, but of course are about emotional, personal and social development of children. And that the aspiration they seek in terms of those who leave our schools, is not just one of knowledge, but also one of capability to progress and succeed in our society.


To meet some of the teachers who are here is, of course, an inspiration for all of us who see what they do, who hear of their stories and who learn of their successes. Sometimes transformations come through simple changes, or they seem simple at least, such as Merrylands East Public School’s pursuit of earlier starting times; when kids are concentrating and focused. Sounds easy. Not too easy to implement. Other times, challenges are more elaborate in terms of reform – right through to the elaborate concept of the Hobart College, Tasmanian Secondary Colleges’ pursuit of a simulated five-bed hospital space for the teaching of those students and support of those students pursuing nursing pathways.


The different visions; the different focus; the different leaders, principals, teachers, have to bring across our schools to be able to provide success for. All of them are worthy of our thanks and our gratitude, our inspiration. These awards are a great opportunity to highlight some of those successes; to build the capabilities of some of our best and brightest across the teaching profession.


I do want to pay particular tribute to David Gonski, who’s here today, for his passion and drive and interest in the education landscape, but particularly in the establishment of Schools Plus and helping to bring about today. David, thank you for what you have done.


And you are a very humble person, and you would want me to pivot straight back into the importance of the work of the teachers. A group of fellows who I met before, who over the last 12 months have been stimulated by discussion between themselves, with others across the nation, who said to me: one of the things we lack is the opportunity to come together as a profession, free of state borders, free of sectoral differences, and to actually share knowledge, practice professionalism and learn from each other, and the opportunity that this has provided to allow us to elevate ourselves even above the national landscape, and to think globally in terms of learning from other nations and their best practice. It is great that you have had those opportunities. It is wonderful that another group of fellows will have those opportunities. But of course, it remains most important, all that you do on a day-to-day basis back in your schools.


Today, we come to give thanks, to give thanks for all that you give, to celebrate all that you achieve, to congratulate you on that, to give special congratulations to the new fellows who will be awarded and recognised today. I’m sorry I can’t be here for the entirety of today’s event, but I am absolutely motivated by what you’re doing, eager to visit some of your schools to see what you’re doing in a hands on sense, and to make sure that, as we work together, Rob, myself, state and territory ministers of all political persuasions, across all states and territories, we work to help you to continue to do your best and to build even better schools and outcomes for our students in the future. Thanks so very much.