Release type: Speech


2020 Youth Summit Launch

2020 Youth Summit Parliament House, Canberra

It’s a terrific pleasure to be here today.

Let me start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet—the Ngunnawal people. Thank you Agnes (Shea) for your welcome to country.May I also acknowledge and welcome the 2020 Youth Summit Co-Chairs — The Honorable Kate Ellis, Federal Minister for Youth and Sport and Hugh Evans, 2004 Young Australian of the Year. We are also very luck to have Hugh Mackay here to speak to us a bit later this morning.

Welcome to the Youth Summit Steering Committee members.

And a very big welcome to each and every one of the 100 2020 Youth Summit delegates.

It’s no wonder there’s a real sense of excitement here today.

Because the 2020 Youth Summit is the opening event in something unique in our history – a national festival of ideas – and an attempt to involve the whole community in thinking about the country’s future direction.

As you will know from your study of history, the future can’t start from scratch. Where that’s been tried, the result is usually disastrous. The future has to build on the past.

And so I want to start with a story about the past.

Recently, Australian archaeologists have been digging up large numbers of interesting objects at a desert site by the Hope Downs Iron Ore Mine, around 310 kilometres from Port Hedland in Western Australia.

They’re just small things: cutting tools that can fit in the palm of your hand; microscopic seed remains; charcoal from ancient fires.

Not much, you would think.

But using complex radiocarbon tests, scientists have dated them as at least 35,000 years old. And they’re confident that just below these finds there is another layer of human-created objects that push the timeline of these discoveries back to 40,000 years.

It’s being regarded by some as one of the most significant prehistoric records of humanity ever found – with the potential to tell us a great deal not only about the people who preceded us, but our ancient climate as well.

I want you to consider the implications of this.

It means that for 1,000 generations, Australians – in this case the Martidja Banyjima people – have been digging, cutting and transforming Australia’s landscape and climate, and creating a civilisation here, where we live.

But in the last 220 years since the arrival of the First Fleet – and most notably during the last century and a half when the industrial revolution was brought to Australia – our impact on the country has accelerated – to the point where, within the space of just a handful of generations, we may have inflicted irreversible and perhaps highly damaging change on our home.

The next couple of decades will confirm whether or not this is true.

Now, we don’t want to idealize Australia’s distant past. Progress has brought untold benefits. But it has also thrown up challenges.

Not just the challenge of dangerous climate change – but new forms of inequality, new health problems, transport congestion and a host of new moral issues for us to deal with. This is the history on which our future has the built – and the issues you must address.

Each of us stands at the end of that 40,000 years of Australian climatic, economic, social, technological and creative change.

My generation is responsible for its fair share of what has occurred – the good and the bad.

And next week some 900 other members, mostly of my generation, along with Hugh and ten others from today’s audience will follow you to Canberra.

There will be a lot of expertise and knowledge among them.

They will propose a lot of policy ideas.

But they won’t be the ones who have to carry the most long-term and perhaps most important of their ideas through to completion. They won’t have to live with the consequences.

As the 1,001st generation of inhabitants of Australia, that responsibility will eventually fall to you.

It’s therefore vital that we listen to you. That means that the discussions you have here this weekend – which will be fed directly into the communiqué at the end of the Summit – matter a great deal.

And let me reassure you that the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the 2020 Summit Chair, Professor Davis, will examine your ideas with the utmost seriousness.

And of course, this Summit is the tip of the iceberg.

Your discussions will be building on the ideas discussed in the 2020 Schools Summits held in more than 500 schools, involving many thousands of students.

We’ve collected those ideas together in theVoices of the Futuredocument I launched yesterday.

You can’t help but be impressed by the excitement, enthusiasm and commitment that is contained in the record of the Schools Summits.

Young Australia has really jumped on board wholeheartedly—and more than that, they’ve used this unprecedented opportunity to put forth some really sound and important ideas.

I can’t do justice to the range and depth of responses in the short time I have to talk to you today, so let me leave the last word on the 2020 Schools Summits with the students themselves via a short video which I think captures the essence of what these summits were about.

What inspiring stuff. And a great start to the 2020 Australia Summit.

To those who organised the individual Schools Summits—the many school principals, teachers, administrators, student leaders, volunteers and parents—can I say a sincere thank you.

And to you – the 1,001st generation, the inheritors of the past and the creators of our future – may your debates be incisive and respectful of each other. May they achieve a tone of hope and idealism that sets an example for the other summiteers to emulate next week.

I would now like to ask Minister for Youth and co-chair of the Youth Summit, the Hon Kate Ellis to join me up here as I officially hand over the key findings from the School Summits.

Thank you and best wishes to each and every one of you for the Summit.