Transcript Of Q&A With Students
TUE 11 DECEMBER 2012
Mary MacKillop College, Sydney
Subject(s): Australia’s future; Leadership; Public life and the pressures of politics; Role models and advice
PM: Thank you very much, that was about Australia’s future. I could talk a long time about that, but I think here at school the best thing to say is that my plan for Australia’s future is actually all about you as we look at the century in which you’re going to live, it’s going to be defined by growth in the Asian region of the world, the region we live in.
So it’s going to be a century full of opportunity. I can’t predict to you everything that’s going to happen in the century but I can certainly confidently predict that this century is going to see Asia’s further rise, and that’s going to give you all sorts of job opportunities for the future if we’re smart enough to seize them.
And seizing them means making sure that we’ve got a great quality education system. So it’s going to be about you, your skills and capacities, and it’s going to be about a drive to make sure our schooling system – all of our schools – are in the world’s top five.
That we are running behind the pace when it comes to education. Because if we let ourselves run behind the pace in education, we’ll end up running behind the pace in everything.
So you’re at the centre of my plans for the nation’s future, which is why I always love to come to schools. Thanks for the question.
PM: Okay that was a question about resilience in the face of the media, we might be able to get some of the media to comment on that.
I think the most important thing whatever your walk of life is, and obviously being the first woman Prime Minister I’m in a pretty high pressure role and a very publicly exposed role.
But whatever your walk of life is, you will get criticism, you will get people who try and make you feel badly about yourself.
Indeed I’m sure that there are some students in this assembly who during the course of their time at school or during the things that they do outside of school, have encountered a bit of criticism and maybe that’s upset them when the criticism has come.
I think the main thing about resilience is to make sure you’ve got a really strong sense of yourself and a really strong sense of purpose.
You shouldn’t let your image of yourself be buffeted by what others say about you.
You’ve got to have a really strong sense of who you are and also a really strong sense of what you want to do.
And if you can stay true to that purpose and make sure that you’re staying true to your sense of self, then I think that brings a real resilience to it.
So don’t be hostage to other people’s opinions. Make sure that you’re being very strong in your own image of yourself and very passionate about what you choose to be your life’s driving purpose.
Thanks for the question.
STUDENT: Prime Minister, what do you believe are the key challenges for being in political life and being a woman in political life?
PM: Alright, challenges for political life and for being a woman in political life. Political life I think is pretty challenging for everyone because itis a job of such responsibility.
At heart it means that people – your local community, your nation – has asked you to do a series of very difficult things on their behalf to guide the policies and plans for the nation’s future, entrusting you with the nation’s security, entrusting you with the future of our economy in jobs and opportunity, entrusting you with the future of education, the future of healthcare.
So these are big, responsible things, so they’re challenging for anyone who goes into public life, particularly going into public life in federal politics.
That challenge is added to by the amount of time that you’re away from home, so every member of parliament – Chris would be able to speak about this, Peter would be able to speak about it – spends a lot of time away from home in Canberra, around the nation, missing out on family events.
And particularly for members of parliament who’ve gone into parliament and had family while they’re there, their kids are very young while they’re in parliament. That can be a very testing thing.
So public life’s full of challenges, I think particularly for women, for me as the first woman to do this job, I’m amongst the generation that is normalising an image of women being in politics and an image of women being in leadership, so I think at the time perhaps you decide you would like to be Prime Minister of this country it will be very common for a woman to be Prime Minister, a man to be Prime Minister, and people won’t bother that much about whether it’s a woman or whether it’s a man because they’ll be normal images of leadership.
For me being the first, it’s brought some new, I think, focus – things about hair, things about dress, things about the occasional stumble in high heels (inaudible) – perhaps they needed to be but perhaps that’s part of the process of making this a very normal image to the nation about what leadership’s about.
PM: In terms of what motivated me, what got me into public life, what was the first thing that I ever did publicly, revolved around education.
I talked to you about my school days in South Australia.
I went from those school days to Adelaide University and I also felt very privileged to go because it had not been the norm in my family to go the university. My fatherhadn’t gone, my mother hadn't gone, so it was a big privilege to go.
It is a big privilege that only came to me because of the action of a Government, of a Labor Government, of the Whitlam Labor Government, abolishing upfront fees for university because it would have been terribly difficult for my family to have saved up to try and pay fees for me and my sister to go to university.
I don't think they would have been able to manage it. So I’ve always had this special sense of privilege about going.
When I was there, there was an agenda about cutting back university funding and the first thing that really got me involved in saying anything publicly was getting involved in a campaign to try to stop those funding cuts.
Because I thought it is such a great thing to get to go to university it was really bad that a Government was making a decision which might limit those opportunities for people in the future.
And we did have some success. We had a student protest around the country and lots of lobbying and all the rest of it and the Government proceeded with some of the cutbacks but not all of the cutbacks.
And that reinforced to me if you lifted your voice you could make a difference to the future of the country and that was the starting point that all these years later has led to this.
So that is what motivated me to get involved in public life.
How I feel about it, being the first woman, it is a great privilege, it is a great responsibility.
I get to do some amazing things, but the thing I like absolutely the best is making decisions today which I know will make a difference to our nation in the future. And having been in government now since 2007 I can see some things that I decided to do – like the National Partnership system – which are making a difference, they’re making a difference in your school.
So that’s the best thing about it and I would certainly say for all of the stresses and strains, and occasional adverse commentary, getting to represent your nation and lead your nation is a tremendous privilege and something that is a good thing for young women and young men to aspire to.
PM: Role models? Well there’s a few people that have made a difference to my life. My parents have been great role models for me about hard work and good values and where that takes you as an individual.
Joan Kirner, who was the Premier of Victoria, was a good role model for me and continues to be. She’s an older lady now but she’s pretty ferocious on the texts I’d have to say, still gets in occasional words of advice.
I didn’t get to know her as a big-time politician, I got to know herbecause she was the mother of a friend that I went to university with, but I got to watch her journey through public life and that helped me learn a few things too.
PM: What advice would I give someone who wanted to be Prime Minister?
I actually do meet some young people who talk to me about going into politics and what advice have I got, and the thing that I always say is make sure you’re clear on what it is that you want to do and what’s driving you into public life.
If you don’t have a strong sense of purpose about it then the rigours, I think, of public life will become too much.
You’ve got to be really clear what that sense of purpose is. And so for me it was about changing a whole lot of things to do with opportunity in our nation and particularly education – that’s what drove me into the first steps into public life, and drives me now.
For other people in public life it will be about representing their local community, if they’re really passionate about their the future of their community and that’s what they want to make a difference to.
For others it will be other things, but you’ve got to be really sure about what your purpose is and that’s the thing that will sustain you even when sometimes the going can be a little bit tough.
So thank you very much, I will allow myself to be wound up now, thank you.