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Governor-General Quentin Bryce Calls For A Republic And Same-Sex Marriage

The Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, has called for an Australian republic and same-sex marriage in the last of her Boyer Lectures, delivered just four months before she retires from the Vice-Regal role.


Bryce’s remarks came at the end of a speech titled “Advance Australia Fair”. She concluded by imagining a nation of care and equality, “where people are free to love and marry whom they choose and where, perhaps, my friends, one day, one young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation’s first head of state”.

Bryce has been Governor-General since 2008. Appointed by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, she is the first female Governor-General.

  • Listen to Bryce’s speech (29m)

Text of Governor-General Quentin Bryce’s final Boyer Lecture for the ABC.

Advance Australia Fair

My Friends

One of the occasions, that spoke openly, of the diversity of Australian life and talent was the lunch I hosted to honour Her Majesty the Queen during her visit here in 2011.

Some around the table were –

  • a high school principal;
  • the chair of a major public company;
  • a paralympic gold medallist;
  • race horse trainer;
  • the director of a medical research institute;
  • a young female helicopter pilot
  • and a young man in our Army’s SAS,

both rising through the ranks of our military;

  • the founder and director of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital for women in Ethiopia;
  • a senior laywoman of the Anglican Church;
  • a Sister of Mercy;
  • a farmer;
  • an Australian-Vietnamese author and comedian;
  • the CEO of a Women’s Resource Centre in the Kimberley in far north-west Australia.

All of them passionate about their work, fine advocates of its value to society, and modest narrators of their own stories of achievement.

I felt privileged to be among them, and to share in their generosity of spirit and intellect. They exemplified, the quality and breadth of contribution I see all around our country.

It’s no surprise, that I have ample opportunity in this role to ponder our flag. It features at so many occasions. I often imagine the Federation Star placed at the centre of our continent.

I let my mind wander to the myriad people and places, I’ve come to know beyond its seven shining points – from the red dust, to the beach sands.

The teachers and leaders of Mer Island in the Torres Strait, achieving exceptional educational outcomes, and pathways to employment, for local Indigenous children.

The volunteers at the Parramatta Mission offering support, advice, and friendship, to the homeless, the mentally ill, the drug addicted, new migrants, some of them three generations of the one family.

People on the fringe trying to find their way in.

Victorian SES workers shoring up homes and lives in Charlton, Rochester and Kerang during the floods, helping people to get to the Community Relief Centre.

The oyster farmers of Dunalley rebuilding their businesses after being wiped out by the bushfires.

The intrepid scientists of Australia’s Antarctic Territories researching effects of climate change.

The carers in Adelaide working to restore the dignity and quality of life for those living with severe disabilities. Cherry Tree Corner is a very special place.

Sporting stars and role models in the Clontarf programs in the Pilbara, teaching kids about values, respect, hard work.

Just as much as travelling around our country’s communities, I like bringing people together from all regions and disciplines, and listening to their conversations unfold.

People working in the same field, often meet for the first time, when they join in a roundtable discussion, and discover how they can work together.

I’ve hosted several of these during my term.

They usually arise from conversations with a wide range of professionals from different quarters.

People asking the same sorts of questions, looking for a serious dialogue.

There was the working group on maternal mortality, held in conjunction with CARE Australia.

The UN Millennium Project was set up to develop a concrete action plan for the world to achieve eight Development Goals, (MDGs), by 2015.

Their aim is to reverse the grinding poverty, hunger and disease affecting billions of people.

MDG No. 5 calls for universal access to reproductive health services, and a reduction in maternal mortality rates by three quarters – They are still 15 times higher in developing regions.

I think of the shocking conditions that too many women in Africa face during pregnancy and birthing – no hospitals, no doctors, no transport to get there.

Their labours, so often, excruciating and terrifying.

I have learned that for many, their babies die before birth.

Graca Machel and Dr Gertrude Mongella spoke to me in powerful language of the urgency to work harder towards meeting this goal.

The Group: Experts in family planning, obstetrics and midwifery, post natal care, and nutrition – convened to discuss what we in Australia can do to encourage and support action.

Another of these meetings focussed on the work of an organisation I was involved with more than 30 years ago, the Association for the Wellbeing of Children in Healthcare, and its Ward Grandparent Scheme.

Trained mature volunteers spend generous time with children whose parents can’t be with them during long hospital stays away from home.

I’ve spoken about the Puuya women of Lockhart River.

My gathering with members of the Puuya Foundation was a chance to strengthen relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and to explore new partnerships to help the Foundation’s future work.

Another honoured the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders in preserving Indigenous languages, and to raise awareness of issues faced by ATSI communities in keeping language alive.

The forum, “Capturing the Benefits of Research in Australia”, organised with Professor Brian Schmidt, our Nobel Laureate, brought together an impressive cohort of sophisticated minds and experienced operators.

They teased out complex issues around innovation, commercialisation, patent protection, risk management, and the role of government in research.

Australia’s standing in medical and scientific research is world class.

We have a robust intellectual resource here that deserves serious recognition and encouragement.

I am fortunate to be briefed by some of our top researchers.

At the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, I’ve looked into microscopes and seen how cell death is being targeted to cure disease.

At the Australian Antarctic Division I learned that ice cores drilled from coastal regions of Antarctica, reveal carbon cycle history, and about the links between sea surface temperature changes, and the circulation of the Southern and Indian Oceans.

At James Cook University, I saw, how, in cases of shock, major blood loss, burns and sepsis, a heart can be stopped for several hours – to allow it to stabilise – then re-started.

Truly extraordinary work. But it’s not just about the experts.

I believe strongly that we should be engaging our young people more, in the offerings of these fields of endeavour.

During my time in office 75,000 school children have come to Government House.

I talk to them about the scientists I meet, the fantastic projects they’re working on, how maths and science are critical to solving the problems our planet will face in their futures.

In all of these wide-ranging conversations, we hear one another’s unique stories of accomplishment, service, and selflessness.

And in listening and responding, we practise our own versions of citizenship.

We participate in democracy.

Whilst the Australian Constitution invites revision only in circumstances of thorough consideration and broad consensus, the parliamentary democracy it underpins is fluid.

The nature of political engagement changes with each generation of citizens.

The subtleties of executive and prime ministerial power shift, according to the incumbent and the demands of the times.

Our characterisation of the role of Governor-General is influenced in somewhat the same way.

Inescapably, the election or appointment of the first woman Prime Minister or Governor-General, is of itself, an evolution.

We each perform our roles drawing on our own quite different experiences and skills.

For a position that engages us, with just about every aspect of Australian life, no one can arrive in the job conversant with it all.

There are always going to be steep learning curves, hesitations, celebration and solemnity, and times when we despair at what we see.

The real opportunity is to bring Australians along with us, to use what we have to learn more, to allow the stories we exchange to shape the identity of the role, and Australians’ perceptions of it, to strike a balance between observing traditions and protocol, and being thoroughly contemporary.

In March 2010, I marked the centenary of International Women’s Day. Hundreds of women and men of all ages and pursuits, came together to share stories of women’s toil and triumph, throughout our lifetimes.

Far from a self-congratulatory affair, or one where guests were content to rest on their laurels, the conversations were about who was doing what, and what more needed doing to bring gender equality within our sights.

Significantly, there is widespread acknowledgement, of the chasm in human rights protection and enjoyment, between women of developed and developing nations.

Even worse, there is a sickening sense of going backwards, particularly in the global movement to end violence against women.

The exchanges that took place in this forum of hugely diverse and capable women inevitably raised the question of whether and how young women “do” feminism.

In the nineteen ‘60s and ‘70s, we had feisty years of public rallies, protests, pickets, bold T-shirt graffiti.

It was as much about getting our voices heard in the public domain, as the confronting, never-seen-before spectacle of challenging stereotypes.

There was a need to be noisy and strident to break the silence around women’s lives, and get communities and governments on board for change.

There were private spaces too where women shared their stories of inequality and discrimination for the first time.

And, in doing so, began to build their sense of self-worth, and imagine a more fulfilling future.

Nearly half a century on, Australia is a vastly different place.

Certainly, far too many women, still, are absent from senior management, leadership and governance positions across all sectors.

They are paid less than men for comparable work.

They bear a disproportionate load in the care of children and the running of households.

Australian women nonetheless have access to education and opportunities, that women of developing nations aren’t able to foresee for generations hence.

Our laws impose penalties and remedies in response to discriminatory conduct and decision making.

Our Human Rights Commission continues to educate Australians about discrimination, its consequences, how it can be prevented.

As a result, prejudice and disparity are not as prevalent or overt as they once were.

These shifts in Australian life must surely mean that the character of social movements must shift too.

And my sense is that they are shifting; not only the movements for gender equality, but all of the efforts that endeavour to understand and redress disadvantage.

More than a decade ago when I was Principal of Women’s College at Sydney University, I saw how young women then were choosing to engage with one another and with the world.

They came from varied circumstances of wealth and disadvantage, though they shared the privilege of a first-rate education. I keep in touch with them. They are all women who believe in feminist principles.

As they set off in their careers, I notice a different sort of expression of that belief.

Their voices have come off the streets and into their homes and workplaces.

Their focus has largely shifted from the public domain to the more private realm of relationships with partners, friends and colleagues.

They volunteer as role models and mentors.

They donate their skills rather than money.

They are adept networkers and social media users.

They share their experiences of progress and frustration online and around boardroom tables.

This “everyday activism” is leading by doing; understanding and responding through lived experience.

And it’s especially suited to the times.

Inequality, discrimination and suffering may be less visible, but they are real and complex and widespread.

Yet individuals now have the greatest potential ever to drive change.

Stories have traction on the ground and across the virtual world.

The internet offers a convenient and cheap platform for launching ideas to a massive audience.

It’s estimated that there’s up to 200 million blogs worldwide.

Storytelling in the digital era is a powerful means of bringing the private and disparate into the public gaze.

What I describe here is timeless too.

It’s the same sort of leadership and citizenship that I saw practised by my parents in a bush town not long after the Second World War.

It’s what those women did when they testified at the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.

Only now, we use more sophisticated tools, and we have a duty to handle them carefully.

Greg Jericho’s account of the Australian blogosphere and citizen journalism, The Rise of the Fifth Estate, lists an impressive 324 Australian political blogs.

These are commentators and activists operating outside the constraints of mainstream media, inviting moderated reader participation.

They are what their creators want them to be, and as such, are vulnerable to prejudice, partisanship, and human peccadillos.

Nonetheless, they have a huge following and are enormously influential in shaping the views of Australians.

Jericho reports that less than 20% of the listed blogs are written by women, and only another 10% are co-authored by men and women,noting that these figures pretty well mirror women’s representation in our parliament and on our corporate boards.

He describes the nature of political discussion in the blogosphere as combative, aggressive, and as the numbers show, dominated by men.

He says women have confessed to posting as men to avoid personal attack with sexual overtones.

We should remember that in our personal interactions with people who know us, we are careful to observe the etiquette of respectful and constructive communication.

Whereas online dialogue with strangers can unleash the most offensive behaviours with impunity.

If it is the case that women choose to bypass the blogosphere as a site for their political activism, so be it.

If however, the nature of debate as described is effectively excluding them from participating, the issue deserves the same attention as the paucity of female representation in senior leadership.

Young Australians under the age of 25 are by far the greatest Internet users.

There are Internet platforms that allow them to participate freely in discussion without being judged by their peers or elders.

Though, as is too often the case, access and opportunity are denied to those who can’t afford to pay for it.

When I ask young people about how they want to participate, whether in virtual or physical spaces, they say they’re looking to be involved in a dialogue. They’re not interested in being talked at. They want a genuine opportunity to respond. This is the idea of citizenship as communication. Talking as a way of doing.

Where ideas and action emerge from young people’s everyday experiences and conversations.

If we agree with Aristotle that our task as citizens is not only to avoid injustice, but to live and behave well, then we have a responsibility to connect with young people in a way that makes sense in their lives, and respects their equal right to participate.

And I believe no differently of our ageing and elderly.

Patricia Edgar, in her new book, In Praise of Ageing, writes of the myths and stereotypes we have succumbed to around the business of getting older.

That the old get sick, and are a drain on the rest of society.

That we don’t understand technology.

That old people are a separate life form that renders us invisible.

That we don’t mind being called “dear”, or “love”, or “darling” instead of our real name.

We don’t care about work anymore, and we’re not interested in furthering our careers.

Edgar acquaints us with some of the facts.

Australia has one of the highest proportions of centenarians in the world.

By 2050, the number of Australians aged 85 and over will increase to 1.8 million, 5% of the population.

Baby boomers can expect to live to 90.

Edgar concludes that our medical system has effectively deemed 70 to be the age, when public expenditure on regular cancer check-ups is no longer cost effective.

She argues that ageing is unfairly blamed for increases in health expenditure, and that obesity, having doubled in the last 20 years, is a far worthier culprit.

Edgar’s rejoinder is that at age 70 we are perfectly capable of learning new skills,

And making a valuable contribution to the economy and society, and plenty of us do.

A broader definition of productivity is urged: where real value is attributed to the volunteer and caring roles that act as the glue binding families and communities.

I know that for myself, when my term concludes, I’m looking forward to returning to the grassroots of my earlier years. Reconnecting.

Working with organisations that I hope will benefit from my skills.

My friends, Australia is home to more than 23 million people.

We are a wealthy country, politically stable, with continuing prosperity, and solid economic growth.

Unemployment is low, our social security system well established.

We have widespread access to quality health care and education.

We have confidence in our military, police, and emergency services to deal with potential threats and complex situations.

We are known for our capacity to get through tough times, and to become collectively stronger, when challenges beset whole communities.

Flood, fire, drought.

I’ve spoken before about what I’ve observed in Australians who face these devastating events.

The idea of neighbourhood and neighbourliness being the foundation of community and social capital.

Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures have endured for at least 40,000 years.

In the last 40 years, immigration to Australia has accounted for about half our population growth.

Today, over 20% of Australians were born overseas; more than half came to Australia from non-English speaking countries, in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and South America.

14% aged five and over speak a language other than English at home.

We are a society whose citizens are committed to the institutional framework of our nation’s parliamentary democracy and we do well to respect and preserve the cultural heritages meaningful in our personal lives.

It is the vigorous nature of this diversity that enhances our resilience, and helps us to keep evolving and maturing as a society, a nation and a worthy international citizen.

It’s how we ensure that society is in a fit state to hand on to our children and grandchildren.

It’s how we engender their respect for our legacy.

But none of this happens of its own accord.

It requires our honest acknowledgement that many aspects of Australian life still demand our serious attention.

And it requires belief, will and action, by individuals, communities, and governments.

Our population is growing due to migration and people living longer, increasingly in outer metropolitan areas.

There’s pressure on resources and infrastructure, housing, transport systems, safety.

Family life is shifting.

There’s a greater variety of family forms and arrangements.

We’re having fewer children, more of us are living alone.

Internet and social media technologies are altering the way we work and communicate with one another, how we conduct our relationships.

We’re feeling our way for a balance between the opportunity and freedom they offer, and the social withdrawal and divide they warn.

And with these changes, persistent challenges remain.

Closing the gap on indigenous disadvantage.

Ensuring that Australians living with a disability are protected.

Keeping our welfare system in pace with society’s need for a safety net.

Supporting families affected by mental illness, alcohol, drug and gambling addiction, violence, poverty, homelessness, child abuse.

We’ve made valuable inroads into these very tough problems.

Think of the nation-changing efforts of Dr Patrick McGorry in mental health reform and destigmatising mental illness.

But we must keep working on all of these issues.

Our children and grandchildren will become the custodians of the Australia we are shaping now. In their hands they will reshape it, according to their own vision and aspirations.

In advancing a fairer Australia I ask you to imagine a nation:

That takes care of our neighbourhoods and our neighbours, in our suburbs, our towns, our cities and our region.

That embraces the power and promise of new technologies without sacrificing courtesy, civility and respect.

That fosters courage, compassion and resilience.

That regards giving as a natural part of living.

That praises accomplishment, service and selfnessness

That understands that human stories and their telling are powerful agents of learning, leadership and change

It’s okay for the personal to be political.

My friends, In our imagining, I suggest a nation:

Where an ethic of care guides the way we lead.

Where the young, the elderly, the indigenous, the newly arrived, people with disabilities are treated with dignity and respect, and able to be the best and healthiest they can be.

Where every child is given the opportunity of a good education from their very early years.

Where women’s contributions to civil society, the workplace, the economy, the family and home are valued equally with men’s.

Where streets, homes, schools, women and girls are spared violence.

Where people are free to love and marry whom they choose.

And where, perhaps, my friends, one day, one young girl or boy may even grow up to be our nation’s first head of state.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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