I hardly need tell you, ladies and gentlemen, what a great pleasure it is to be back in Sydney for Australia Day, and it is most kind of the New South Wales Government to invite me. The last time I experienced an Australia Day was during the Bicentennial celebrations - and I've never been the same since!

"I hardly need tell you, ladies and gentlemen, what a great pleasure it is to be back in Sydney for Australia Day, and it is most kind of the New South Wales Government to invite me. The last time I experienced an Australia Day was during the Bicentennial celebrations - and I've never been the same since!

Inevitably, many things have changed in the six years since that memorable day - the world moves on; conditions change, new challenges present themselves, lessons are perhaps learned and fashions alter. In Australia's case - as in the United Kingdom's and elsewhere - you have had to endure a particularly demoralising recession which invariably tends to exaggerate the worst and most negative aspects of life. It is then easy to forget that underneath the surface of things there are still those wonderfully positive, human characteristics which make a nation like Australia what it is.

In Britain you can't avoid noticing these Aussie characteristics. Australians keep winning at Lord's, or at Wimbledon, or at Twickenham, or on our golf courses. They sing and dance superbly at Covent Garden, plaster the walls of the Tate Gallery with their paintings, produce highly acclaimed films and, increasingly, seem to dominate the television channels.

On top of all that, and ultimately, as far as I can make out, with a little re-directed help from my sister, you have won the competition to host the Olympic Games here in Sydney. This clearly reflects enormous credit on all those who worked so hard and long to achieve this accolade for Australia and I am sure the games will prove to be an outstanding success in a very special setting.

But nothing, ladies and gentlemen, has been more indicative of the underlying strength and resilience of the Australian character than the response to the recent appalling bushfires. Back in Britain, by a curiously ironic coincidence gradually being inundated by rising floodwater, I could imagine so well the terror engendered by these destructive natural forces which are so much a part of this beautiful, but unforgiving country.

I knew perfectly well, from my knowledge of the Aussie character, that those fires would be fought heroically by volunteer firefighters from all over New South Wales - and indeed from all over Australia.

So it didn't surprise me to discover that some of these courageous people were deployed in tactical response groups for 72 hours at a time, only to return home for a well-deserved rest and find their own neighbourhoods under threat from yet more fires. I salute those men and women, and my heart goes out to all those who lost their loved ones and who were forced to watch their homes being swallowed up in an inferno.

Mr Premier, I mentioned earlier that quite a lot has changed in the last six years, and it may well be that the sheer speed of change that we all have to cope with nowadays can be an unsettling business. One memorable line of Australian poetry comes from Banjo Patterson when he writes:

'Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are'.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I suspect that a feeling of not knowing quite where we are is fairly widespread in human societies today. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that there are those who would wish to see such a rapidly changing world reflected by a change in Australia's institutions. And perhaps they are right. By the very nature of things it is also not surprising that there are differing views - some people will doubtless prefer the stability of a system that has been reasonably well-tried and tested over the years, while others will see real advantages in doing things differently.

The point I want to make here, and for everyone to be perfectly clear about, is that this is something which only you - the Australian people - can decide. Personally, I happen to think that it is the sign of a mature and self-confident nation to debate those issues and to use the democratic process to re-examine the way in which you want to face the future. Whatever course you ultimately decide upon, I can only say that I will always have an enormous affection for this country. I can't help it really...I wasn't sure what to expect when I first came out here in 1966 - I'd always heard about the national sport of 'pommy-bashing' - but you gave me the kind of welcome and education it is hard to forget. Indeed, if things change in this country I might even be able to do one or two of the things that I haven't been able to do in the last 25 years - like spending a bit more time in the surf - although I have a dreadful feeling I may be a bit too old to survive the result..!

In the meantime all the members of my family will continue to take a close personal interest in the welfare and fortunes of this country - despite the geographical limitations - and, in that sense, I much look forward in the next ten days to meeting as many as I can of the people whose various achievements make a real, positive contribution to Australia. Earlier in the day I greatly valued the opportunity to meet some of the leaders of the multi-cultural communities in this city and to hear their impressions... Sensitive integration of distinct ethnic groups is not an easy task - anywhere in the world - and if you study history you will find it never has been easy. But, as far as I can make out, Sydney is probably managing this process better than most other parts of the world. You are setting an example from which others can learn a great deal.

In Tasmania I shall be seeing plans for developing an immensely promising tourism project on the West Coast; in Western Australia a Liquid Natural Gas plant which generates 1% of the entire national GNP; and in Queensland I shall be visiting the city of Gladstone which offers great potential for inward investment and also has the vision to draw up a 50-year development plan.

Finally, I did just want to say how much I am looking forward to meeting the Prime Minister's Task Force on Urban Design, here in Sydney on Friday. This remarkable group of people are addressing one of the major problems of our time, which is how to make our cities both more pleasant and more practical places to live. I believe that much can be achieved by sensitive design, proper consultation with local communities and thoughtful planning, and I applaud the forward-thinking approach which has led to the establishment of the Task Force.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are just a few examples of the ways in which Australia provides inspiration to the rest of the world and I shall do my best to help draw attention to them as well as other important aspects of national life, although I suspect they may not generally be supposed to be the stuff of which soap operas are made!

Whatever the case, I am sure you are dying to forget about all these things and to make the most of good old Australia Day. I fully intend to!"