It gives me the greatest possible pleasure to be with you here this evening at Government House – and to be back in Australia, a country that I have known, and loved, ever since I first came here some fifty-two years ago. It is hard to believe all these years have passed or that I shall soon be seventy. I know that many of you here (including the Governor) are about to reach – or have reached – that same milestone, so will know only too well the strange feeling of disbelief that this is actually happening to me and that never again, for instance, will it be possible to squeeze into a pair of Budgie Smugglers! Bits now keep dropping off me at regular intervals – "Don't worry", they keep telling me, "you have brilliant genes!" But I can't get into them either!!
As a newly arrived Pom – sprayed on arrival etc. I soon discovered that one of the favourite Aussie pastimes is scaring Poms rigid with lurid tales of snakes, crocs, funnel web spiders and bull ants – thankfully I managed to survive all of them – including leeches – in the Bush!
All these experiences – and meeting so many Aussies over all these years – have taught me a lot about the remarkable Aussie character – above all, your strength and generosity of spirit, resilience, unstoppable courage and a unique form of "mateship" that so characterized the incredible sacrifice and service of so many Aussies - your, and my fathers, uncles, grandfathers and great uncles - during two dreadful world wars. I will shortly be attending the commemoration of their heroic actions and their indomitable spirit at Villers Bretonneux later this month on my return.
Whenever it has been tested, the Aussie character has always come up trumps. I saw that for myself this morning in Bundaberg, where that community has demonstrated remarkable resilience after enduring the terrifying natural disaster of dreadful flooding which, I fear is becoming more and more common. Your qualities of determination, tenacity and valour demonstrated so conspicuously on Western Front are still evident today – as much exemplified by the Fiery's helmet as the slouch hat.
Fifty-two years ago, when I first came to Australia, Aussie manhood was partly defined by how many schooners of beer you could line up on the bar – and drink – before the pubs closed early! And Oz was still the "Lucky Country", safely miles away from all the problems afflicting other countries. Now, perhaps, there is more and more concern about the huge uncertainty in the world and how that affects Aussies and their future – whether in regard to Climate Change, affordability of housing, rapid technological change or terrorism.
This is why I have spent so much of my life trying to raise awareness of these issues and the need to tackle them before they overwhelm us. For instance, it is truly extraordinary – when you think about it – that "scientific evidence" has been endlessly accepted as the basis for modern existence. And yet with the science of Climate Change and global warming (attested to by the most eminent scientists around the world) it is summarily dismissed as some kind of dastardly plot to undermine the entire conventional economic system – hence former Vice-President Al Gore's concept of "An Inconvenient Truth". The truth is that our conventional system is undermining Nature's capacity to sustain us and a vastly growing population through the destruction we are wreaking on vital natural systems in the atmosphere, on land and in the oceans. We are destroying our own life support systems, along with our children's and grandchildren's future. Many Australians are seeing this and, like me, are becoming ever more concerned. So surely it is essential that we work with Nature and not, as the conventional system does, against her and against Nature's own, unique economy?
In the same way, with urban development and housing, to be truly sustainable, I have tried for the past thirty years to demonstrate that if you put the pedestrian at the centre of the design process, and not the car, and thereby create mixed-use, mixed-income, human-scale settlements that reflect people's identity culture, you automatically ensure the development of a community with character rather than merely a mono-cultural estate that could be anywhere in the world.
As more and more clever technologies are developed in the fields of robotics and artificial intelligence it seems to me vital to remember that we ourselves are human beings and not machines and that the dignity of human work and interaction is essential to our psychological well-being. I suspect it is therefore essential to consider very carefully the ethical issues around these developments before we end up with machines replacing people with all the disadvantages and dangers that flow from the law of unintended consequences.
Over the years I have met so many remarkable Australians doing the most extraordinary things in every imaginable corner of the globe. That’s why Australia punches so much above its weight in so many different areas. Aussie values and the remarkable character of her people will always be a force for good in the world. And, as we try to address so many urgent challenges, it continues to offer an example for us all.
Amidst all this, the Aussie character that is so exemplified by the concept of fairness and "fairgo" is what I believe the world needs so desperately and so urgently – a "fairgo" for people, our planet and for Nature herself.