Address at UNSW Canberra’s 50th anniversary celebrations

Distinguished guests. Ladies and gentleman. I add my welcome to you all and I also wish to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people, on whose land we gather tonight.

It is safe to say this is an anniversary that nobody envisaged happening in 1967. The agreement between UNSW and the Australian Army and Navy – to establish the Faculty of Military Studies – was only ever meant to be a short-term initiative.

The plan was for Duntroon to become an autonomous, degree-granting institution within 10 years. But, here we are, half a century down the track and the relationship between UNSW and the Australian Defence Forces continues to evolve and strengthen.

Our alumni now boast eight members of Federal Parliament; the current Governor of NSW; and the King of Tonga, to name a few. It is quite impressive when you consider there are only 15,000 alumni in total.

Of course, when this venture with began, the Air Force was not involved. But just two years after the Canberra campus opened, a submission was made to Cabinet for a tri-Service Academy to be set up. It’s quite enlightening to read the Cabinet Submission from 1970.

In particular, the reason for creating an institution separate from an already established university. It was thought the young servicemen – and our students were all men until 1986 – would be ‘distracted’ by normal university life.

The submission read, and I quote, ‘There is little doubt that the factors which motivate cadets to a Service career would be subjected to severe pressures on a university campus’. It went on to say the benefits would be outweighed by the ‘practical difficulties’.

But the overriding reason for bringing all three Services together was to give a sense of belonging to a single Australian Defence Force. To foster a spirit of co-operation.

And with the enrolment of international students, the stage was set to not only foster co-operation between our own defence forces but with those of other nations. The concept of co-operation – of partnership – is something close to my heart and that of my colleagues at UNSW.

We believe it is the key to achieving the best possible outcomes. We are creating new – and building on established – networks, across disciplines, across campuses, across universities.

We are partnering with industry, individuals and NGOs. We are seeking to draw on the expertise of others from around the country and around the world. We do it, because we know this is how we will find solutions to some of society’s grand challenges.

Challenges such as climate change, inequality and the plight of refugees. And we know that same sense of collaboration and sharing will help UNSW to keep supporting Australia’s defence forces and, ultimately, Australia’s security.

Our new Defence Research Institute, which I launched here in Canberra this morning, will take that collaboration to even greater heights. It will further expand our network of contacts across the defence industry in Australia and overseas, as we work across academia, government and industry, as well as with global policy makers.

Melding university research expertise with frontline experience is crucial if we are to provide relevant, broad-based advice.

We are in a unique position to understand the ever-changing demands on our servicemen and women, because of the journey we have taken with the ADF at our Canberra Campus. We have an intimate insights into just how seismic the changes have been to the defence and security landscapes.

Our students in 1968 were studying against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, an era of field telephones and paper maps. Today, they must be across areas as diverse as cyber security; space; systems engineering; logistics; and public sector management and conflict studies.

And importantly, in keeping with the underlying commitment of all who sought to establish a military academy, our graduates will understand the necessity for and the power of dialogue and diplomacy.

That was certainly a driving reason for Sir Rupert Myers, my predecessor, who was instrumental in setting up the initial agreement in 1967.

He battled much resistance to the idea of UNSW being associated with what was a deeply unpopular war. But he said that, ‘…in the context of a complex and controversial war that would not end for another five years, the need for uniformed officers to receive a balanced and liberal education seemed to me self-evident’.

Sir Rupert negotiated the agreement with the Navy and the Army in 1967 under the auspices of the second Vice-Chancellor of UNSW – and signatory to the agreement – Sir Philip Baxter. When Sir Rupert became the university’s third Vice-Chancellor in 1969, his commitment to the relationship with the Defence Forces continued.

He worked tirelessly with the Defence Minister in the Whitlam Government, Lance Barnard, and the Defence Minister in the Fraser Government, Jim Killen, to establish the tri-service academy in 1981. Sir Rupert, our last living link with the events of July of that year, is unable to be with us tonight but he is certainly here in spirit.

I am pleased to now leave you with a video of Sir Rupert at last July’s lunch, which celebrated 50 years since the association agreement was signed.

Enjoy your evening.

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