Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull welcomed to UNSW

Good afternoon. I’d like to begin with an acknowledgement that we stand on the land of the Bedegal people, and we draw inspiration from their story.

I pay my respects to them as the Traditional Custodians of this land, and I also pay my respects to Elders both past and present.

It is my great pleasure today, to welcome back to UNSW Sydney, The Honourable Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia.

Before I invite the Prime Minister up to speak, I’d also like to acknowledge the distinguished guests in the room today.
• Ambassadors, Consuls General, representatives from the Diplomatic corps
• Fellow Vice-Chancellors, and my colleagues from across the Group of Eight and Universities Australia
• And of course, members of the UNSW community – the UNSW Council, Management Board, Deans, Pro-Vice Chancellors, students, staff, alumni and industry partners.

Prime Minister, welcome to UNSW. There has never been – dare I say it – a more exciting time for our university. As we approach our 70th anniversary next year, we look back on a track record of world-class education, strong engagement with the community, and outstanding research.

UNSW today is home to almost 60,000 students…more than 6,000 staff…and we have just last month reached the milestone of a 300,000-strong network of alumni, spread across the globe.

And although we cannot claim you among our alumni, we are very proud to say that Lucy is one of our success stories. UNSW today like many of the other universities in the Group of 8 is amongst the top 50 universities in the world.

Impressively, on a per capita basis, Australia has more top-100 ranked universities than the USA, China or the UK. The Group of Eight universities are a big part of that success story, and the core of that success, I think, comes down to one crucial element.

It isn’t buildings, rankings or funding although they all help. It is our people.

Next week, I will be in Canberra, at the National Press Club, launching a report on behalf of the Group of Eight which shows the billions of dollars that we generate for the national economy.

In my speech, I plan to talk about an idea which you, Prime Minister, often circle back on. It is the idea that it is not economic capital that defines the true wealth of nations, but human capital.

In your words, Prime Minister, ‘the most valuable resource we have in our nation is not under the ground…it is walking around on top of it.’ It is the core business of universities to develop and nurture that human capital.

Outstanding universities, of course, educate students. But they are also hubs of knowledge, supporting researchers whose work contributes to social cohesion, international understanding, and life-changing scientific discovery.

Universities are unique because they are beacons of freedom, tolerance, free inquiry, and will play a key role in tackling the Grand Challenges of our time – inequality, climate change and migration to name a few.

It is my belief that in our growing climate of global political instability, universities can emerge as important agencies for policy improvement and active, positive change.

A key driver of this is, of course, will be international education and international partnerships – the more students and researchers we have travelling abroad, crossing paths with new people, absorbing and understanding different cultures – the stronger our global civil society will be.

And the greater the possibility there will be for our research impact to expand and create more opportunities for Australians.

I very much look forward to your reflections today, Prime Minister. Please now join me in welcoming…Australia’s Prime Minister, the Honourable Malcolm Turnbull.

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Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s speech can be read here.