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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Remarks at Launch of Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity

Resource type: Speech

Malcolm Turnbull
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (left) and University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis. Photo: University of Melbourne

Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, delivered these remarks at the launch of the Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity on October 14th.

Well thank you Glyn, thank you Tom, Professor Kiro, Her Excellency Hinuari Petana, Somoan High Commissioner, and distinguished guests; we love youse all, so we won’t go through the whole list. It is a very auspicious day and I want to thank Tom for acknowledging that we are indeed on the lands of the Ngunuwal people, and I too pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Now this is an exciting moment for Melbourne University, for Australia, for the trajectory of philanthropy in Australia. Lucy and I are passionate believers in the power of philanthropy. We recognise that life has been very kind to us, we have been very lucky. We know that others, who have worked just as hard as us, if not harder, have not been so fortunate. So we have always sought to give back, and encourage others to do so.

We believe the leadership Chuck Feeney shows and others show is very important. And some people, I’m looking at Tony Berg there, some people have been very involved in fundraising over the years and often it is said, in fact a great Jewish philosopher Moses ben Maimon or Maimonides said that the most virtuous philanthropy was where not only was the donor anonymous but the beneficiary was anonymous.

All I can say, with great respect to the sage, is he obviously hadn’t done a lot of fund raising. It’s great in theory – you want people to lead and you want to acknowledge it because it encourages others to do good things.

I believe passionately that philanthropy is vitally important to bind us together, a $1 from Government will buy you as much as $1 from a contributor, from somebody who has given it out of their own pocket. That’s true whether the $1 is part of $50 million or two donations of 50 cents from school children. But, here’s the difference, philanthropic gifts come with a personal wrapping, a personal commitment of love.

Governments are run by men and women and they are, and all of us, whether we are Ministers or public servants pour our love into our work. Nonetheless, there is something impersonal about the scale of government.

When somebody makes a donation from themselves, they are making a personal commitment, they are making a commitment to that bond that Edmond Burke described as so famously and memorably as the partnership between the living, those that are dead, and those that are yet to be. It is that reaching out, in the traditions and the guidance and the values that we have inherited from our parents, reaching out to make a better place for our children and grandchildren, to build that bond of continuity, that bond of love.

So today we are announcing and celebrating a philanthropic gift that embodies that function and it is given by someone who believes in giving while living. A living legacy enables benefactors to address the challenges of today, rather than pushing them off to tomorrow’s leaders to deal with.

Charles Feeney’s foundation Atlantic Philanthropies is the outcome of a very personal journey for Mr Feeney, which resulted in a decision to divest his entire, multibillion dollar fortune before his death. Australia has benefited previously from his generosity as illuminated with investments of $313 Million USD in 25 research facilitates in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania.

So I’m honoured to announce today that Melbourne University will be the recipient of a $50 million bequest from Atlantic Philanthropies, a donation that will see the establishment of the Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity Programme. The Programme aims to tackle the broader issues of social inequality and how parity can be achieved for all people regardless of gender, cultural, health or financial background.

Chuck Feeney once quipped that he wanted the last cheque he wrote to bounce. Atlantic Philanthropy’s assured me that this bequest is not that last one. Instead, it’s part of a fund that is establishing a global network of leadership hubs affording thousands of fellows over 20 years.

The Australian Hub, hosted by the University of Melbourne will award up to 25 scholarships a year over 20 years, meaning up to 500 people will have the chance to pursue their ideas, their passion for social change and develop their leadership potential.

They will be people with the energy to lift others up, with the ideas to make change happen; and with the humility to recognise that both their skills and their ability to collaborate are essential to making any idea possible.

Melbourne University’s Hub will be an incubator of experience and access—linking students with an international network of academics and leaders, many of whom are here today, changing our region for the better, raising people out of poverty, generating new ways of thinking about old challenges.

The commitment embeds a long-term approach to creating systemic change. We know some of Australia’s intractable social and economic issues have challenged successive governments over generations.

While we are making some gains in outcomes for our First Australians, for instance, we must accelerate progress.

Of the places available through this generous donation from Atlantic Philanthropies, 10 will be held for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

We know the aspirations of Indigenous Australians are as diverse as those of the broader Australian community.

We know there is an incredible depth of talent among Indigenous Australians who every day are making a contribution to their families, to the economy, to society and to our nation.

These fellowships will ensure we continue to grow the rich story of Indigenous creativity, of innovation of entrepreneurship and success.

They will help build the next generation of Indigenous leaders, who view past injustices as an opportunity to create a more equal future.

In addition to the donation from Atlantic Philanthropies, I am pleased to announce today the Australian Government will make a $40 million contribution over the life of this programme.

This will fund five scholarships per year over the next 20 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public servants, making their way through the Commonwealth Public Sector.

We will also provide placements for at least five of the Atlantic Hub fellows in our public service, because knowing how to work across government, corporate and the not-for-profit sector, the NGO sectors, is vital to designing and implementing social and economic policies in a way that creates the greatest impact.

I would like to recognise the contributions of the Universities of Melbourne, Queensland University of Technology and the University of Auckland, along with significant in-kind support from a range of partner organisations including the Business Council of Australia, the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence and Jawun who will bring a wealth of experience and expertise to the program over many years.

When you consider all of the contributions to this programme, I’ve been informed the total value is likely to be around $160 million, that’s a bit of leverage for you.

We need more philanthropy like that of Atlantic Philanthropies: larger-scale personal investments that act as a catalyst for action.

But we must use any capital available – be it from government or the private sector – to invest in what works.

As part of the Government’s recently announced Priority Investment Approach to Welfare, we commissioned a baseline valuation report—an actuarial analysis generated from 15 years of welfare data in Australia.

The report forecasts the likelihood of welfare dependency and tells us where an intervention now could change lives over time.

We will no longer focus on interventions that appear on the surface to be useful. We will use evidence to focus on investments to support vulnerable Australians that are both economically and morally right.

People like Charles Feeney have shown us that giving can be more than just provision to meet a need; it can be strategic. Indeed it can be a profound change agent, revolutionary.

It can change the course of people’s lives and societies.

So, I want to thank you Atlantic Philanthropies for this generous investment in our nation and our people.

Thank you and congratulations to Melbourne University for hosting this Hub. It’s a prestigious honour for the University, one of many, and the programme will be capably led by Professor Tom Calma.

I most certainly wish you all well as we work to fulfil the aims of a fairer, healthier and more inclusive global society.

That is a vision we should all get behind, and I know we will.

Thank you.

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