Whitlam Institute


Browse Latest

Director’s address - 2019 Whitlam Oration


Director’s address delivered by Leanne Smith at the 2019 Whitlam Oration

Good evening, my name is Leanne Smith, Director of the Whitlam Institute within Western Sydney University.

To start off right tonight, Uncle Chicka Madden, respected Sydney Gadigal Elder, will welcome us to his country.

Uncle Chicka delivers the welcome to country

Thank you Uncle Chicka for your generous welcome to country.

May I also acknowledge that we meet on Gadigal land, and pay my respects to elders past, present and future; and to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are with us here this evening. This land was never ceded. I apologize for the way it was taken, and the treatment of, and discrimination against, First Nations people since. I pray that as a nation we will find the courage to make amends soon. For a better Australia for us all.

I would like to welcome WSU Vice-Chancellor Barney Glover, the Hon John Faulkner Chairman of the Whitlam Institute, Vice-Chancellor of the ANU, Professor the Hon Gareth Evans, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, former and serving members of federal and state parliament and members of the diplomatic community and distinguished guests. A special welcome to the Whitlam family who are with us tonight. Friends all -good evening.

Before I commence, I also want to apologise and acknowledge that due to circumstances beyond our control, the hearing loop, which is usually available in this theatre, is not functioning this evening.   A `captioned’ video of the Oration will be made available.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and Whitlam Institute Director Leanne Smith at the 2019 Whitlam Oration.

UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and Whitlam Institute Director Leanne Smith at the 2019 Whitlam Oration.

The Whitlam Institute strives to delivering distinctive, bold and inspiring policy research and programs that promote common ground, inclusive national identity and civic engagement for all Australians, and to be recognized -  across the political spectrum - as delivering a nation-building agenda that will in E.G. Whitlam’s words “…help the great and continuing work of building a more equal, open, tolerant and independent Australia”.

Our work is focused on honouring and keeping the Whitlam legacy alive; empowering all Australians to be active participants in democratic life; and creating more inclusive public policy engagement with a focus on social justice and social democracy.

Our Institute is proud to be part of the Western Sydney community – a vibrant microcosm of modern Australia and all its opportunities and challenges. Our goal is to bring local issues affecting ordinary Australians into national debates and to bring national policy discussions to local people. We believe, for policy change to be effective, you need to bring people with you, through engagement and consultation. We make use our privileged location in the historic Female Orphan School – one of Australia’s earliest colonial heritage buildings - as a place for intellectual and cultural engagement for the people of Western Sydney, through public events, debates, community consultations, civics education and cultural exhibitions.

Our objective is to lead courageously on issues of national and global importance. To raise the flag in acknowledging the complexities around such issues, by bringing together the broadest church across politics to respectfully discuss and debate them, with the goal of finding common ground and bringing our nation together. Our policy and research work focuses on two themes that clearly demonstrate the contemporary relevance of the Whitlam Government – the Future of Australian Democracy and Australia in the World.

E.G Whitlam believed in the value of international cooperation. Perhaps not surprisingly, give his father Fred Whitlam’s role in Australia’s contribution to the formation of the UN following WWII. Gough understood the value, power and authenticity of connecting the local to the global. He developed the theme of national independence as he sought to end Australia’s over-dependence on great and powerful allies and outdated national identities.

The Whitlam government exited Vietnam, ended conscription and in a radical shift of Australian policy established diplomatic relations with China. This period heralded a new involvement, amity and genuine goodwill between Australia and its neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond, based on mutual respect and a clear statement of national values.

Whitlam strove to establish Australia's identity and reputation in the international community as an enlightened, independent and constructive player in world affairs. Ending the White Australia Policy and taking the first steps toward building a multicultural identity for Australia were legacies of the Whitlam government.

It also granted Independence for New Guinea, reoriented Australia's relationship with Asia, and made substantial increases to Foreign Aid. It engaged Australia as a good international citizen by ratifying international treaties and agreements, including 15 treaties on human rights that underpin the framework for human rights protections that Australians enjoys today.

His commitment to international cooperation and dialogue continued after his Prime Minister-ship, including through his role as an elected member of the UNESCO executive board.

Australians deserve to be proud of our contribution to a just global rules based order that has sought to serve humanity since the terrible waste and destruction of WWII. The UN is a member state organization, that acts on the decisions of the 193 nation states who make it what it is. As a former UN civil servant, I know the failings of the organization at a very personal level. And yet in my 10 years with the UN I never met an individual, working in some of the toughest conditions and harshest environments, who wasn’t genuinely working to make the world a safer, fairer, better place. We can always improve. And we must all keep striving to make the world a better place for every child, born anywhere.

It is an absolute honour tonight to have a world leader of this caliber here in Australia to share her knowledge and experience with us, and to open our eyes to what is happening around the world. To put the opportunities and challenges we have here in Australian in a broader context.  To understand our privilege and our responsibilities.

At the Whitlam Institute we acknowledge the need for Australia to define its national interest abroad in a principled but realistic way, in line with our core values and resources. Acknowledging that Australia’s national interest lies primarily in the challenges and opportunities facing the Asia Pacific, along with its key relationships with bilateral and regional partners. Recognising the need to connect Australia’s foreign policy objectives with its domestic interest and priorities. However in our view it is the consultation around our domestic priorities and how we frame them, that requires broader consensus.

The Whitlam Institute advocates an engaged, curious, collaborative, compassionate, responsible and contributory Australian foreign policy. An Australian public policy dialogue that sees value in engaging with and participating in global discourse and action, for reasons beyond any immediate tangible direct dividend but because we form part of the family of nations. Think about our contributions to the Middle East Peace Process, Cambodia, Bougainville, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. An Australia that sees itself as part of the world, with a shared stake in the fate of humanity and the planet. We wish to promote a serious, frank and fearless public policy debate within Australia about how we determine our national interest. An Australia that knows it has something to learn from the experience of others, and feels a responsibility to share our own strengths, and what we have learned from our experience, with the world. That can bring together different aspects of our international engagement – diplomacy, development, humanitarian aid, scientific, cultural and artistic exchange, and peace and security contributions in a coherent way for the benefit of all humanity.

I am thrilled and honoured to have Dr. Bachelet with us here tonight to deliver the Whitlam Oration on Australia’s role in Human Rights in a changing world to a sell-out audience at a public forum such as this. Having had the honour to work with Dr. Bachelet on women, peace and security issues when she served as the first Head of UN Women, I have experienced her courage, determination, selflessness and skill at giving voice to the voiceless and fighting for the vulnerable. We sat on the same GA committees trying to convince Member States why protecting and empowering women would make UN peacekeeping missions more successful.

Dr. Bachelet has dedicated her life to upholding the Human Rights of others. Often this has been at great personal risk to herself. Her own experience of breaches of basic human rights include the terrible reality of members of her family, including herself, having been tortured for their political beliefs. Many of her colleagues and friends were imprisoned or exiled during the Pinochet regime. Typical of her courage and concern for others Dr. Bachelet said, in 2004, of her own torture: "it was nothing in comparison to what others suffered”. She is a tireless and fearless defender of human rights.

The first time Dr. Bachelet came to this country was in 1975. She came here as a refugee. She was one of the first political refugees Australia ever granted asylum.

She has since broken through many glass ceilings, Dr. Bachelet was twice elected President of Chile, serving from 2006 to 2010, and from 2014 to 2018. She was the first female president of her country, as well as Chile’s – and Latin America’s – first female Defense Minister, from 2002 to 2004.  She also served as Health Minister from 2000 to 2002.

Her government roles speak to her expansive education. She has a Medical Degree in Surgery, specialising in Pediatrics and Public Health. She also studied military strategy at Chile's National Academy of Strategy and Policy, and at the Inter-American Defense College in the United States.

Among her many achievements as president of Chile, she established the National Institute for Human Rights and the Museum of Memory and Human Rights, as well as the Ministry of Women and Gender Equality.

In between her terms as president, in 2011 she was named the first Director of UN Women, an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and girls internationally. In September last year she was appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Please welcome, Her Excellency, Dr. Michelle Bachelet.

Michelle Bachelet Delivers the 2019 Whitlam Oration

Official Thank You

It is with real sincerity that I extend the warmest possible thanks, to you, Dr.Bachelet, for your generosity in sharing this timely and insightful Oration. It is imperative that we all take note of the issues that you have raised this evening and take action in ways, however big or small, that we can. As you have stated with great clarity, ensuring the dignity and rights of all human beings is a collective, global responsibility. You have also very ably illustrated the necessity of a cooperative and collaborative relationship between the UN and Australia. We have no reason to fear constructive international engagement.  The UN is built on the recognition of the sovereignty and cooperation of nation states. We at the Whitlam Institute hold to the view, put by our former Prime Minister 45 years ago at the UN General Assembly:

“No country needs, more than Australia, the fulfilment of the international objectives of the United Nations; to reach the fulfilment of our own national objectives.”

It struck me how much this aligns with what you said about the link between a country’s national interest and how it protects humanity. It is time for each of us here to speak up for human rights as Australian and global citizens. To acknowledge that we share one humanity and that every woman, child and man deserve the same respect and dignity.

Dr. Bachelet is in Australia at the invitation of the AHRC as part of their national conversation on Human Rights. I encourage you all to engage in these important ongoing consultations and I would like to thank the President of the HRC, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher, without whom this Oration would not have been possible.

Thanks, as always to WSU for their tireless support of the Institute and its work. Thank you to the Board of Institute, to Uncle Chicka, and to the helpful staff of Sydney University and the Seymour Centre.

Please join me in saying once more, on behalf of the Whitlam Institute, Western Sydney University and all who have come this evening, thank you Dr. Bachelet.  

Thank you all for coming, safe home.

Hannah Bowyer