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National Federation Reform Council Meeting, Old Parliament House, Canberra

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Ngunnawal People, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.

Good afternoon.

This is an historic meeting of the National Federation Reform Council, and I am delighted to have the opportunity to address you before your discussions begin. It was a pleasure for Linda and me to host Council members at Government House last night.

In June this year, as I reflected on the end of my first year as Governor-General, I was reminded of the image of Australia created by Australian poet Dorothea Mackellar: that the ‘wide brown land’ had lived up to its reputation as a ‘wilful, lavish land’ with a ‘pitiless blue sky’ and ‘flood and fire and famine’.

My observations of the Australian community at that time — of a people who had experienced drought, flood, fire and a pandemic — was that, in the main, while we had faced adversity on many fronts we had stared it down and come out stronger at the other end.

I’ve had occasion to say many times over the last 12-18 months that adversity not only builds character, it reveals it. And the Australian character has been revealed to Linda and me in many ways, for example through our visits and conversations with:

  • Mayors and representatives of Local Government
  • Chairs and CEOs of the more than 200 charities we support as Patrons
  • Volunteers in organisations providing a myriad of services across the country
  • School children, and their principals and teachers
  • Fire, Police and Emergency Services personnel.

These conversations have been uplifting. Not because we’ve solved everyone’s problems, but because they exhibited a strong resolve to push through and to rebuild. So, I am not being trite when I say that we are at our best when we come together.

The creation of a National Cabinet — the coming together of our First Ministers — and from it the National Federation Reform Council is a statement about the importance of unity and leadership in addressing critical national issues. The Cabinet and the Council provide Australia with the platform to make decisions in the national good from a national perspective.

In that vein, I acknowledge our First Ministers’ collective efforts in helping our nation through one of the more difficult periods in our history. Nationally, we have experienced the sorrow of loss — and while acknowledging that — comparatively, as a nation, we have performed well. Our ability to withstand an unforeseen combination of challenges cannot be understated.

At the same time it is important to acknowledge that many Australians are doing it tough. People are worried about job prospects, they are worried about their future and it is an anxious time for them.

I am therefore pleased to see that one of the items on the Council’s agenda is mental health. The National Federation Reform Council has the ability to bring a coordinated national approach to addressing mental health that is beyond the capacity and capability of any single jurisdiction.

We are at an important point in our nation’s history. Your discussions today are both timely and important.

I conclude by returning to Dorothea Mackellar. To comfort us about our future she wrote that, for all the tribulations our country presents us, ‘she pays us back threefold’. We look to your leadership to enable that reward.

I wish you a successful meeting — a meeting that will be conducted with an expectation of unity of purpose and action.