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Presentation Ceremony for the John Monash Scholarship Recipients, Government House


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.

Welcome, all, to Government House. Linda and I are delighted to host this presentation ceremony for the John Monash Scholarship Recipients.

The Sir John Monash Foundation ceremonies are incredibly uplifting – hearing about scholars’ postgraduate studies and aspirations for the future and, of course, seeing the big smiles during the presentation.

Much has happened since this corresponding ceremony was held in Melbourne a little over a year ago. At the time the fires were still burning and COVID-19 infections in Australia were on the rise.

One of the impacts of the virus was that the way we worked was turned on its head. Linda and I, like you, suddenly found ourselves in a virtual world. Thanks to our staff and modern technology we were still able to receive briefings, participate in meetings and host some ceremonies.

I’m informed that for the Foundation the physical distancing restrictions meant that shortlisted applicants were interviewed online, amounting to hundreds of virtual interviews. I congratulate the Foundation and particularly the eminent group of panellists for their dedication to the selection process which, I’m sure, had its moments. As I’ve remarked on many occasions over the past year or so, we’re all ‘virtual’ experts now.

Last Wednesday in Brisbane, I had the pleasure of delivering the opening address at a National Young Leaders Day event to about 2,000 primary and secondary school students. One of my messages to the students was that they would have an enormous opportunity to change and direct our country and that we needed strong leaders to do that.

My message today to the 2021 John Monash Scholars is that the postgraduate studies and work you are immersed in right now are of critical importance to Australia’s future. As we’ve just heard in the citations, some of these areas include:

In health …

  • applying AI to advance eye scans to improve early diagnosis and prevention of diabetes in rural Australia
  • exploring tumour, host and gut microbiome determinants that predict response and side-effects from cancer immunotherapy

In education …

  • acquiring the knowledge to help transform policies that affect educational opportunities for young people across Australia, especially those from remote communities

And, in Australia’s interests overseas …

  • exploring sustainable projects throughout the Indo-Pacific.

At the heart of these pursuits and others is community service. As John Monash Scholarship recipients, you epitomise the character of Sir John – one of Australia’s finest leaders, who said that one of the responsibilities of education is to befit persons for the higher duties of citizenship. As our nation emerges from one of the most challenging periods in our history, the time is now for you to make that higher contribution.

As demographer Bernard Salt wrote in the paper on the weekend, now is the time ‘for doers, for fixers, for the frontline in healthcare, logistics and research – for people of every capability to do whatever they can to help others.' Or, in the words of the Foundation, to ‘Respond to the challenge’.

I implore you to seize this opportunity. ‘Responding to the challenge’ won’t automatically happen. It will take energy and expertise, and courage and leadership.

Again, I congratulate this year’s intake of John Monash Scholars and wish you all the best in your postgraduate studies.

A few thank yous to finish. To all involved in the Sir John Monash Foundation – benefactors, scholarship sponsors, Alumni Ambassadors, partners and supporters, and the eminent Australians on the selection panel – you have much to be proud of in this 20th anniversary year of the Foundation. And, to the families and loved ones of the Scholarship Recipients – we know how important your encouragement and support has been to the scholars.

Congratulations one and all.