I grew up in council housing in Camperdown, in one of those neighbourhoods where everybody knew everybody – for better, or for worse.
We were a real tight knit community.
So when the Sydney City Council decided to sell-off our houses, the residents banded together to fight the decision, eventually winning.
You see, we weren’t just fighting for bricks and mortar.
We were fighting for our homes.
For our community.
If this sounds like a familiar tale, you would be right.
Recently, the NSW Government sold more than 200 homes in Millers Point.
It intends to do the same with the iconic Sirius Building in the Rocks.
Residents, like 90 year old Myra Demetriou from Sirius, have lived in the area for more than sixty years.
They don’t know anything else.
But they do know the intricacies of their neighbourhood.
They know their local doctor.
They know the people next door.
Now the Government argues that through the sale of these homes more funding will be available to build extra social housing elsewhere in Sydney.
As students, as future leaders, this is something for you to think about – what would you do?
The so-called greater good argument can be convincing.
On a simplistic level, the argument that many more people will benefit from the sale of these homes than those adversely impacted sounds attractive.
But this argument does not stand up to proper scrutiny.
This is certainly the case for those directly impacted, but it is also the case for the health of the city as a whole.
I fundamentally believe successful cities are not disconnected enclaves of privilege and disadvantage.
They are diverse.
Their people come from a multitude of backgrounds.
People are connected to their communities.
EDMUND RICE IN TODAY’S WORLD
This brings me to Edmund Rice.
It was Edmund Rice who said:
“Were we to know the merit and value of only going from one street to another to serve a neighbour for the love of God, we should prize it more than silver and gold.”
But the world has shifted dramatically since Edmund Rice founded his schools, the legacy of which is your school today.
Indeed, the world has changed since my childhood and teenage years spent growing up in Camperdown and attending a Christian Brothers’ school, St Mary’s Cathedral.
The challenges you face are different.
But I believe many of the same principles still hold their relevance.
Sydney is a brilliant city.
We’re on track for rapid growth.
The fact is; urbanisation is transforming our nation.
As our cities grow, and increase in density, we need to think about how we can create opportunities to build and enhance the quality of life of local communities.
So that people choose to cross the street, as Edmund Rice said, to help a neighbour.
As the Shadow Minister for Cities, this is something I’m passionate about.
But if the world is changing so fast, how can we sustain the social justice agenda of Edmund Rice throughout this century?
In New York, in 2002, Brother Phillip Pinto spoke about the Edmund Rice tradition.
“Our schools exist to challenge popular beliefs and dominant cultural values, to ask the difficult question, to look at life from the standpoint of the minority, the victim, the outcast, and the stranger.”
The thing is; an aspiration for social justice is always relevant.
It’s always needed.
What we don’t always understand is that because of globalisation, some people are feeling left behind.
Excluded from opportunities.
Here in the inner west we are the beneficiaries of a globalised world.
I love walking down Marrickville Road and seeing the legacy of the Greek and Italian immigrants, the Portuguese, the Chinese and Vietnamese, and more recently the Lebanese and Pacific Islander communities.
We are so lucky to have won the lottery of life that is living here in Australia.
But this is not the experience of everyone.
Globalisation and the shift to a knowledge-intensive economy, away from manufacturing, mean some people question where they fit in this changing world.
Technology has left many without secure employment, and many of these people blame globalisation.
I was concerned when the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom succeeded.
I was concerned when Donald Trump tapped into the fear of many who felt disenfranchised by the global economy to become President of the United States of America.
And I am concerned every time I’m in Canberra and see Pauline Hanson in the halls of Parliament House.
But the fact is; we need to work hard to understand where this sentiment comes from, so that we can do what we can to fix it.
And this means having the hard discussions.
The onus is on me, as a politician, to make sure all people do feel like they are being heard and represented.
But the onus is also on you, as students, as our nation’s future leaders.
Throughout the history of politics, for some, appealing to division has been a fall- back position when the going gets tough.
Fear-mongering is dangerous because it makes it harder for us to have the important conversations we need to have as a nation; about climate change, about refugees and asylum seekers; about our economy.
I have a 16 year old son, and so I often reflect upon the challenges faced by your generation.
I worry about housing affordability, where even those in leadership positions have said that the only way young people can get into the property market is to inherit their parent’s home.
I worry about wages growth and employment opportunities.
I worry that in the face of urbanisation, unless we do something, the poor will become poorer and the rich, richer.
But then I walk into a classroom, or talk to a student on the street, and I’m filled with confidence.
It might be the case that there is no such thing as having the one job for life, but I’ve never met a smarter, more capable generation than yours when it comes to adapting to this new phase.
Accepting of each other.
Perceptive about society.
Inquisitive about the best way forward.
These are just some of the qualities I am so pleased to see in people your age today.
The fact is, the Edmund Rice tradition is echoed in the simple actions any person can take in their day.
It is about volunteering time to community organisations, which I know many of you do.
Helping those less fortunate than you or I.
But it can also be as simple as being kind to fellow human beings.
Listening, understanding, having patience.
And, sometimes, it can be as hard as speaking up when something is not right.
Even when you are the only person to do so.
As the saying goes, if we are to understand the future, we must first understand the past.
Edmund Rice could not have envisaged the world today when he founded his schools more than 200 years ago.
But since then, the Edmund Rice tradition has lived on and it will continue to do so through your actions.
I urge you to keep challenging the status quo.
Don’t cease asking difficult questions.
And always stand up for those in need.