Address to Westpac 199th Anniversary, Sydney

April 6, 2016

And I acknowledge that we’re here today – all of us – here today gathered on Gadigal land. We acknowledge your Elders past and present and thank Ann for her very generous welcome.

And also let’s have a round of applause for the extraordinary Digeridoo player that we had!

So, Lindsay Maxsted, Chairman; Brian Hartzer, CEO; my colleague, the Education Minister Simon Birmingham; and of course the New South Wales Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian and so many others.

Leading lights of business but here today it’s wonderful, I’m honoured to be in your presence. But above all we’re all so proud to be here with the scholars.

Really, you the Westpac Bicentennial Foundation Scholars, you represent the future of our nation.

Your enthusiasm, your intellect, your innovation, your ingenuity – all of that gives us such confidence in the future.

So I want to applaud you again – let’s do that!

Now, Westpac – or Bank of New South Wales for those who are old enough to remember it – has been a part of our nation’s history for nearly 200 years and a part of my family history for just as long in fact.

My forebear, John Turnbull, settled on the Hawkesbury River with his family in 1802 and it was there that they and their neighbours built what is now the oldest church standing in Australia – the Ebenezer Chapel in 1809.

And in 1817 John was one of the Bank of New South Wales’ first customers, borrowing £25 to buy 100 acres of land.

Brian has told me he doesn’t have a record of the mortgage but I’m sure he would if it hadn’t been repaid but banks are not known for forgetting these things but he did track down the original board minute approving the loan and gave me a copy complete with John Turnbull’s signature in the bank’s signature book. I think it was the 13th signature in the signature book.

So that’s a long association and as a little boy living with my father who was a hotel broker and for much of our time together was a single dad so I spent a lot of time with him particularly during school holidays. I remember very well the Bank of New South Wales King and Castlereagh Street branch because that of course was the publican’s branch.

My father as hotel broker was often making visits there to negotiate with the bank manager. Sometimes with a bit of anxiety and apprehension, other times with greater confidence.

But I’ve got a long association through our family with the bank.

It has the honour of being a legacy, an achievement as Lindsay said, of that great nation builder, Lachlan Macquarie – who not only created some of our greatest buildings and institutions here in Sydney but also built the social capital of what was then a very new colony.

He was someone who believed and recognised that the greatest asset were the people that were, the human capital that he had.

Look at the way he sought out the smartest people among the convicts – Francis Greenway being of course a noble example.

Macquarie was very much a visionary and a man with a vision that went beyond the constraints and preconceptions of his time.

Now Westpac has helped millions of Australians build their dreams of independence.

A home for themselves and their families.

Small businesses that have provided jobs for millions and grown into big businesses and big enterprise.

It’s employed hundreds of thousands of Australians.

And so this is a momentous anniversary.

It’s a time for celebration.

But it is also a time for reflection.

Banks are indeed businesses but they are unlike any other.

They are a fundamental pillar, a foundation, of our society and our economy.

And they are based on trust – today as much as they were in 1817.

We expect our bankers to have higher standards, we expect them always, rigorously, to put their customers’ interests first – to deal with their depositors and their borrowers, with those they advise and those with whom they transact in precisely the same way they would have them deal with themselves.

And this is not idealism – this is what we expect and I know it’s what the leaders of Westpac expect.

Because they know that banks don’t just operate under a banking licence, they operate under a social licence and that is underwritten by public confidence and trust.

During the darkest days of the Global Financial Crisis, or what probably should be better called the global banking crisis, the Australian public – through their government – provided all our banks with vital support. 

Australians understood that we needed to ensure our banks kept trading, that a strong well-regulated financial sector in Australia was a great blessing, a great national asset – as we saw in other countries jobs and businesses going as banks failed.

Now many Australians, as you know, ask today: have our bankers done enough in return for this support?

Have they lived up to the standards we expect, not just the laws we enact?

Wise bankers, such as your leaders, recognise these questions are legitimate – dismissing them as bank bashing misses the point.

I make no comments about any specific cases or any specific institutions including where claims of wrongdoing have been disputed.

But we have to acknowledge that there have been too many troubling incidents over recent times for them simply to be dismissed.

The truth is that despite the public support offered at their time of need, our bankers have not always treated their customers as they should.

Some, regrettably as we know, have taken advantage of fellow Australians and the savings they’ve spent a lifetime accumulating, seeking only dignity and independence in their retirement.

Redressing wrongs is important especially where it is done promptly and generously.

Wise bankers, like our host, with whom I’ve discussed these issues on several occasions and understands these issues very well. I have to acknowledge Brian’s very keen insight into these matters.

Wise bankers understand that banks need to very publicly demonstrate that their values of trust, integrity, placing the customer first in every way – these must be lived and not just spoke

They recognise that remuneration and promotion cannot any longer be based solely on direct financial contribution to the bottom line. Employees who live those values, impart them to others and call out those who do not should be rewarded and recognised and promoted in a healthy banking culture.

The singular pursuit of an extra dollar of profit at the expense of those values is not simply wrong but it places at risk the whole social licence, the good name and reputation upon which great institutions depend. 

Now all business is about more than just a profit or a new product, it’s about building opportunities for Australians, customers and staff and making a greater contribution to our nation.

Westpac is making a really positive contribution through the Bicentennial Foundation, it’s the largest private scholarship fund in Australia’s history, and the new ‘Businesses of Tomorrow’ program compliments it magnificently.

It’s great to see this ‘Business of Tomorrow’ program creating those new opportunities for both existing businesses and start-ups. The program, as Brian described, will fund global study tours to Silicon Valley, to China, right around the world promoting new, important linkages, and make available professional advisers and mentors.

This is absolutely in line with our Innovation and Science Agenda, because we know, your Government knows, that for us to be successful in the 21st century, for us to continue to be a high wage generous social welfare net, first world economy – such as we are today.

If we are going to do that, we need to be more innovative, we need to be more entrepreneurial.

We need Australians to take risk. We must learn to be prepared to take risks, tolerate failure and learn from that.

We must ensure that our culture enables businesses of all sizes to innovate, not just start-ups.

They are firm beliefs of ours in our Government and that is demonstrated by our National Innovation and Science Agenda, where we are committing $1.1 billion, not simply to promote greater collaboration between the academy and industry and business, not simply to create incentives for better investment in start-ups, not simply to ensure that our bankruptcy laws promote greater business continuity.

Right across those measures, all of them important, is the overlay of changing culture – a culture that must be more innovative, inspired by precisely the objectives of innovation and entrepreneurship of which Brian spoke a moment ago.

As part our agenda, we are investing $51 million, for example, to equip young Australians with the skills to create and use digital technologies; and $48 million to inspire literacy in STEM and engagement to support our future skills base.

These skills are essential if we want to grow our national economy and if we want better jobs, better quality jobs for our children and grandchildren in the years ahead.

There are more opportunities in the world today for Australian businesses than ever before.

This is the most exciting time to be an Australian.

This is the most exciting time to be an Australian innovator.

There has never been a greater opportunity in the world today as the global economy grows and at a pace and a scale that has never been seen before.

But we need to be more agile. We need to be more innovative.

We need to be more enterprising, entrepreneurial.

Those are the values that I believe has inspired Westpac’s customers over nearly 200 years - that no doubt inspired John Turnbull as he came in to Sydney, into the city of Sydney with his horse and cart from his home on the Hawkesbury River.

For the future it lies in innovation, it lies in the skills, the dreams of the young Australians who are your scholars.

And we recognise that you’re all magnificent.

Brian has talked about Antonio Tricoli from the ANU, whose work around wearable technology will help prevent melanoma – such a curse in Australia and a cancer which we are especially subject.

And Michael Hall, we spoke about Michael and Clare Stephens. Michael of course is working on ways to better analyse a patient’s family history and use that, the developments of greater processing power and big data to deliver more customised medication.

And he also mentioned Clare Stephens who of course like all Australians is focused and fascinated by water. We are after all, as she knows, the land of droughts but also flooding rains.

Technology, research, leadership, building our social capital as so many of the scholars are doing working in the area of community services, working, developing our links with Asia – I was just a moment ago sitting with the table of your Asia exchange students, Brian and Lindsay. All of those young men and women will ensure that we grow well and wisely, innovatively and passionately in the decades ahead.

This is a great time, a great time to be a Westpac Scholar. It is a great time to be a young innovative Australian and I want to congratulate Westpac on its almost 200 years and I want to congratulate it too on this outstanding foundation.

Thank you very much.


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