Speech at Riverview


2015 February, 21

Speech at Riverview

Those norms helped the members of that community, take personal responsibility, have respect for one another, support each other, look after children. Place, at the centre of their responsibility, a family and the nurturing of the young ones in their life. Those values; moral, social and cultural, serve people well.

It seemed to us, a lesson from Asian-Americans and Asian-Australians was that, bereft of all kinds of opportunity, coming straight out of poverty, nevertheless they possessed social and cultural norms that served them well. Norms that were jealous in favour of the nourishing of young people. Seizing each and every opportunity that passed their door.

Value is in hard work. Deferring gratification. Investing in today for tomorrow. So, we have a strong view that rebuilding the fractured foundations of our communities, in a social, cultural and moral sense, ought to be our first concern. You can’t have a staircase if we don’t have those foundations.

The second part of our staircase metaphor was the underpinnings of the stairs. The infrastructure sitting under the staircase. There needs to be support under the staircase. And we were taken with the work of Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen, who said the important thing for people to possess is capability. And his formula became our catch cry for our project in Cape York. Amartya Sen said, ‘Policy should be aimed at ensuring that people have the capabilities to choose lives they have reason to value’. We really liked that. Capabilities to choose lives you have reason to value.

The great thing that resonated with me in Amartya Sen’s formula was that you can’t really have good choices unless you have capabilities. We liberals tend to think that we obtained advantage because of the wisdom and power of our choices. We forget too easily that, in fact, we make powerful choices because we have good capabilities. We’re healthy. We got a good education. We have a whole lot of capabilities that really make the choices very advantaged for us.

So, Sen really alerted us liberals to the fact that at some stage in our lives somebody invested in the development of our capabilities so we could choose. After all, how is it that we can say that a young Aboriginal girl born in poverty, and violence, and ill health, and lack of education, and opportunity, how can we say that she has a choice? She does not possess the capabilities to choose. Her choices are very narrow, if not entirely absent.

So, we like Sen when he talks about capabilities. The second part we liked about Sen was that he explained that it’s not just opportunity. I like the word capabilities, because it’s not just the proffering of opportunity, you actually need another element to be added to opportunity to produce capability. You can have the opportunity at school. We have schools galore in Australia. We have medical facilities galore. There’s

another element that has got to be added to opportunity to turn it into capability, and that is personal responsibility. If a mother doesn’t take personal responsibility to take a child to a clinic, and to attend to her needs, she’ll never have good health. If you have a school down the road, parents have got to take personal responsibility.

[Video ends here, no record of the remaining of the speech]