Sydney Girls' High Presentation of Dux

(10am February 10 2012, Sydney Girls' High, Anzac Parade)

Thank you, Angela Wu, school captain. Good morning, everyone. It's a pleasure to be here with you on this important day in your lives.

I'd like firstly to acknowledge the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the traditional custodians of our land, and to pay my respects to their Elders. I also acknowledge the 200 nationalities who make up this wonderful city.

Today is also a day to acknowledge and congratulate everyone present: the new students who will be representing their classes on the Students' Representative Council; the HSC students, who achieved such outstanding results - especially the Duxes, Amelia Lin, who I believe is here today, and Kendy Ding who unfortunately is missing this event as she is overseas.

Both achieved the highest possible rank in the HSC, a fantastic result of which they - and the school - can be very proud.

Today is also a day to acknowledge the care, the hard work and the support given by teachers and parents - the support that enabled all of you to achieve your best.

Together, this school community has forged a reputation for excellence - and not only because of its academic record. It is also recognised because the young women educated here emerge aware and responsible, ready to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

It is impossible to overstate the need for committed people to engage with the issues confronting us - whether they are global issues like climate change, or local issues such as homelessness or a growing economic disparity within our own, once-egalitarian society.

These are complex issues, not to be solved by slogans or band-aid fixes.

They demand leadership from all levels of government. But they also demand an engaged community, ready to grapple with the difficulties, to explore possible solutions, to demand action from the leaders.

In a world dominated by a relentless media cycle, it is only too easy to resort to spin, to shuffle the difficult issues out of sight, to proffer the short-term fix instead of the long-term solution.

Only an aware and demanding - in the best sense of the word - society will hold leaders and decision-makers to account. I hope you will be demanding, be vocal and take a stand. Healthy democracy depends on informed and engaged citizens.

I hope that among you, there are a good number of our future leaders and decision-makers. I wish you well because, despite the growing number of women in public life, it can still be a difficult task for a woman. There will always be naysayers on the side, only too ready to carp. (Just look what they do to Prime Minister Julia Gillard). You will need to set your course and stick to it - you need integrity at the moment of choice - you need to act on principle - you will know in your heart what is right!

Many others among you will find other ways to contribute, especially in your local communities. Women - perhaps because of traditional roles as carers - are very alert to local problems and needs.

Indeed, it was how I got into politics, because my own young children, like other neighbourhood kids, needed a safe place to play, rather than the derelict, bottle-strewn patch that passed for their Redfern playground.

When we talk about community, we are talking about us - each and every one of us is a member of our community and it will be healthy, strong and cohesive if we accept our responsibility to contribute to it.

Some years ago at this ceremony, I quoted the great poet John Donne. His words bear repeating today:

"No man is an island, entire of itself.

Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main."

I hope those words will go with you as you journey out into the lives awaiting you. I congratulate you all on your achievements. And I wish you all faith, courage and friendship in the future.

Thank you for inviting me to speak again to you on this important day.