2022 State of the University: Chancellor's address

07 Feb 2022

On Monday 7 February 2022, Chancellor the Hon Julie Bishop and Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian P. Schmidt shared their vision for the year ahead in the 2022 State of the University address.



Thank you Brian for your State of the University Address. Thank you Paul for your warm and gracious Welcome to Country and I join with the Vice-Chancellor in acknowledging and celebrating the First Nations people, the Ngambri-Ngunnawal people, and I pay my respects to their elders past and present. 

Last week, I was in Papua New Guinea and I can confirm that it was easier for me to visit Port Moresby than return to my home in Perth. Just saying, put that in context. 

But it was a wonderful opportunity for me to meet with old friends and former colleagues and during the course of my discussions, talk invariably turned to my post political career and my role as Chancellor of The Australian National University.  

And I was struck by the number of Papua New Guineans who spoke to me of their experience with ANU, either as students, undergraduates and post-graduates, through ANU- University of Papua New Guinea partnerships, like the one between the Crawford School and University of PNG School of Business and Public Policy. They spoke of academic exchanges and scholarships, but so many of them said to me that their link, their connection with ANU changed their lives for the better.  

Our university takes its rightful place among the great university of the world because we change lives for the better. By building understanding and engagement, by using our campus to bring people together from all over the world, by harnessing expertise and generating ideas. 

In our 75th year as Australia's first and only national university, we continue to advance the cause of excellence in teaching and research. And yes, we must be academically engaged but we must be intellectually self-sufficient in generating ideas in and for our distinctly Australian context. And I publicly and openly endorse the Vice-Chancellor's comments about apolitical processes in the field of research and the ARC in particular. 

Brian did speak of our service to the nation and ANU has a tradition of serving the Australian people, and it was exemplified by the way we rose to the challenge of assisting the government response to the ravages of a global pandemic and we responded in a particularly unique Australian way, I must say. But here at ANU, our public health academics provided advice at the highest levels in government. Our epidemiologists provided advice on testing and were involved in training, in contact tracing through the Pacific and WHO. Our economists devised theories and policies for a post COVID economic recovery given the unprecedented levels of government debt that we now see as a result of the response to COVID. And our ANU clinicians were on the frontline particularly at Canberra Hospital treating patients. 

So in reflecting on our response over the last two years, I think we can take some satisfaction of how our university responded to the impact of COVID. Our university kept running. Sure, there were challenges but our teaching staff kept courses running. They adapted and adopted online platforms pretty seamlessly, maybe not perfect in the beginning, but we got there. And our administrative staff kept the campus running. Our IT systems continued to work - students could enrol, people could be paid. Our grounds continued to be maintained - what a beautiful campus we see before us today. Our university kept operating. And I pay tribute to the staff for responding so magnificently. 

Last year in determining the recipients of The Chancellor's Awards for Excellence, I and my team of assistants - our advisory committee, focused of course on the distinguished academic work of people like Emeritus Professor John Braithwaite, Ken Baldwin, Amanda Barnard. But we also recognised the efforts of our COVID Response Office for outstanding service to our campus community - Professor Tracy Smart and Patricia Teh. 

Our academics have continued to shine globally. I was so proud to learn that Distinguished Professor Hilary Charlesworth is the first Australian women to be appointed to the United Nations International Court of Justice and Professor Rodney Baxter was awarded the Henri Poincare Prize at the 20th International Congress in Mathematical Physics in Geneva.  

ANU academics have always showed great leadership on the challenges facing our nation and our region. I'm particularly proud as Chancellor that we continue to support First Nations people and that that support will endure through the First Nations portfolio so ably led by Professor Peter Yu - to ensure that First Nations history and culture is embedded in our thinking, in our actions, all that we do on campus.  

Through our Kambri Scholarships, through the Tjabal Centre supporting Indigenous Students and this year I'm delighted to confirm that we will be holding a landmark symposium on developing First Nations economies. You see, we are prepared to have the conversations that Australia needs to have. We host the conversations on the impact of technology and the destructive nature of the fourth industrial revolution. We host the conversations and come up with ideas on how to respond to the great power competition we see unfolding in our region. On the challenges of climate change, on the growing inequality we see around the world. ANU hosts and leads those conversations. 

Brian spoke in depth about the vital work that we will continue to do across the seven colleges as part of our Strategic Plan - ANU 2025 - and across the university more broadly. But I have to say I think the highlight for me for 2022 will be the return of our students. The new commencing class next week, returning students from across Australia, and our international students who have stayed with us, albeit it online, but who have been away from their ANU family for far too long and they add such richness and depth to our campus experience.  

I'm also delighted to be doing what I'm actually meant to do as Chancellor and that is confer degrees. So, I'm very excited to be attending numerous graduation ceremonies for 2020 and 2021 graduates, in person, in Llewellyn Hall. And while we acknowledge that those future graduates are future leaders, innovators, contributors and problem solvers, they are a cohort that has achieved something remarkable: they have battled against two years of COVID restrictions and they have completed their studies - that is a remarkable achievement, and we congratulate them all. 

As life returns to campus, we must commit anew to our goals of attracting the best and brightest talent in our staff and our students, by generating new knowledge and ideas, by carrying out research for the benefit of our nation, and by collaborating with government and industry and civil society so that our knowledge and ideas can be brought to life. And we must also ensure that our institutional values make us the standard bearer for equity, diversity, inclusion, respectful relationships. That is what we offer our nation. 

In thanking the staff in particular for their spirit of collaboration and resilience and sacrifices they've made, I must also mention our alumni and donors. They reached out over the past two years. They supported us. They gave us opportunities for more research, for more students, for more scholarship and I thank them for being there during this very challenging time. 

We do seek to offer an experience on campus that is vibrant, dynamic, challenging, satisfying, exciting, enjoyable. And we can achieve that through the kinds of leadership that our Vice-Chancellor, Brian and his senior team have demonstrated, but particularly over the last two year. Brian has shown immense courage and focus and perspective. He's done an extraordinary job in the most extraordinary of times and I know I speak on behalf of ANU Council and the broader ANU community in thanking Brian for his leadership and ensuring that this fine institution will grow even stronger in years to come. So, it is with a great deal of joy and even more relief that I can say: welcome back to campus. 

The Hon Julie Bishop

Vice-Chancellor's address transcript here.