Premier’s Speech – greatness through generosity


Premiere Dominic Perrottet Speech at Opera House today.

“It’s customary to start speeches by acknowledging the dignitaries and special people that have shown up.

Well the special people here today are too plentiful to count – and in a life time of showing up – you’ve shown up once again.

So let me just welcome you all – and thank you for being here.

1. Life on hold to volunteer – Susan Bennett

A few weeks ago I met Susan Bennett at Condobolin – as her community battled devastating floods.

At 64 many people would be dreaming of a peaceful retirement. Not Susan. She’d taken leave from work – but not for a beach-side holiday.Instead, her ‘leave’ has been 4 months of physically and emotionally exhausting work.

Susan is commander for the Condobolin SES.

In August, she and her deputy Graeme Yetman began a 24/7 operation to respond to damage from intense storms.

By October relentless rain turned into flash flooding…

The swollen Lachlan River became deadly, levees broke, families were cut off, the elderly were caught in perilous conditions.

At the height of the crisis Susan, Graeme and 3 other SES volunteers

covered a one-hundred-kilometer radius.

In one 48-hour period they did not get home at all.

Rescue after rescue

All points of the compass

One call-for-help saw them boating up the road in a dinghy at 3am –

Torchlight was their only guide as they made their way to rescue a man from the threat of being washed away.

Susan is a tough woman, but ask her why she does it and her voice cracks – her eyes well up – and she says:

“Nobody’s going to die on my watch.”

She also says that – “If you’re going to be a member of the community – you need to be participating.”

Now, Susan has lived in Condobolin for 12 years – so in Condobolin years, she’s basically still a ‘blow-in’ –

But after what she has done for that community over the past few months, I get the feeling she might have earned the title of ‘Condo Local’.

Susan and Graeme are here today –

I want to say thank you for your service – we are forever in your debt.

2. Rising to the occasion

Susan wears a uniform.

But as they say, not all heroes wear capes.

And sometimes it takes an emergency for people to see what they’re capable of.

People like Karina and Dave McKey – you’ll hear from Karina soon.

I was in awe of their response when their home town of Broadwater flooded.

A tiny sugar mill town on the banks of the Richmond River – they were swamped in muddy waters and cut off from help.

Karina and Dave did not have a grand plan to organise their town’s response – they just saw people in need and decided to help.

To start with, they delivered cleaning supplies.

There weren’t many to go around – but it gave people hope – and something to build on.

Next they turned the community centre into a recovery centre

Before long they were organising donated goods into a kind of make- shift supermarket.

I’ll let Karina tell you the full story – and though she’s far too humble to admit it – the truth is that she and her husband stepped forward as leaders – right when their community needed them most.

They didn’t have a uniform – they just showed up.

They didn’t have a title – they just did what they could to help.

3. Thanks to all who turn up in times of crisis

The stories of Susan, Graeme, Karina and Dave are just a few amongst thousands.

Fire, flood, pandemic – they’ve tested our state – but our people have more than risen to the occasion.

Obviously our frontline professionals have stood in harm’s way and kept us safe, discharging their duty with distinction, and demonstrating many acts of heroism.

But standing with them have been ordinary, everyday members of our community – volunteering their time, their talent, their energy and their resources to help one another.

It has been humbling and beautiful to witness.

Today I offer my deepest gratitude to everyone in NSW who has put their own needs and comfort aside – to help others through the emergencies we’ve faced in the last few years.

4. Generosity is a quintessentially Australian trait

Witnessing the devastation our people have suffered has made a deep impression on me.

But even more overwhelming, everywhere I go, has been the generosity and spirit of service I have seen in action.

It has made me a very proud Australian.

Because I believe there is something unique about the way we – as a people – give back to the community and look after one another.

When I first joined parliament in 2011, I remember speaking to a volunteer-organisation about how Australia had just placed first in a new World Giving Index run by Gallup.

This “generosity index” ranks more than 150 countries on a number of generosity measures, including time spent volunteering.

Over more than a decade, Australia has never placed lower than 6th.

Generosity is in our nation’s bones.

In the latest Index, we’re not number one anymore – we’re 4th.

That’s still pretty good. But what could be better than getting back to being the most generous nation in the world – and staying there.

5. Making space

If we want that for our state, we have some work to do.

Since 2014, there’s been a 20% drop in volunteer hours in NSW.

That’s not a huge surprise.

We live in a 24-hour economy, with a 24-hour news cycle, 24-hour access to emails, entertainment –

On top of the million other things we hardly have time for.

The spaces in our lives can very easily fill up, and the time for community service can get crowded out.

Once upon a time we were a nation of joiners – we moved in and joined the surf club, the CWA, the Vinnies or the progress committee…

Many people still do, but it takes a conscious effort – which, I believe, makes it even more commendable.

But we could all do with a bit of help to make that space –

A bit of encouragement to transform good intentions into concrete actions.

Right now, our Government is looking at a number of different ways we might be able to do that – to shine a brighter spotlight on the value of volunteering to this state we all love.

6. Participation is the soul of the nation

I want to tell you why I believe this is so important. It goes back to what Susan said about participation.

“If you’re going to be a member of the community – you need to be participating.”

You can have a society that is a perfectly well-oiled machine

All the systems and institutions go like clockwork

We should always aspire to that – and as Premier I always will.

But if you don’t have that deep and abiding culture of participation from the people who make up that society – it will have no soul.

What I know – what I have seen – is that here in NSW we have soul, and we have it in spades.

And we have seen its illuminating power in some of our darkest times.

But what we sometimes fail to appreciate is that the reason people turn up in a crisis is because NSW is a state where people turn up every day.

You can’t do what Susan does unless you have dedicated that time, in the busy-ness of life, to train and prepare so you are ready when disaster strikes.

That’s the part we don’t see. And it’s that everyday service – unseen and unsung – that makes a society great.

It’s Reverend Crews’ kitchen

It’s the under seven’s cricket coach.

It’s the school P&C team and it’s the irrepressible Landcare rep.

It’s uni students bringing meals to the homeless in Sydney late on Friday night

And it’s the club legend painting the lines on the Lightning Ridge footy ground early Saturday morning.

It’s a quiet army of almost 5 million people every year in NSW, giving up their own time for the greater good.

7. The next generation

I will never let NSW be a place where this spirit of service is taken for granted.

I believe we have an obligation to celebrate it, promote it, and pass it down to the next generation –

To teach our children that the truest measure of a nation’s greatness is the generosity of its people.

And when it comes to the next generation I think we’re in good hands.

Early last month I was in Forbes as the community there was furiously preparing for the wall of water coming their way.

And there at the sandbagging machine – setting a cracking pace – was one Jakaylia Weir, all of 8 years old.

She didn’t have much time for chat – there was work to do. But she did teach me how to fill a sandbag.

And I hope she understood that her contribution was part of something much bigger than the levees she was helping to build.

If we can raise a generation of Jakaylias, then we can all rest assured that our state’s future will be great, and their future will be secure.”​

/Public Release. View in full here.