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Anderton: Massey University Graduation ceremony

Hon Jim Anderton

Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity
Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Forestry
Associate Minister of Health
Associate Minister for Tertiary Education

Progressive Leader

12 May 2008 Media Speech

Massey University Graduation ceremony

Chancellor, Mr Nigel Gould,
Vice Chancellor,
Members of Council,
Distinguished guests and staff, and especially graduands and graduates and family.

Tradition has it that as a speaker at this graduation ceremony I should offer you a few homilies, a few words of advice and wish you well as you go on your way.
I recall sitting in an audience myself more than a few times while advice I would never take was dispensed.

So instead, I want to tell you about a few New Zealanders who inspire me. And I hope they will inspire you, too. This is mainly a graduation for the sciences, and these are people who used science and innovation.

I hope they will inspire you to see the opportunities New Zealand has for young graduates. I hope they will inspire you to become leaders and innovators who shape our destiny.

One inspiring New Zealander was just twelve years old when he first showed off his creative talents. This was in 1911: he built a water wheel. The wheel drove a small generator, which lit the family home. His name was Bill Hamilton.

In the mid 1920s he started racing cars and he was the first in Australasia to go faster than a hundred miles an hour. He was an engineer who started to design earthmoving equipment for constructing farm dams, flood protection works and the like.

To get around his projects he had to take a boat, and he got frustrated with the way the propeller on his boat was always getting knocked off by shallow, stony South Island rivers. So he designed a jet engine, known now as the Hamilton Jet. Today the company bearing his name competes against companies like Rolls Royce for contracts for jetboat engines powering ferries around the world.

Before him, another pioneer was William Saltau Davidson. Most New Zealanders have never have heard of Davidson. But he did more to shape our economic destiny through the last century than just about anyone. He sent a shipment of refrigerated meat to London.
This was in 1882, at a time when most people said you couldn’t keep meat cold all the way to the other side of the world. They said we would only ever export wool from New Zealand. “New Zealand will never export meat, butter or cheese,” the doubters said.

If that tone of cynicism rings a bell, it’s because we still hear plenty of people today telling us what New Zealand can’t do. But Davidson proved the doubters and the nay-sayers wrong. He proved as a country it’s wrong to focus on what we can’t do and right to focus on what we can:

We can be innovative.
We can be world class.
We can use science and innovation to create prosperity.

In our early modern history we achieved one of the highest standards of living in the world because of the innovation of people like Davidson. And there were others who contributed.

William Goodfellow helped to shape our dairy industry. A hundred years ago he set up the Waikato Dairy Company when he was just 29 years old. He set up a strategy for that industry to improve its quality through science, through testing and by training the workforce.

He wanted to create economies of scale in the dairy industry and ensure it controlled the marketing of its products. And that is how the cooperative structure of our dairy industry was shaped - and helped it to become this year our most important export earner.

The innovators I have talked about all started out young. The drive and determination of these young achievers shaped our economy. And their success embodies the opportunities for you and your community lying in front of you.

Opportunity is grounded in the excellence of our science and in the innovation we apply. Earlier this year the Prime Minister and I announced a new fund called New Zealand Fast Forward, to unleash more science and innovation in our pastoral and food industries.

It is the most significant investment in innovation in New Zealand history - worth over two billion dollars over the next ten to fifteen years.

I believe that some of the young scientists graduating here today can go on from here with the ambition of scaling world class scientific mountains because of that fund. It offers our best shot at a step change in the New Zealand economy. From research into better, tastier, cleaner, safer food, to more efficient and sustainable processing and production…this is our competitive advantage, our chance to achieve breakthroughs.

When I look at the investment in our science, and the quality of our institutions, as well as at the soaring global demand for our products, I feel confident about our future.

You are graduating this year at a time of almost unprecedented opportunity for young New Zealanders. If you had graduated in the sixties, you would have entered the workforce as it entered decades of long-term relative decline. If you had graduated in the eighties, you would have graduated just as we entered a long stretch of pain in New Zealand.

Graduating today, you are entering a workforce that has grown by a thousand jobs a week, every week, for eight years, and an economy that has not grown so much and for so long since the second world war. You are graduating at a time when skills and knowledge have never been so heavily in demand.

There are exciting and inspiring opportunities ahead.

But I also want to put them in context, inspired by a friend of mine who was another inspiring New Zealander. His name was Alan MacDiarmid, and he was one of our greatest scientists. In this century he won the Nobel Prize for chemistry.

Alan died a couple of years ago. He spent most of his life overseas because that is where the academic opportunities opened up for him. But even while he spent that time far offshore, researching breakthrough chemical compounds, he always kept in close touch with New Zealand.

And when he came back here a couple of years ago and came to see me in government, he talked to me about the importance of caring for New Zealanders. No matter what we try to achieve, we should never stop caring for one another and using our gifts and our heritage in a caring way.

I would like to believe that as our universities develop world class connections and competencies unavailable in Alan MacDiarmid’s youth, and as our science infrastucture deepens, a new generation of scientists following him will have an opportunity to study, work and succeed here at home.

And I hope that as you do so, you will be inspired not only by the success he made of his knowledge, but also be inspired by his care for his fellow New Zealanders. I wish everyone graduating today the best of luck for the future, and I am confident it will be a very bright and prosperous one.


© Scoop Media

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