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Thursday, 5 November 2020
Government House
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC

'Bujari gamarruwa





As Patron, I welcome all members of the Royal Society and the four learned Academies as you examine ‘After COVID 19: Creating the best of times from the worst of times’, as this 2020 Forum is titled.  I especially welcome our university students who are represented at this Forum. Your voices are important to this conversation.

In a year where just about every possible analogy has been used to describe the impact of COVID-19, likening it to a war, a hidden enemy, a year like no other, and that literary reference to ‘the worst of times’ from the indefatigable Charles Dickens, there is perhaps one observation, which more than others, captures where we are at the moment:  “nobody knows how the story ends”.[2] Indeed, scientists are unsure whether this particular story does have an end.  We do know, however, that it has had, is having and will continue to have consequences.  We also know that the negative consequences have not fallen equally on the various sections of our community.

In the research article: The Impact and Implications of COVID-19: An Australian Perspective[3] the authors posited that: “People who were already poor, unemployed or underemployed, with high levels of existing debt … or facing existing difficulties with access to health and social services, and people with disabilities, were likely to be further marginalised.”[4] We also know that mental health has been of significant concern and that isolation has been a particular problem.  

At the community level, Philanthropy Australia has pointed out that “The economic realities of COVID-19 are threatening the existence of not-for-profit organisations and charities” and their capacity to respond. As demand for their services increased, the pandemic diminished their ability to fundraise.[5]

On the positive side, I have found people, both personally and within organisations, thinking and re-thinking about what is important to them and those around them; what things they would want to keep arising out of the COVID restrictions;  what things they would do differently in the future. As the Artistic Director of one of our creative festivals said: “I feel that COVID has given the introverted part of my brain time to think”.  He was, of course, talking about the time to think and re-think creatively and, indeed, about creativity itself.  

Karl Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum, summed the position up well when he said: “Deep, existential crises favour introspection and can harbour the potential for transformation … People feel a time of reinvention has come.”[6]    These words echo what John F Kennedy had pointed out in 1959 when he said:  “When written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters - one represents ‘danger’ and one represents ‘opportunity’.”[7]

This period of time offers us the chance to press the re-set button; to make this a time of re-calibration and reinvention; to think how  we can ‘build back better’ a term that has been used by leaders from Jacinda Arden to Joe Biden and organisations from the OECD to the United Nations.  To do this, we will need to draw on the strength, the ingenuity and the creativity of each sector of our community.

In the best Royal Society tradition of ‘omnia quaerite’ (question everything),  this year’s Forum provides a unique and fertile environment, in the words of one of our esteemed speakers, Dr Genevieve Bell, to “create a little bit of room to imagine other interesting possibilities of how we want to be (and) who we want to be.”[8]

[1] Michael West, Cultural Officer, Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. Translation: “Good day, men, women and friends/comrades”

[3]International Journal of Community and Social Development, July 2020

Dominic O’Sullivan, Mubarak Rahamathulla, Manohar Pawar

[4] Ibid


Also quoted in: International Journal of Community and Social Development, July 2020

Dominic O’Sullivan, Mubarak Rahamathulla, Manohar Pawar

[6] Klaus Schwab: The Great Reset

[7] John F Kennedy Speech: United Negro College Fund, Indianapolis, Indiana, 12 April 1959

[8] Dr Genevieve Bell, Reshaping Australia dialogue in Australian Financial Review’s Recalibrating Society series:


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