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Launching the ANU's Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs

Vote of Thanks to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop by Professor the Hon Gareth Evans AC QC, Chancellor of The Australian National University, ANU, Canberra, 4 February 2015

May I offer a particularly warm vote of thanks to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for launching our new Coral Bell School, and doing so with her usual combination of grace, style and effervescence.

The life of a Foreign Minister is, as I well know, full of a ridiculous amount of colour and movement at even the most normal of times. But given the extra layer of alarums, diversions, distractions and excitements of the last few days, it was a very big ask for you make this time for ANU today and we are enormously grateful that you have done so.

I am delighted to be able to add that it’s in fact not at all unusual for you to make time for ANU: this is the 7th major ANU event  at which you have spoken in the last year, as both Foreign Minister and Deputy Leader! You have been tremendously supportive of the institution we are and aspire to be.

You just get it, and have always got it, that ANU has a particular role and responsibility as Australia’s only national university, and that there is a lot riding on our capacity to deliver distinctive excellence – when it comes to research, teaching and learning, and our contribution to the national policy debate.

What today’s renaming and rebranding exercise is basically about is strengthening the visibility of ANU’s distinctive contribution – in all these ways – to Asia Pacific affairs.
When it comes to telling that story, the previous name of this school never quite cut the mustard. “IPS” (School of International, Political and Strategic Studies”) is one of those acronyms where (and I don’t think I’m speaking just for myself here) it’s hard for anyone to remember the initials, quite apart from what they stand for, and harder still to distinguish this school from similarly named units elsewhere within this university and elsewhere.

Choosing the new name was, as I’m well aware because I  contributed some thoughts to the discussion, was something of a saga – I think about the only name that wasn’t considered was the “Prince Phillip School”.  But when Coral Bell’s name was suggested it struck an instant chord with almost everybody.
What’s not to like about honouring the memory of Coral Bell in this way?

  • She was a formidably distinguished scholar, with a huge international reputation, who spend some of her most productive years here in this school.
  • She focused throughout her career on the really big issues, of war and peace, of the avoidance of nuclear Armageddon, great power relationships, of alliances, of global and regional security architecture – and her ideas made a direct and lasting impact on the policy debate, particularly during the Cold War years and immediately after

What resonates particularly for me:

  • Extremely well developed lack of interest in the abstractions of international relations theory – she was always preoccupied with the real world dilemmas faced by real world policymakers.
  • Although she was a conservative, she was a conservative with rational characteristics:

    : opposing the Vietnam war
    : opposing the 2003 Iraq war
    : advocating after the end of the Cold War that NATO actually include Russia (which might have saved us all a lot of trouble with Mr Putin…
    : advocating that the US be very careful, in this region and globally, about over-asserting its primacy as other new power centres emerged.

  • Above all, that she was famously optimistic – never retreating into that gloomy Chicken Little world of so many other realists, but always looking to ways in which the game could be moved forward, and the world  made safer and saner

In naming this School after Coral Bell we’ve set the bar high – and so we should.

  • We want the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs to be recognized as the pre-eminent centre for research and teaching on Asia Pacific politics, international relations and strategic studies - not only in the region but the world.
  • We want its academics to go on being, as they are now, at the cutting edge of the intersection between traditional academic and policy-focused research, with the latter drawing strength and credibility from the former.
  • We want to go on making a major contribution  to the thinking of government policymakers, and those who influence them, a role which the various units that make up this school have very much played in the past – as you, Foreign Minister, have gracefully acknowledged)

So thank you again, Julie, for joining with us today, and thank you for your continuing support of ANU – which I hope and expect will continue in the future, in whatevcr role you might be called upon to play in the service of your party and your country.