About the speaker
Our speaker today is Ms Alexandra Rose.
Alexandra is the Company Secretary of Insurance Australia Group (IAG) Limited. Prior to this position, she was General Counsel and Company Secretary for the Benevolent Society, for which she won the Corporate Lawyer of the Year Award for 2013.
She has served as director on a number of organisations including of The Law Society of NSW for six years, and chaired the Corporate Lawyers and Business Law Committees. She is a current director of Justice Connect and Women Lawyers Association of NSW.
Alexandra is a Fellow of Chartered Secretaries Australia and a Graduate Member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors. In 2012, she worked with UTS law students participating in the Brennan Program to produce the ASX100 General Counsel Report.
She holds a Bachelor of Laws from UTS and maintains her connection with the Faculty of Law as a member of the UTS Law Advisory Board and is a mentor to our law students.
It gives me great pleasure to invite Ms Alexandra Rose to deliver the occasional address.
Good afternoon, Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, members of council, distinguished members of the faculty, guests, graduates, families and friends. The University of Technology Sydney has paid me a profound honour in inviting me to deliver this address on the occasion of your graduation and it is a great pleasure to be back here today.
Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to the younger self at my own graduation some 20 years ago. It is a sobering thought as I stand before you that I cannot remember a single word of any of those speeches. This liberating discovery has helped me enormously in writing this one. No doubt in 20 years’ time, it will be the same with my words.
I would like to begin by congratulating UTS Law on its many achievements since its inception in 1975. I pay particular reference to achievements such as Anti-Slavery Australia, the Australasian Legal Information Institute, The Communications Law Centre, the practical legal experience training program and of course the Brennan Justice and Leadership Program.
UTS has produced many distinguished alumni, including partners of major law firms, leading academics, barristers and a number of judges and magistrates and leading business representatives. Our alumni are testament not only to the quality of education at UTS but also to its willing to tackle important questions of social justice, inclusion, equity and accessibility in our society. Every new graduate is proud of his or her University. You can be especially proud of UTS.
May I express my warmest congratulations to each of you on your personal achievements which have brought you here today. It is an outstanding achievement, and you are entitled to feel very proud. UTS has well prepared each of you and you can be confident that you are ready. Today’s ceremony celebrates that each of you has met the standards of one of the Australia’s leading law schools.
Each of your paths here has been different. You come from different backgrounds, communities and in some cases countries. You will each bring different experiences, knowledge and perspectives to the practice of the law.
I must not only congratulate you but also acknowledge the essential role played by your families and supporters. They have helped you and now share your success. For most people, a university law degree is a family effort. Indeed, some of your family may have even felt that they were doing your law course with you!
I am proud to say that I was in the 1993 intake of UTS law students. I was accepted a week before my 18th birthday. The customary acceptance process was via the national newspapers, which contained notices listing all school leavers and the courses to which they had been accepted. Our privacy laws would think dimly of such a practice today.
I was the first law student in my family. I had no family ties to, or prior engagement with, the legal profession and I began with no pre-existing idea of my legal career, simply that I wanted to be a lawyer.
My course was the full time four year degree. I became accustomed to time tabling scheduled to accommodate the part time students, scheduling evening lectures and Saturday exams. Our lectures were conducted in the current Haymarket campus. There were very few computers and email was at its infancy stages. Hotmail was not founded until 1996. So, I completed university without the benefits of a mobile phone or a laptop. All assignments had to be typed out and hand-delivered, the concept of uploading to websites was many years off. It was however possible to find free parking around the campus, which did help with emergency dashes at lodgement time.
I had the pleasure of being taught Legal Research by Andrew Mowbray. This involved many hours spent in the university library tracking down random citations such as the Saskatchewan Law Journal and copious amounts of photocopying. I am not sure I fully understood the concepts of the Copyright Act. I had the benefit of watching the foundation of AustLII in 1995. It is now Australia’s largest provider of online free‐access legal materials.
In my final years, I was delighted to be able to work part-time and to benefit from the flexible learning that UTS is renowned for.
What I remember most of all was the sense of energy and passion. Unlike some of the students at the more established law schools, every one of us wanted to study law and felt an extraordinary privilege to be given the opportunity to do so.
Here, at a graduation ceremony, when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, we all bear witness to the value of education, especially those of you who are graduating for the second, third times. It is perhaps opportune to remember that you are joining a profession that demands the pursuit of constant learning. The law is continuously evolving and indeed many of you will have the chance to contribute by making changes to it.
Today is a day not only to celebrate how far you have come, but to look to the future as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’. Some of you will pursue careers in legal practice, both locally and internationally. But many of you will not even enter the legal profession, finding careers outside legal practice, including in business, government, and the community sectors. There is no universal template career path or for a lawyer. The law encourages and rewards individuality and increasingly, law is only a first step in a lifelong career.
Career opportunities in your professional life will open up to you repeatedly. And the more opportunities you pursue, and the more enthusiastically you embrace them, the more they will present themselves.
I would urge you to embrace those opportunities. To quote Alexander Bell: “When one door closes, another door opens, but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones that open for us.”
Rewarding and different career paths are not unusual for lawyers. Within a month of their admission in September 1824, the first barristers of the NSW Supreme Court, William Charles Wentworth and Robert Wardell, established a newspaper called The Australian. More recently and closer to home, Andrew Penfold, a UTS graduate and successful businessman established the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation. The Foundation has raised over $80 million to help educate 7000 marginalised Indigenous children.
The Dean has kindly referred to some of my own experience in the not for profit sector. For most of my professional life, I have practised as a corporate lawyer however last year I was fortunate enough to pursue a career change and work for The Benevolent Society, Australia’s oldest not for profit charity.
Last year, 61,000 children were reported as being at risk of harm in NSW. There are over 18,000 children in out-of-home care. These numbers have doubled in the past decade. The cost of supporting each child in foster care is roughly $66,000 a year.
The highlight of my time at The Benevolent Society was helping the charity to partner with two large banks and the NSW Government to launch a Social Benefit Bond. This is a new form of social finance designed to raise capital from private investors. The funds are used for intensive work for up to 400 at-risk families across NSW to keep children out of the child protection system and families safely together. If not for the Bond, the important earlier intervention and intensive services might otherwise not receive funding due to limited Government resources. The ability to contribute to this project was one of the most rewarding highlights of my professional career.
As future leaders, I encourage you not to lose sight of your own responsibilities and to continue to look for social justice and community service opportunities in whatever your next endeavours may be. I hope you will come back in 20 years’ time and reflect on what you have done with the opportunities given to you, with your talent, your energy and your conscience. I hope you will judge yourselves not only on your professional accomplishments, but also on how well you have attempted to address society’s bigger inequities.
My final hope for you is as follows. Some of my friends with whom I sat on graduation day remain longstanding friends. I have been extremely fortunate to develop close relationships with work colleagues and senior practitioners who mentored me, particularly during difficult or stressful times of my career. So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships and that you find support from your legal colleagues.
To each of you, I give my warm congratulations and my best wishes for your future careers.