Exploring the motivations behind dedicating one’s life to public service, Federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne discussed his book, A Letter to My Children, at Tuesday 11th August’s ‘Meet the Author’ event, held jointly by the ANU and the Canberra Times in Parliament House.
Pyne discussed why he had chosen to write a book at this stage of his life in a brief speech, before opening the floor to a question and answer segment. He reflected on a question posed by his daughter that had been the catalyst for this book:
“Why would he have children, and build a family, if he was going to leave them for 6+ months of the year to embrace his political career?”
Based off that question, he stated how he had approached the book as a treatise in defence of public service, expressing how he had wanted to follow his ophthalmologist father’s legacy of serving others, and that public service, was indeed worth it.
Quoting Plutarch, Pyne said that he was inspired by the notion that “it is part of a good man to do great and noble deeds, though he risk everything”, with his notion of “great deeds” including those both within and outside of politics.
The Q&A segment began with a firm stance that this was “not a political meeting”, and that “if you want to talk about government policies, you should come to our next public meeting”. He discussed how much of the public didn’t necessarily understand what public service actually was, and that the common thought that politicians were “in it for themselves” was untrue in his experience.
Answering an audience question on how he perceived public service had changed over the course of his career, he stated that it had transformed immensely, but that the cynical and skeptical nature of the Australian public kept “pollies honest”.
“With change has come the engagement of the public, but also the unshacklement,” Pyne said.
In reflecting on his career, he brought up the highly impactful founding of the youth mental health initiative, Headspace, in 2006, which he said he pushed, as there were “no mental health services on a parliamentary level”.
This linked into a recurring motif in Pyne’s responses, that there were overwhelmingly no politicians who went into politics “not hoping to make a difference for the better”. Ultimately, he said, he looked up to political families such as the Kennedy family who strove to make a difference, despite having a relatively charmed life.
Pyne concluded by dedicating the book to “family life, my children, my father, my public service and my dad”, portraying his wife as the “anchor” of the family. ANU Vice Chancellor Ian Young then gave a closing address, stating his support for the Education Minister.
“He says what he means, something a lot of politicians have lost.”