Home World Business What Simon Birmingham really needs is a dog

What Simon Birmingham really needs is a dog


I always wanted to go to university but never did. Instead I enrolled in the university of life and it seemed to work.

But I envied those who left my little country high school and got a tertiary education in the city.  

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I started thinking about universities in the middle of the 1970s, when I first visited the US. It was a terrible time: the Vietnam War, Nixon’s impeachment over Watergate and the Savings & Loan scandal.

America was in trouble. But over the next decade the United States reinvented itself via Silicon Valley with the beginning of the digital age. San Francisco was at the heart of it all with flower power but, more importantly, Stanford University.

Then about 18 months ago I got my wish and “went to Harvard” as part of a small group from Victoria.  We also visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

I became friends with  Nicco Mele, of the Shorenstein Centre in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and gained first hand experience of the  powerhouse thinking in universities that has a hugely positive effect on public policy and administration.

And then on a visit last year to Chengdu in China, I saw the power of universities again in building the new world economy.

Chengdu is a city of 13 million people and was built in just 10 years. It has an airport at one end and another will be built at the other end within three years.

Stanford University was part of the American reinvention. Stanford University was part of the American reinvention. Photo: Getty Images

It made me think of how long it’s taken us to have a second airport for Sydney. Beside the electronics company Huawei’s office, there is a campus of 8000 workers reinventing the telephone and creating devices we have never imagined. I asked senior executives “why Chengdu?”.  

“Because of the universities here” came the reply.

The Chinese city of Chengdu is an example of the power of universities to build the new world economy. The Chinese city of Chengdu is an example of the power of universities to build the new world economy. Photo: Tian Zhan

Australia struggles

Universities, and learning at every level, is clearly the future driver of the world. So why is it that we’re struggling in Australia with funding and not celebrating the power that universities bring for this and future generations?

As a new colony we established Sydney University in 1850 and Melbourne University three years later. Today we have a significant number of universities in the top 100 globally and I’m told there are over 7000 of them.

You need a very strong ticker for political leadership as most major leaders know.

I’ve written before about Education Minister Simon Birmingham and praised him when he celebrated TAFE colleges and recognised their proper place in the Australian education system. Birmingham was a hero then. But it all changed this week when he announced changes to universities and suddenly he looked friendless.

I was thinking about him when I saw a tweet from Harvard University saying “Pet ownership, especially having a dog, is associated with improved heart health”.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (left) and Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull (left) and Education Minister Simon Birmingham. Photo: Peter Rae

Perhaps that’s the answer for our Education Minister who doesn’t seem to have a pet of any kind. You need a very strong ticker for political leadership as most major leaders know.

When President Trump moved into the White House, one of his first decisions was to get a dog. He proudly announced the arrival of his Goldendoodle to the world as his White House pet. And surprise surprise he named it Patton after the legendary World War II General who was famous for wearing two pearl handled six guns into battle.

President Obama had two Portuguese Water Dogs called Sunny and Bo in residence with him and his family at the White House.

Dogged leadership

Dogs say a lot about people. Vladimir Putin has a number of dogs and in 2007 he famously introduced his beloved black Labrador Connie to the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The pictures show the typical German Russian feeling for each other as the 60kg Connie stared at the German chancellor of about the same weight who is well known for her fear of canines.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had a dog because focus testing told him he should get one.

Our current Prime Minister is a noted dog lover and even had a dog blog. He lost his beloved Mellie some time ago and is now the proud owner of Jojo.

The leader of the opposition is not without canine friends either. He has two bulldogs named Matilda and Theodore and their well-known characteristics seem to be rubbing off rather effectively on his leadership.

It was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Hold on with a bulldog grip, and chew and choke as much as possible.”

But back to this problem with universities and our beleaguered minister. I like him and I hope he can settle this matter but I suspect there is trouble ahead.

Without wanting to start a nationwide search for help for him, I’m suggesting he gets a dog.

What type? Asks Louise.

Simple. This fit looking young fellow serving as Education Minister needs a cross whippet basset hound.

Smart, super fit with a sad look. 


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