Weatherill has been appointed an Officer (AO) of the Order of Australia both for his services to parliament and the people of SA, but also for his work in early childhood and tertiary education.
He is the chief executive officer of Thrive By Five, an initiative of billionaire Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation that is campaigning to make Australia’s early-learning and childcare system high quality and universally accessible.
The people who work with the youngest in the community – the doctors, nurses, social workers and early educators – are often overlooked, Weatherill said.
“They’re working in the most important professions that set up children for the future and they tend not be recognised for the importance of the work that they do,” he said.
“So the least I can do is to dedicate this to them.
“The way I regard this also is really encouragement to continue what I’m doing at the moment, to campaign for reform in the early years.”
Weatherill’s honour also encompasses his time in politics, including 16 years in the SA parliament and seven years as premier.
The Labor leader took SA through a period of modernisation of its traditional manufacturing base, looking more towards hi-tech industries for jobs growth.
His government contained the fallout from significant economic blows, such as the closure of car maker Holden and the mothballed expansion of the Olympic Dam uranium and copper mine.
“What we did was create a more diverse and resilient economy that was able to weather those pretty significant shocks,” he said.
“The state managed to come through that much stronger.”
The former premier said he was similarly proud of the leadership role his government played in the development of renewable energy, which included luring billionaire global businessman Elon Musk to build the world’s largest battery in SA’s mid-north.
And in a more general sense, he pointed to his efforts to lift the standard of debate, championing a “contest of ideas”.
“I tried to involve people in the decisions that affect their lives by trying to civilise the public discourse,” Weatherill said.
“We’ve seen just recently with what we’ve experienced in the United States how fragile democracy is.
“Democratic principles are important and the contest of ideas is important for the quality of our democracy.”
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