On behalf of my fellow Directors, I welcome you all. The Board of the Migration Council is delighted to have you join us for tonight’s celebration. A celebration of migration and settlement.
The peaceful settlement of millions of people ranks among our greatest achievements as a nation. We have long recognised that the migration process does not stop on the arrival of a migrant to our shores. It goes beyond this.
The choice to migrate is a profound resolution to willingly expose one’s vulnerabilities within a new culture.
To migrate to a new country is a supreme act of courage entrusting one’s life and the life of one’s children, into the hands of strangers.
New Australians strive to find belonging and acceptance, to forge new bonds of kinship, friendship, Community and home. It is in our interest both economically and socially to provide support along the way. Tonight we celebrate those New Australians and the many men and women who work to make Australia home for them.
Tonight we also recognise those amongst us who do more, who are special, who are creative, who are effective and who lead us in the settlement of our New Australians.
As the Honourable on Prime Minister Julia Gillard said: “Post-war migration began as our nation’s greatest experiment and it has become our nation’s greatest success”.
It gives me great pleasure to welcome to the stage our guest of honour the Prime Minister of Australia the Honourable Julia Gillard.
My Government looks forward to working in partnership with the Migration Council on this important plan.
Work like that matters because one in every four Australians was born somewhere else.
We are a nation of migrants.
I know – because I’m one myself.
My family made that journey of hope and courage to a new land.
A land where we found welcome.
A land where we found opportunity.
And long before we got our certificates of citizenship, we were already Australians deep in our hearts.
In this most multicultural of nations, our social fabric has never been measured by the fineness of its thread.
It’s a fabric we have embroidered and embellished, and when necessary, patched and darned – but it is not something fragile or easily torn.
My family has been fortunate enough to be able to stitch its initials into this social fabric.
Two adults and two small girls, among the seven million who have sought to make new homes here since World War Two.
Great waves of us.
First, from the UK and northern Europe.
Then from the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
Later from South-East Asia, India, China, Africa.
And of course these post-war waves were not the first.
From the earliest colonial times this land has exerted a pull on the hearts and imaginations of dreamers.
Matching and tracking the world’s great events.
From the Irish fleeing the potato famine in the 1840s to the “Ten-Pound Poms” leaving behind the bombed-out cities of Britain.
From Jewish people seeking a safe haven after the horrors of the Holocaust to the Vietnamese fleeing in the aftermath of a terrible war.
The Australian story is the world’s story also.
And I suspect that the things that led my own parents to emigrate in the 1960s were not so very different from the hopes and dreams of all who have made the journey.
Packed away in acid-free paper in the vaults of the National Archives are some remarkable records: records that tell of thousands upon thousands of these hopes and dreams.
The faces of our migrant nation, photographed by Department of Immigration staff between 1946 and 1999.
Expectant faces looking down from passenger vessels docking at our ports.
Faces bent over books at migrant English classes.
Labourers hard at work on the Snowy Scheme.
Faces under sunhats, picking fruit, or looking out from beneath hairnets on the factory floor.
Now, all 22,000 of these photographs have been digitised and are online.
The Destination: Australia website lets people search for photos, share stories, add descriptions, even upload their own photographic memories.
These memories will feed into a major National Archives exhibition on post-Wold War II migration, planned for 2014.
The exhibition will be entitled A Ticket to Paradise?
Complete, as is our Australian way, with an upward inflection, a final question mark.
For many millions of migrant Australians, I suspect, there is no question mark.
The decision to come here was right – full stop.
Just as Chifley’s decision to open our doors was right.
Of course, there are challenges, sorrows, moments of doubt.
No nation is built without these.
But overwhelmingly this is a place where dreams are fulfilled.
Where a form of “paradise” can be found – at least as much as is possible on this earth.
Towards the end of Anna Funder’s award-winning novel All That I Am, the character of Ruth is spending her last days in reflection, recalling her flight from Hitler’s Germany, the losses wrought by war and finally her new life in Australia.
“After the war,” she says, “I came to this sunstruck place. It is a glorious country, which aspires to no kind of glory.
Its people aim for something both more basic and more difficult: decency.”
Together we have built a nation that strives to be classless, confident and compassionate.
But above all, a country which is decent.
A country that has been enriched by the hand of welcome each generation holds out to those who come after us.
The gesture of inclusion and belonging that enlarges us all.
These qualities are found in abundance among the finalists in the inaugural Migration and Settlement Awards.
Individuals and organisations who are there for migrants and refugees in those first bewildering months, offering good counsel and local know-how, and bringing “paradise” a few steps closer.
So congratulations to all the finalists and category winners.
Thank you for proving, by your example, that we are a nation of welcome and a place of opportunity.
Australia has given us everything, so we give everything in return.
That means no matter how far we’ve come, our best days still always lie ahead.
Prime Minister, distinguished Parliamentary colleagues, ladies and gentlemen.
I¹m honoured to support the Prime Minister tonight in supporting these awards and in honouring the people who have made such a contribution to the life of migrants to our country.
These awards celebrate migrants’ contribution to modern Australia a country which is utterly unimaginable without migration because except for Aboriginal people, every single Australian is an immigrant or the descendent of immigrants.
Immigration has been at the heart of our Australian story. Without it, the country we know and love would not have come into existence. Our multiculturalism, expressed as our willingness as a nation to let migrants integrate in their own way and at their own pace because of our confidence and the gravitational pull of our values and our way of life.
We are happy, very happy, to celebrate our diversity because we can be confident in our community. After all, every single migrant has voted for Australia with his or her feet.
Australians, for their part, have invariably welcomed newcomers to these shores with generosity and as the Prime Minister has already mentioned this evening, amongst those newcomers are her own parents, and indeed, my own grandparents.
Like millions of others, they came because they sought new life here and because they had the skills and the attitudes that our country needed, principally the determination to become Australian and to succeed in their new home.
Our support for refugees indicates our warms hearts as a people. Our support for skilled migrants indicates our cool heads as a people because why not take the best from anywhere in the world and make them ours?
We should never be more proud of our country than when migrants choose Australia. They, let’s face it, have chosen this country in a way that the native born mostly never have to. They’re the ultimate vindication of our country as a land of hope, reward and opportunity and as the Prime Minister has indicated, successive waves of migrants, originally from the British Isles but increasingly from all corners of the globe, have lent an heroic dimension to our national story.
Like America, this country, too, has been a beacon of hope to “your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.”
In directly honouring distinguished migrants as we do tonight, we indirectly honour ourselves because all of us have been shaped and formed by this great immigrant culture.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for everything you have done.
Thank you for making myself, the Prime Minister and all members of parliament so welcome here tonight.
Prime Minister, Chief Justice, the Leader of the Opposition, Ministers, Members of Parliament, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
The fact that we are all gathered here from the spectrum of Australian society reflects the importance of migration to our nation.
To touch our future is to touch our values and to contemplate our future is to remember our past. Tonight is such a night.
From the outset, migration has been a national endeavour: and so it should be. Migration is far more than economics. It is the core ingredient of nation building. It is not a programme of numbers but one of people: of pioneering and courageous families who put everything on the line for a punt at a better life.
I have lived through most of the post war immigration.
I have seen their struggles and the enormous cultural and economic contribution they have made to building the nation.
Migration has been a collective endeavour. In the early post war days representatives from business, the Unions and the newly formed Immigration Department considered who should come and how to help and encourage them.
They toured the source countries, debated what skills we needed and crafted our early support policies.
From the start, immigration was seen as a shared imperative and a collaborative effort. It was bi-partisan. It is self-evident that a policy which determines our very composition and defines who we are must be owned by all of us.
Migration is essential to continue to drive prosperity in Australia.
Business is a part of the community and we are committed to working for the growth and prosperity of Australia and its people.
Business is increasingly judged on the social and economic value we spread through our activities.
Business is the driver of prosperity in our nation but we must have a strong and equitable society to deliver. We must have a society which fosters participation and provides the opportunity for all to contribute.
As supporters of a strong migration programme business has an important role in providing job opportunities for them.
A marked characteristic of our migrants is that they want to contribute and want nothing more than a chance to work and provide education and security for their family.
It is our collective responsibility, government, business, unions and the wider community to ensure that we eliminate the barriers to employment and welcome and encourage those who are finding their feet.
We must recognise their challenges. Many of you here tonight have experienced them.
Imagine starting afresh, not understanding the language or culture in a world with different systems and customs.
Just getting to the first job interview can be a great challenge.
We must be vigilant against conscious and unconscious bias and prejudice. We do not want to waste the potential contribution of anybody.
Tonight we remember that our nation was built on the premise that each member of our community is to be valued by virtue of their contribution, irrespective of the homeland of their parents or grandparents.
Business accepts our responsibility in upholding those values, to provide leadership, and to offer people the chance to give back.
Our history shows us the investment we make in migrants will be repaid tenfold through a lifetime of commitment and contribution – through a commitment that carries forward through generations.
Chairman of the Migration Council Australia, Parliamentarians, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Nearly two hundred years before the birth of Christ, a young man living in what is now Tunisia was taken to Rome as a slave by a wealthy Senator who was impressed with his literary talents. The young man, later freed, became Rome’s greatest comic dramatist writing under his master’s name of Terentius. His was a migrant success story which resonates into our own time. He is relevant in another way because of some words spoken by a character in one of his plays which have been quoted and requoted for over two thousand years by writers as disparate as Seneca, St Augustine, Montaigne, Karl Marx and countless others. The words were:
“Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.
I am a man: nothing human is foreign to me.”
It is a delightful irony that the words in Terentius’ play were apparently spoken by a busybody responding to a suggestion by one of his neighbours that he should mind his own business. Though written tongue-in-cheek they enlivened a deeper imagination in those who heard and read them. They have been taken as words about the essential unity of mankind. So interpreted they are words which, in Australia, in our own time, reflect a fundamental value underpinning our notion of equal justice, that is to say that every person in this country, migrant or born here, is equal before the law.
That is easier to say than it is to apply. Cases which are alike should be treated alike. Cases which differ in ways which the law recognises should be treated differently. But what are the differences that the law can recognise? That is a question we cannot avoid when we speak of diversity and the law.
The diversity of our population enriches our society in many ways. It can also pose a challenge to the way in which we understand and apply the concept of equality before the law. There are differences between peoples in culture, language, religion and dispute resolution traditions which cannot be accommodated in a formal way by our legal system without compromising the notion of equal justice. The Australian Law Reform Commission wrestled with the question over twenty years ago in its report on multiculturalism and the law in which it argued that all Australians should:
“Accept the basic structures and principles of Australian society – the Constitution and the rule of law, tolerance and equality, parliamentary democracy, freedom of speech and religion, English as the national language and equality of the sexes.”
We must recognise, with a degree of modesty which lawyers and judges sometimes find difficult, that there are tensions between some aspects of cultural diversity and equal justice which cannot be reconciled. But there are important things which can be done about them. It is the doing of those things we recognise tonight. It is to the benefit of new arrivals and to the benefit of Australian society that there are people and organisations among us who are prepared to assist new migrants achieve an understanding of the rights and responsibilities of citizenship and in particular to assist those from other places who find themselves interacting in one way or another with the legal system which may embody values, concepts and principles which are alien to them. A commitment to that kind of assistance is a commitment to that common humanity conveyed by the words of the migrant playwright across two millennia. It is a commitment to equal justice as an aspect of the rule of law. It is right that we value and recognise that commitment to encourage those who have made it and to encourage others to make it.
I am delighted to be able to present the award this evening in the category of Diversity and the Rule of Law.
I want to firstly thank the migration council for inviting me to speak this evening. It really is a pleasure to be here tonight for an event that is focused on recognising those individuals and organisations that have embraced diversity and seek to promote the value of new migrants throughout the community.
As the son of migrants I know the value of building a connection with community. Growing up in the back of my parents fish ‘n chip shop in the multi-cultural suburb of Coburg in Melbourne, my connection to the community as a child was built around sport. Whether we were Greeks, Italians, Turks, Maltese or Australians, sport was something that brought kids in the neighborhood together. My three brothers and I spent countless hours kicking a battered old football around our local Woolworths car park. It was brutal on your knees but it didn’t stop us, and plenty of other kids in the neighborhood, from coming together with a common purpose. Sport, and in particular football, was a great leveler and helped us develop friendships and seek new opportunities. Sport was the catalyst for acceptance and gave me a true sense of community. A sense of belonging. It also gave me the sort of opportunities my parents could only dream of when they left Cyprus in the hope of giving their children and their children’s children a better life.
My own upbringing also helped shape the values I’ve carried with me right throughout my life and now in my role as CEO of the AFL. It was very clear to me from an early stage that sport has the capacity to tear down barriers and engage every segment of the community. Someone once asked me how I would describe our game. I like to think of Australian football as a great democratizer. A game for anyone and everyone. A game that is inclusive, accessible and affordable. A game that does not discriminate. Footy, and sport more broadly, is a great meeting place. Every week it brings diverse groups of people together from across the community. People from a range of backgrounds but with a common passion for the game.
As far as Australian football is concerned, people don’t come to our game because they want to impose their values on it. They come to our game because of its values. I’m regularly reminded of that each time we host newly arrived migrants at AFL matches around the country. We often hear them remark how they’ve never felt more connected to the community and Australian culture than when they’ve sat among the Sydney Swans faithful, or the Port Adelaide die-hards. And around the country there are countless new migrants picking up a football in the playground and immediately forging a bond with those around them. The fact many of them don’t speak a word of English doesn’t matter. They are communicating in a language just as powerful as English, or Mandarin or Arabic. The language of sport, and in many cases, Australian football. And for a large number, it is a connection that remains for life. A bond that provides opportunities previously unimagined.
Those looking for evidence need only look as far as AFL club North Melbourne and their young Sudanese-born player Majak Daw. After fleeing war-torn Sudan almost a decade ago, Majak and his eight brothers and sisters eventually settled in Melbourne where his first friendship was made over a Sherrin football. When Majak enjoyed a spectacular AFL debut recently, there was a genuine sense of pride and achievement, not just throughout the AFL community but in the Sudanese community as well.
It is young men like this that bring more to the game than just their on-field talent. Men and women from every conceivable background that enrich the culture of our game. They’re bringing their cultures into the AFL and helping us understand the similarities and differences. As much as football is making a difference in their communities, these people are making a difference in ours. And while Majak may be the AFL’s first Sudanese-born player, I guarantee you he won’t be the last.
Some see the AFL as simply a sport. Others see it as simply a big business. The reality is that we are, and need to be, more than just a sporting competition or a business. We are also a not for profit, community and cultural organization that must take a leadership role in the community. We believe the success of Australian football is measured by our connection with the community. And if we are to truly be a responsible leader and grow our game, we need to constantly hold a mirror to ourselves and make sure we are reflecting the community around us.
That is why we have implemented a host of programs that directly relate to the wider issues facing the community. We have been intent on fostering a safe and welcoming game that affords everyone the same opportunities, regardless of background. We have been unwavering in our endeavours across issues such as racial and religious vilification, violence against women and multi-culturalism.
That is why Australia Post have joined us in partnership to establish a multi-cultural ambassadors pathway program that sees AFL role models from countries including Nigeria, Fiji, Italy, Lebanon, Brazil and Egypt. We are proud of the insight and cultural guidance these players provide our industry. Quite simply we would be poorer without their presence. Each year the AFL celebrates ‘One Game, Many Cultures’ through Multi-Cultural Round. This is an opportunity for 20,000 people from migrant families to come together as one at an AFL game. It acknowledges the role multicultural communities have played in our game and importantly it encourages new communities to enjoy our game as supporters, players and administrators in the future.
The same can be said for the Unity Cup, an event that brings together a range of culturally and linguistically diverse communities through a mutual appreciation of Australian football. We’ve witnessed some remarkable acts of inclusion and understanding through the Unity Cup. Last year’s event comprised of teams from Melbourne’s Muslim, Jewish and Indigenous communities with one team made up of players from Muslim and Jewish backgrounds.
We are also proud of the fact that the outstanding athleticism and leadership of many Indigenous AFL players has helped foster a sense of pride amongst Australians about our nation’s rich Indigenous heritage. Furthermore we support the goal of amending our Constitution to formally unite our Indigenous history with the many chapters that have been written since.
Sport has the extraordinary power to bring people together regardless of their background, something we should never forget. Sport is also one of the most powerful tools we have for affecting cultural change. It has the very real ability to strengthen community ties and promote social inclusion. And it is a key driver for our continued prosperity as a nation.
It’s my privilege tonight to help to introduce the award for journalism. I’ve been asked to offer a personal perspective on reporting migration and settlement issues because of my own experience in settling refugees — and may I thank the Migration Council and the National Archives of Australia for such a non-controversial assignment! Next month, the archives will host Shake Your Family Tree Day to encourage Australians to explore their family histories. As we’ve heard, it’s also launching the new website Destination Australia – you’ve seen some images here tonight – which highlights the migrant contribution to our country. And if you haven’t had a look in the glass cases down the back, I’d encourage you to do so. They contain the family documents and photographs from some of our migrant politicians and prominent Australians. They’re a great read.
I work for SBS and we are also committed to highlighting what migrant communities bring to Australian life. When I say we’re committed, I speak from personal experience. I’ve been involved with refugees since 1979 when, as a 13-year-old, I went with my parents to the airport to welcome a Vietnamese family. Through the Uniting Church, Mum and Dad had volunteered to support a family they’d never met. Getting off the plane, gaunt and without English, were a young husband and wife carrying a baby girl and an airline overnight bag. I was there in my school uniform and I remember being gobsmacked that this was everything they had. They’d fled Vietnam by boat to a refugee camp in Malaysia and eventually come to Australia. The church rented them a townhouse and furnished it with donations. My parents and a second support family organised drivers’ licences, English classes, Medicare. I did what a teenager could, learning bits of Vietnamese, helping around the house. This family became part of ours.
Language was the biggest barrier. We laughed, got frustrated — and used the telephone interpreter service a lot. As the brutal Canberra winter descended, we discovered they were sleeping on TOP of the bedspread. We hadn’t thought to explain that there were layers of sheets and blankets underneath. In Vietnam, the husband had been a specialist diesel mechanic so Dad helped him get a job cleaning buses, in the hope – ultimately futile – that they’d eventually want his skills. He got himself another cleaning job — here at Parliament House. More jobs followed – in a restaurant, a greengrocer. At home, the young couple sat up at night, putting the spokes in bicycle wheels for money. They sent money back to family, spent enough to live and saved the rest. Eventually he learned baking and they bought a hot-bread shop. And then another. At one point, they owned 5 retail outlets and a bakery depot. They had 2 more daughters. Thirty-four years on, we’ve seen the weddings of all 3 and now grandchildren.
In the early 90s, I volunteered in my own right to support a family arriving from Bosnia. The husband was Serb, the wife Muslim – their two young children deemed to be born of a ‘mixed marriage’. They were forced to flee their home in Mostar hours after their baby son’s birth to avoid being ‘ethnically cleansed’ – that means murdered – and they moved something like 7 times before reaching a Belgrade refugee camp and, ultimately, coming here. A few days after arriving, their little girl turned 5. We rounded up all the 5-year-olds we knew and threw a party with presents and a giant chocolate 5 on top of her cake. Her mother sat in the corner and cried. It was the first birthday party her daughter had had. In January this year, I went to that little girl’s wedding on a glorious summer afternoon at Margaret River, in Western Australia. A year or so after the family first arrived, the wife’s brother joined them from where he’d fled to – Sweden. We tried to get visas for their parents — still in Mostar, effectively squatting with other families in what used to be their family home. They managed to get application forms to the Australian Embassy in Belgrade and we made long, frustrating phone calls. Things went round and round and never progressed. Their father got sick and deteriorated. It was clear he wasn’t going to live.
I had some money saved so I urged sister and brother to let me send them home to see him. They resisted, I insisted and they went. Among the things they packed was a fresh white sheet so he would have a proper Muslim burial. They were able to see him before he died and be with him when he did. And they buried him in the sheet. There remains a great nagging on my soul that had we managed to better navigate the bureaucracy and get their parents here, their Dad might not have died when he did. When they came back to Australia, they insisted on repaying me those airfares, $50 at a time. They brought their grieving mother, on a visitor’s visa. She had to return to Mostar and wait more than two years before being allowed to come back permanently.
The so-called queue is very long. Join it and you can wait an interminable time. Jump it and you can get here sooner. But you risk your own life, end up in detention and make others wait longer. What sort of choice is that?
The members of both families — Vietnamese and Bosnian – are now all proud Australian citizens. And I’ve gained far more from knowing them than I ever gave. One year, we all had Christmas together and they swapped stories of refugee camps. I didn’t work in television then, but I wish it had been on camera. Their stories were different but both involved struggle and physical danger. I’ve learned that refugee stories – asylum seeker stories — are all different. How do we assess who is most deserving? How do we weigh one person’s desperation against another?
It’s a terrible dilemma. Indeed, all migrant stories are different. Some people come by boat, some have to wait years. Some have money and choose a new life, some are fleeing for their lives. Some come to work, some join family, some seek adventure. Some feel exploited, bewildered, hurt, privileged, excited. Some come with family, some alone. But they all arrive in a new, often strange place having left what they know, behind. It’s rarely easy. Making migration policy is a different kind of hard. And so is reporting on it. Especially at the moment. I would hope that those of us who do these things might bear in mind that these are people we’re dealing with, not labels or categories. And I hope we can all be guided by fairness, compassion and the desire to encourage harmony — and to genuinely strive to avoid the reverse.