We have long recognised that the Migration process does not stop with the arrival of the migrant. We also understand we have to keep adapting our settlement processes to the changes in our Migration intake.
Changes such as the twostep migration program heavily impacted by economics. Changes such as the increasing significance of migrants from our region.
As Professor Markus explained to many of us this morning the experience of the migrant arriving is dramatically changed also. No longer are they isolated from their former home country. More than half of our recent migrants are in weekly contact of a significant nature with their former country. Nearly half of them are returning every year for a visit to their former country.
Our challenges for effective settlement are changing. Sometimes it’s easier to see change from History and if you get a chance, have a look at the cabinets that the National Archives of Australia have so wonderfully put together again for us this year. In those cabinets it demonstrates via history what changes have been made; and there is nothing more certain than that it will change even faster in the future. In those cabinets is the immigration Restriction Act of 1901 with the infamous dictation test where a Customs Officer could pick whatever language he liked and ask you to say 50 words in that language. Sounds outrageous to us today, that was in 1901.
The one I love is the Citizen’s act of 1948 which I think is in the 3rd cabinet. I had not realised that you could not have been a citizen before 1948 when that Act was passed. At that same time they had introduced English courses for migrants in 1948. Then you look you will see in 1966 how the flavour again changed following the recommendations of an independent commission on how to expand the non-European migration to Australia. Change.
Tonight is not a time for me to explore these dynamics. However tonight is the time for us to recognise those amongst us who see and understand those changes, that are creative in dealing with them and who lead us in the settlement of New Australians. It gives me great pleasure on behalf of my fellow Directors at the Migration Council to welcome to the stage our guest of honour and Key Note Speaker, the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon Tony Abbott.
Well Peter thank you so much, it’s lovely to be here.
I acknowledge all of the special guests here tonight – you are all very welcome in this Parliament House, this place which aims to represent the best of us and occasionally succeeds.
Amongst my many Parliamentary colleagues I want especially to acknowledge and honour the political impresario of Harmony Day Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.
We can say many things about our country but one thing which is absolutely incontrovertible is that this country of ours is an immigrant nation. Our indigenous brothers and sisters aside, every single one of us is a migrant or a descendent of migrants and as time goes by migrants come in ever greater numbers. We have had 7.5 million people arrive on these shores since the Second World War and 1.2 million arrive on these shores since 2000.
It is at the core of our being and sense of self as Australians that we are an immigrant nation and we should be so proud of the fact that people all around the world look to us as a place that they might choose to live. We should be so proud of the fact that so many millions of people have voted with their feet for Australia. Now, I know that sometimes the number of migrants is a little scary to those of us who have been here a little longer. There have been times in my life when I confess to feeling a little apprehensive about the pace of change, but the more you get to know migrants to this country the more you understand how keen they are to become Australian – yes, in their own way and yes at their own pace, but to become Australian as quickly as they can.
They have come here not to change us, but to join us so that, the us, is a greater more diverse and richer us than it was before.
We should celebrate the contribution that migrants have made to Australia and that indeed is the prime purpose of these awards tonight.
There is almost no field of endeavour in this country of ours that hasn’t been enriched and improved by the contribution of migrants.
I wish to take simply one example, one of your awardees this evening. Brought up in one language; educated in another language; as an adult became proficient in English and now makes his living as a master of communication in the various languages in which he is steeped, but in particular our language, our national language, English.
Yes, as Peter pointed out a few moments ago, we haven’t always been at our best. Yes, there have been times in our past and indeed episodes in our present when we have been less than our best selves. But you know even at the time when the Immigration Restriction Act was still spluttering on, we knew what it really meant to be an Australian. We knew of the welcome that was at the heart of being an Australian.
I came across this quote from Sir Robert Menzies: “Once received into our community, a new citizen is entitled to be treated in every way as a fellow-Australian. The strength and history of our people have been founded upon this vital principle”. So, even at a time when we might have been in some ways at our worst, we were somewhat better than we sometimes think.
So I see tonight as a great celebration of Australia and of Australians. Yes, we are all on a journey, no one on more of a journey, few on as difficult a journey as those who come to this country from very different countries and yet we celebrate this country.
Most of all we celebrate those who have made a great leap of faith in us. The greatest compliment anyone can pay Australia is to want to be an Australian.
Thank you so much.
On a night when we celebrate all who those who have made the journey here and are Australians by choice, I begin by acknowledging the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia – Australians by birth.
I pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, and to their elders past and present. Like all but the first Australians, I am a proud descendant of migrants. I am the son of a Geordie seafarer – my father’s family lived in Tyneside for a long time. ￼￼ One of my relatives with an interest in family history has traced my father’s side of the family back to the 1840s, where I thought many of my relatives came from the same village – called ‘W.House’. Until I learned that there was a workhouse in many industrial cities in Britain.
Some on my mother’s side of the family got to Australia a bit earlier than my father’s. It was the considered opinion of the British legal system that Thomas Mineham, a native of County Limerick, via London; should spend at least seven years in Australia.
Anyway, my robust DNA has helped me to stand here as a proud member of the Australian parliament.
And can I say how thrilled I am that Li Cunxin is here with us. So many of us have read your book – and drawn inspiration from your story.
Mao’s Last Dancer is vivid proof that no matter what hardships you face in the land your birth, no matter how oppressed you are by tyranny, or poverty – it is always hard, it is always an emotional wrench, to leave your homeland knowing that you may never return.
A passage from Mao’s Last Dancer that I am sure many of us recall is Li Cunxin’s father’s story of the frog in the well. A frog looking up at the tiny circle of sky and dreaming of a richer life, in a brighter, wider world. It was a story about striving for a better life beyond the fate assigned to you – the story of the migrant dream. Since Prime Minister Ben Chifley and the world’s first Immigration Minister, Arthur Calwell, began the modern migration story in October 1945.
More than 7.5 million migrants have come to Australia seeking new opportunities and a better life. In doing so, they have broadened our view – they have opened our eyes to a richer and deeper world. In seeking a better life for their families –migrants have made us a better country.
Migration transformed our country – from an isolated outpost of Empire to a vibrant, prosperous, multicultural nation In particular, since the Second World War, millions of migrants to Australia have set the entrepreneurial example.
They’ve launched the start-ups, they’ve taken the risks.
They’ve opened the law firms, restaurants, corner shops, market gardens and childcare centres. And they’ve worked the long hours and the holiday shifts, stacking shelves and driving taxis.
For all that migration has added to our national prosperity, the cultural enrichment it has brought our nation is greater still. Before 1945 we were principally a nation of two traditions – a marginalised Indigenous tradition and a dominant British tradition.
Mass post-war migration has gifted us a tradition woven from all the people, all the countries, all the cultures of the world. I am sad to say that I do not think Australia has always been as good to migrants, as migrants have been to us. Protecting people from prejudice and hate speech is part of the contract Australian citizenship promises all its citizens. In this debate we need to put ourselves in the shoes of those who have come here fleeing persecution and bigotry in their own country.
Many respected experts strongly argue that the repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act would remove an important safeguard against prejudice. I t risks providing a foothold for divisive, hateful abuse masquerading as free speech. No-one has a right to bigotry. And racism has no place in the modern Australia.
I believe, in 2014, Australia should aim to put the politics of fear behind us. To rise above the confusing and sinister din that has too often merged the questions of population, border security and immigration into the one unedifying shouting- match.
All of us, Australians by birth and Australians by choice, should be proud to live in a country that is the best hope of so many. We should recognise that welcoming migrants is not just the duty that a safe and civilised nation owes its region and the world.
It is – and always will be – the driver of our national prosperity and the foundation of our national success. Friends, I know that the miracle of multicultural Australia, the nation-building contribution of migration cannot be chalked up to good fortune.
It is the product of the hard work of so many of you.
This is why I consider it such a privilege to present the caseworker of the year award tonight.
Caseworkers are the people on the ground, you’re the people who know. Every day you help new arrivals adapt to our country.
You’re the ones out there teaching English, helping with financial problems, providing employment advice and helping with legal issues.
Above all you provide a sense of stability – a sense of care and support.
You are the friendly face that reminds new arrivals to Australia that their new country is on their side. You are the human GPS to help newcomers navigate our rules.
You give tired and worried people in an unfamiliar country a peace of mind that can make all the difference. All of you are special, all of you make the miracle of our migration story possible.
Thank you for what you do.