Australian Multicultural Council Lecture - Introductory Remarks
WED 19 SEPTEMBER 2012
Parliament House, Canberra
In 2012 the process of post-war migration reached 'retirement' age - 65 - the full span of a working life.
Sixty-five years since the first post-war migrants landed on our shores and began the greatest change to our country's texture and fortunes since European settlement.
Those first migrants in January 1947 were British tradesmen, who'd left the bombed out cities of their old land to help build the newest city of their new nation.
When one of the new migrants saw the empty fields of this capital, he asked jokingly where's Canberra?
And one of the locals replied, with greater meaning than they probably intended, you're here to build the place.
They weren't just here to build offices and houses.
They came to help build a nation.
That's what migration is: an act of nation-building. And multiculturalism is how we make it work.
Multiculturalism is not just the ability to maintain our diverse backgrounds and cultures.
It is the meeting place of rights and responsibilities.
Where the right to maintain one's customs, language and religion is a balanced by an equal responsibility to learn English, find work, respect our culture and heritage, and accept women as full equals.
Where there is non-negotiable respect for our foundational values of democracy and the rule of law, and any differences we hold are expressed peacefully.
Where old hatreds are left behind, and we find shared identity on the common ground of mateship and the Aussie spirit of a fair go.
What we saw in Sydney on the weekend wasn't multiculturalism but extremism.
True multiculturalism has a very different face.
It is the face of a new migrant studying hard in an English language class.
Working two jobs to put their kids through school.
Or lining up to vote for the very first time.
True multiculturalism includes, not divides.
It adds more than it takes.
In the end, multiculturalism amounts to a civic virtue since it provides us with a way to share the public space.
A common ground of inclusion and belonging for all who are willing to toil with hearts and hands.
And because it always summons us toward a better future, multiculturalism is an expression of progressive patriotism in which all Australians, old and new, can find meaning.
Those first post-war migrants understood these things in times much tougher than our own.
This generation must understand them as well because our multicultural achievement is too precious to be brought into question by the reckless actions of a few.
Remember, migration and multiculturalism aren't just another set of policies than come and go with the tide of politics and events.
They are nation-building commitments which transcend partisanship and politics, to stand at the core of our identity as Australians.
My predecessor Ben Chifley understood that when the first migrants came here to Canberra.
Chifley and our founding Immigration Minister, Arthur Calwell, met these young migrants outside what is now Old Parliament House.
Chifley also went out to the camp where they lived - anonymously and without a secretary or guard - to see how the men were being looked after.
There's a striking symbolism in those young brickies and carpenters being welcomed by the nation's Prime Minister in the heart of our democracy.
These gestures were not accidental.
They were the deliberate actions of leaders who understood what they had done by bringing those 200 tradesmen to Australia.
They knew they had begun a journey that would transform our nation forever.
A journey we must continue in the spirit it was begun.
I am part of that journey.
I am one of the migrants who has made Australia's story their own, and I told my story at the Council's launch a year ago.
I told of the brave decision my parents made to leave everything that was close and familiar to venture upon a new and unknown land.
I told of how we arrived to be welcomed by a warm and generous people.
I told of how my parents taught me and my sister the value of hard work to earn our keep and do our best.
So I stand here before you today as the very proud daughter of John and Moira Gillard.
My late father spoke of the modest aspiration he brought to our prospects in Australia.
But in his long life, he came to learn that remarkable things can happen in a remarkable country.
Millions of other migrants know it too.
Years and decades of hard work, and suddenly your son is a doctor.
Your grandson is a judge.
Your daughter is Prime Minister.
It's what happens when you seize and shape the future rather than shrinking in fear of it.
If there is one Australian who understands these things only too deeply, it is Frank Lowy.
Frank's pathway was indescribably hard.
From Czechoslovakia and the perilous streets of occupied Hungary to France, Cyprus and Mandate Palestine.
Surviving the horrors of the Holocaust that claimed his own father's life.
Facing years of uncertainty in the aftermath of war.
And finally coming to Australia to begin the longest and greatest chapter of his incredible life.
Frank, you are, indeed, an extraordinary Australian.
And your family's life tells a great Australian story.
You couldn't get the education you deserved.
All your boys went to university.
You couldn't always find enough food or clothing as a child.
Now you enjoy prosperity beyond any childhood dreams.
Your father was a humble travelling salesman who did it tough during the Depression and wartime years.
Now you own the greatest retail network on earth.
You couldn't enjoy Europe's cultural riches because of the Nazis.
Now your son is President of the NSW Art Gallery.
All this because of that single decision you took to emigrate six decades ago.
This is the point upon which our whole multicultural experience turns: decisions and choices.
From those epic decisions like Chifley and Calwell's first big call around the Cabinet table.
To our millions of individual decisions as migrants to undertake the journey.
And our countless choices as Australians to extend our hands and share our home.
They are the brave decisions that start as a glimpse through a keyhole and end up swinging open a wide and welcoming door.
Together they form one of our nation's greatest stories, and to explore it further, I am proud to introduce the inaugural AMC lecturer: a distinguished Australian.
The wise and generous Frank Lowy.