Gillard, Lowy And Abbott: Australian Multicultural Council Lecture

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott have joined in honouring Frank Lowy at the inaugural Australian Multicultural Council Lecture.

Gillard introduced Lowy and Abbott gave the vote of thanks.

Gillard

Gillard told the audience: “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. Migrants.”

In his speech, Abbott confessed he had changed his mind about multiculturalism: “With Geoffrey Blainey, I used to worry that multiculturalism could leave us a nation of tribes. But I was wrong and I’ve changed my mind. The scales fell from my eyes when I discovered – while running Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, would you believe – that the strongest supporters of the Crown in our constitution included indigenous people and newcomers who had embraced it as part of embracing Australia. At least for them, the Crown was not a historical relic but a continuously evolving symbol of our unity above party politics. I’m not sure whether you’ve embraced the monarchy, Frank, but you’ve certainly embraced Australia with a rare and a magnificent passion.”

  • Listen to Gillard’s speech (9m)

Lowy

  • Listen to Frank Lowy’s speech (28m)

Abbott

  • Listen to Abbott (6m)

Text of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s introduction to Frank Lowy’s Australian Multicultural Council Lecture.

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.

Friends,

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.

Migrants.

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.

Text of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s vote of thanks to Frank Lowy.

It is a real honour to thank Frank Lowy – Companion of the Order of Australia, Australia’s leading philanthropist, former director of the Reserve Bank, chairman of the Australian Football Federation, sometime head of the BRW rich list and dinky-di Australian – for his lecture and for his life.

Ladies and gentlemen, few have had a harder life before coming to Australia but almost none have matched Frank Lowy’s superlative contribution to our country. Tonight’s lecture is an elegant exposition of multiculturalism with a worthy proposal for its improvement, but Frank Lowy’s life has been a demonstration and a vindication of Australian multiculturalism.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, if I may, a personal confession. With Geoffrey Blainey, I used to worry that multiculturalism could leave us a nation of tribes. But I was wrong and I’ve changed my mind. The scales fell from my eyes when I discovered – while running Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, would you believe – that the strongest supporters of the Crown in our constitution included indigenous people and newcomers who had embraced it as part of embracing Australia. At least for them, the Crown was not a historical relic but a continuously evolving symbol of our unity above party politics. I’m not sure whether you’ve embraced the monarchy, Frank, but you’ve certainly embraced Australia with a rare and a magnificent passion.

There’s no doubt that our country has been amongst the world’s most successful immigrant societies and this reflects the welcome that the Australian people have traditionally extended to newcomers including those from a vast variety of backgrounds. As well, it reflects the efforts that migrants have made to contribute to their new home.

The policy of multiculturalism, which all sides of politics support, expresses our willingness as a nation to let migrants assimilate in their own way and at their own pace, because of our confidence in the gravitational pull of the Australian way of life.

It is, if you like, a fancy word for the generosity of spirit with which Australians have invariably welcomed newcomers to these shores – from John Gillard, to my own grandparents and Frank Lowy and his family. I thank you particularly, Frank, for the warmth with which you have acknowledged the welcome that you received in this country.

Of course, immigration has changed Australia but it’s changed our country far less than it’s changed our migrants. A decade after arrival, there aren’t many newcomers who aren’t more fluent in English than in any other language and who don’t take for granted democracy, the rights of minorities and freedom under the law. Usually, the less like Australia that immigrants’ homelands have been, the more exhilarating they have found their life here.

Newcomers to this country are not expected to surrender their heritage, but they are expected to surrender their hatreds. Australians expect newcomers and community leaders to respect our laws, our democracy, and basic values such as freedom of speech and religion and equality of the sexes. In a society such as ours, religion, ethnicity, or a sense of grievance can never justify breaking the law.

But let me say, along with the Prime Minister and Frank Lowy, that the riots in Sydney last Saturday were a product of extremism, not religion. The ugliness we saw on the streets that day does not reflect the Muslim people of this country.

I am never more proud of our country than when migrants choose Australia. After all, they have chosen this country in a way that the native-born never quite have. They are the ultimate vindication of Australia as a land of hope, reward and opportunity.

Successive waves of migrants – originally from the British Isles but increasingly from all corners of the globe – have lent a 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.”

Ladies and gentlemen, God truly blessed our country in giving us Frank Lowy. So, I salute our country and I thank Frank Lowy on this auspicious occasion.

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