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.