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Monday, 24 November 1997
Page: 11079

Mr ZAMMIT(3.21 p.m.) —I move:

That this House:

(1)   notes that November 1997 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival in Australia of the first postwar migrants from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia;

(2)   recognises the important contribution made to migrant welfare, education and support by the (a) Baltic Council of Australia, (b) Council of Estonian Societies in Australia, (c) Latvian Federation of Australia and New Zealand and (d) Australian Lithuanian Community; and

(3)   records its appreciation for the significant contribution which Australians of Baltic background have made to our nation's economic, social and cultural development.

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to move this motion in the national parliament of Australia in honour of the migrants to Australia from the courageous little nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—otherwise known collectively as the Baltic nations. In exactly four days time, we will mark in Australia's postwar migration history a sig nificant milestone, and that is the arrival 50 years ago of the first immigrants from the Baltic nations, who came on the US transport ship the General Stuart Heintzelman . The ship landed at Fremantle in Western Australia with a complement of 843 passengers, all unmarried and all Balts, made up of 729 males and 114 females—of which 142 were Estonians, 262 were Latvians and 439 were Lithuanians.

In the 1991 census, there were 3,381 people resident in Australia who had been born in Estonia, 9,322 from Latvia and 4,591 from Lithuania. They brought with them a dream of starting a new life in a new country free from oppression and a dictatorial regime that suppressed the individual, tortured its opponents, closed churches and also set about a long-term plan of genocide to wipe off the face of the earth the Baltic peoples.

The regime I refer to is the despised and now defunct communist Soviet Union, probably best described by President Reagan as the `evil empire', that not only oppressed and subjugated their neighbours but carried out against their own people crimes against humanity that have had no parallel since mankind began recording events of history. The extent of these crimes against humanity by the Soviet Union is still coming to light even so many years after the disintegration of the communist Soviet Union.

Australians of Baltic background have contributed greatly and continue to make significant contributions in the fields of industry, commerce, agriculture, music, the arts, education, entertainment, sport and community work. In other words, they are full participants in all facets of life in our nation. Immigrants make their presence felt in more ways than by just being there. They influence the life of the ordinary person by contributing to the technical, economic and cultural development of the country.

However, the Baltic immigrants did more than that. They brought with them timely warnings for Australia to take heed. They brought with them factual tales of their nations' suffering under totalitarian regimes, such as by the Nazi invaders and subsequently by the communists, which served to alert Australia to what could happen if we were not vigilant not just from external aggression but also from the internal saboteurs, otherwise known as fifth columnists.

The faith exhibited by the Baltic nations' immigrants to Australia that their former homeland would one day be free was always stoic and without hesitation. They not only maintained their commitment to that cause within their own communities but also reached out to the mainstream Australian community to heighten the awareness of the situation, to generally inform and to keep the dream before them as an attainable objective.

In fact, in corroboration, I was aware of the situation in the Baltic nations well before I entered parliament in 1984. That is a demonstration of the tremendous and untiring efforts made by a small group of dedicated individuals. I have formed an impression of the Baltic peoples in Australia and a birdseye view, if you will, based on my observation of their aspirations, their hopes, their achievements and their new life as I have come to know them.

They scrimped and saved so as to buy their home which they viewed as an early priority. In fact, they can claim one of the highest home ownership percentage in the national average. They are in a high bracket in the national average of business ownership and pride themselves on their maintenance of cultural links as well as placing high importance on intellectual achievements even higher than material possessions. They love and respect their church and their Christian beliefs.

They never complained at the injustices they suffered in Australia when their qualifications, trade and secondary, were not recognised. They just got on with life—many working at menial jobs well below their qualifications, as pick and shovel men with water boards, railways, power generating authorities and other pursuits, whether it be in factories, hospitals or even on huge schemes such as the Snowy Mountains or Warragamba dams.

I well recall attending so many Baltic commemoration services and concerts that, frankly, I have lost count. I must confess that I sometimes thought that they were chasing a lost cause, but I continued to support them as a courageous people who have maintained their faith. They were proved right. I invite my colleagues in this national parliament of Australia on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first postwar migrants to salute their contribution to the nation we love—Australia. (Time expired)

Mrs Johnston —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.