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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21388

Ms VAMVAKINOU (9:15 PM) —Recently I hosted the inaugural Arthur Calwell Memorial Lecture, an event that I anticipate will become a regular one for my local community and residents. This year, with the member for Melbourne delivering the keynote speech, it provided those in attendance with a unique opportunity to reflect on the life and times of a distinguished Australian, Arthur Calwell. As parliamentarians, it is useful that we take some time to reflect on the achievements of colleagues who have preceded us in this place. It was for this reason that I decided to institute an annual Arthur Calwell Memorial Lecture, and I look forward to it growing successfully from year to year.

Arthur Calwell, the one-time member for Melbourne, will arguably be remembered as the founding father of Australia's immigration policies. He became Minister for Immigration in 1945 and, although he had previously supported ALP policy of the time that was aimed at not jeopardising employment for Australians, he appreciated the need for a fundamental re-examination of Australia's immigration policies. This realisation is best summed up when he stated:

If we are to take our rightful place in world affairs; if we are to ensure the future security of our nation, our population must be augmented, both by natural increase and by planned immigration ... The days of isolation are over.

Arthur Calwell recognised and appreciated the fact that as a nation we needed to mature in order to prosper. For him it was a simple case of `populate or perish'. Australia—some 60-odd years ago—was facing a population shortage that had the potential to stifle its development as a nation. This would have been a daunting prospect for governments and policy makers of the time—I assume a challenging time as well—but Arthur Calwell rose to the challenge and effectively lay the foundations for what we enjoy and know today as contemporary Australian society.

As I explored the life of Arthur Calwell, I discovered a true visionary and a man who made decisions that needed to be made for the benefit and prosperity of this country's future, rather than taking the easy, populist option—so often a feature in modern-day governance. But what interested me most, as someone who like millions of other Australians migrated to this country during that period of mass migration, was that Calwell went beyond his call as a government minister. These new Australians who arrived either as refugees from war torn Europe or families in search of a better life and future for themselves and their children were greeted by a Minister for Immigration who became so much more to them. He became a friend to the many communities that came to settle here in Australia. In the process of organising this lecture, I met people who knew Calwell personally—ordinary people who remember Calwell fondly and who spoke very highly of him.

It appears that everywhere I go I find people who have a story about their relationship with Arthur Calwell illustrating the size of his significance. So many communities considered him a friend. I was told by Bill and Betty Dellas—prominent, yet ordinary members of the Greek community—that Calwell would visit Bill on his name day each year on 1 January. In fact, Bill fondly recalls Calwell stopping over for a drink while his driver waited patiently outside. He forged strong friendships with other communities also. The Jewish community have shown their gratitude to a man who made them welcome when the Jewish people faced extreme danger and persecution. They have manifested this gratitude by creating the Arthur Calwell Memorial Forest in Israel. But it was the story of one of my local residents that brought home strongly Calwell's commitment to his fellow human beings. It is the story of my FEA President, Mrs Terri McNaughton, who during the inaugural lecture took the opportunity to thank Mary Elizabeth Calwell—Arthur Calwell's daughter—for the compassion that Arthur Calwell showed to Mrs McNaughton's family some 40 or 50 years ago when he personally intervened to provide housing for her mother and her five siblings.

At a time when the general view about politicians is a cynical one—and, as we have seen in recent days with the passing of Dr Jim Cairns, people lamenting the loss of idealism, courage and compassion in the political arena—we should reflect on Australians who made a difference with the strength of their convictions and courage. In essence, Arthur Calwell helped create modern Australia. He provided opportunities to people who had none and, in exchange, they built this nation and made it home. Their cultural and linguistic diversity has shaped and fashioned the contemporary Australian multicultural identity. They are the faces of my electorate, the people of Calwell, and the memorial lecture will serve as a celebration of Australia's immigrant history so that we can all appreciate and affirm the strength of our diversity.