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Speech to the Ethnic Business Awards Gala Presentation Dinner, Sydney

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We should never underestimate the boldness of the decision taken by Ben Chifley to open the doors to mass migration almost seven decades ago.

Yes, we had small ethnic communities like the Chinese who’d been attracted by the gold rush and the Italians who came to work in the canefields in the 1920s.

But overwhelmingly, we were a small, insular, homogenous community, and we were asked to embrace profound and lasting change.

Yet it worked.

Immigration worked.

And it worked because we made it work.

We accepted that our nation would never be defined by race or ethnicity like so many other countries.

Instead, we would define ourselves by our values and our way of life.

Our love of freedom and democracy.

Our egalitarian cast of mind and our relaxed outdoor lifestyle.

Our willingness to work hard and play fair.

And we said that anyone who embraced these things could be called an Australian.

Your admission ticket was your commitment.

The commitment to choose this place from all the world.

To serve it and fight for it, and to always call it home.


That’s the decision my parents made.

That’s the decision you and your parents made around so many kitchen tables - in Sicily and Saigon, Beirut and Bangalore.

All those decisions converged, from the four points of the earth, upon this land - its future - and its possibilities.

In a sense, this is the story of two journeys. Our journey of post-war immigration and our journey of economic modernisation. And how they have intertwined across these extraordinary decades.

Australia was a great country before post-war migration.

But our migrants showed us a way to make it greater still.

Ethnic businesses are a big part of the story.

Your hard work and self-sacrifice are legendary, from the smallest corner store to the great enterprises founded by migrant pioneers like Westfield to business leaders like Ahmed Fahour at Australia Post.

And so many of you have invested time in building links between Australia and the countries from which you’ve come.

Today, the skills and connections of our ethnic businesses are more valuable than ever as the world’s centre of economic gravity shifts our way: the transformation unprecedented in speed and scale, we call the ‘Asian Century’.

On Sunday I released a plan for our nation’s future in the Asian Century. A plan for Australia to prosper and thrive in this age of unparalleled growth and change.

This is a century when innovators will flourish.

A century when Australia will be well served by its creative entrepreneurial culture and its vibrant multicultural society.

Our ethnic businesses are custodians of many of the capabilities we need to succeed: language skills; people to people links; knowledge of how business and government operates in Asian societies; and perhaps most importantly, helping to develop greater understanding of the diverse cultures of Asia among all Australians.

Since the first post-war migrants landed in Sydney in the summer of 1947, we learnt to value diversity as a source of strength for our society.

In more recent years, it has also become clear that diversity is a source of strength for our economy as well.

So in 2012, we can say with greater confidence than ever:

Post-war migration began as our nation’s greatest experiment.

And it has become our nation’s greatest success.

Because as migrants, we accepted that in a new land, we shouldn’t only take but give as well.

And if the road was tougher because of our background, we would try all the harder to succeed.

Our parents didn’t come here just because they sought jobs or prosperity. They come because they saw a country worth believing in.

A place so compelling they were willing to leave everything they knew and loved to be part of it.

And here on these bountiful shores, they would repay freedom and opportunity with effort and excellence.

The very effort and excellence represented in these awards, and in the remarkable men and women who receive them tonight.

On behalf of all Australians, I thank you for all that you have given to our country.

United in our diversity, and unafraid of the future, let us seize the opportunities of the Asian Century together.