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Importance of immigration must never be forgotten: address on the occasion of the opening of the Australasian Intervarsity Debating Championships, Sydney, Monday, 6 July 1998

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Let me begin by saying what a delight it is for Helen and me to be with you this

afternoon for the Official Opening of the 1998 Australasian Intervarsity Debating

Championships, here in the Great Hall of our own University, the University of Sydney,

which is the current holder of the championship title.

At the outset, I would express an especially warm welcome to Australia to all of

you who have come from other countries ... our regional friends and neighbours ... to take

part in the championships this year. Your presence reminds us of the undeniable fact that

it is in both the short and long-term economic and geo-political interests of all of us in the

Asia Pacific region that we develop close and mutually beneficial links between our

nations and their peoples. Your participation reflects the sense of tolerance, of

understanding and of the capacity to see another person’s point of view that is so

fundamental to the nature of debate. I must confess to a degree of personal bias as I was

myself an enthusiastic debater both at school and at university.

Debating is one of the most effective means of education there is. It helps develop

effective communication skills. It encourages initiative, reading, research and knowledge.

And it helps build tolerance and understanding since you will never really convince anyone

that the other side is wrong unless you listen to and try to understand what that other side is

saying Debating also encourages social contact and, at least in most cases, a sense of

humour. At the international level, it is a means of encouraging goodwill and the

communication of ideas. And, once confidence is acquired, it is a source of great

enjoyment to the debaters and, if the standard is high enough, those who listen to them.

The Australasian Intervarsity Debating Championships began as mainly an

Australian tournament It has broadened substantially in recent times to become a truly

regional event and, I understand, the second largest intervarsity debating championships in

the world. The Championships were first held outside Australia in 1993 when the

International Islamic University in Kuala Lumpur hosted the tournament. Last year they

were held at De La Salle University, Manila. This year it is Australia’s oldest University,

Sydney, and it is worth noting that the championships are being held as part of the

Olympic Arts Festival which has as its theme A Sea Change, which focuses particularly on

questions of regional identity and the role that migration has played in shaping the

development of the Australian nation The importance of that role can never be overĀ­

emphasised and must never be forgotten.

In that regard, may I address some words particularly to my fellow Australians who

are here today. Apart from the Aborigines, we Australians are all immigrants or, even in

the perspective of modern history, descended from immigrants. Our real strength is that,

while we immediately or more distantly came from all the regions and races of the world,

we are united as one people. The approach, the ethos and the conviction which make that

possible, and which have long enjoyed bilateral support in the Australian Parliament, are

those of multiculturalism

Multiculturalism is a long word. However one precisely defines it, its essence is

mutual respect for, and genuine tolerance of, the different national, racial, ethnic and

religious backgrounds and cultures from which we come. Within the limits that are

consistent with the overriding loyalties and obligations of Australian citizenship and with

all the duties imposed by valid Australian laws, our citizens are entitled to expect and

demand that that mutual respect and tolerance be encouraged and honoured The reason

why that is so is that to undermine that mutual respect or to defy or deny that tolerance

within our land is to defy or deny the very basis of our Australian nation. Our

multiculturalism is not only decent, just and right. It is not only our Australian way. It is

what we are.

As I said at the beginning, it is its capacity to develop tolerance and understanding;

to broaden the horizons of the mind; to advance one’s knowledge; to contribute to those

bonds of friendship and respect between people and between nations that are so essential to

humanity and its future, that make the art of debating one of the most effective means of

true education. I hope that all of you find these things delivered in full measure during

your time in Sydney.

And now, with the greatest pleasure, I officially declare the Australasian

Intervarsity Debating Championships for 1998 to be officially open.