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Greek National Day celebrations, Opera House, Sydney, 28 March 1999: transcript of address.

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28 March 1999









Your Eminence; your Grace; the Ambassador of Greece; the High Commissioner for Cyprus; to the P remier of New South Wales, Bob Carr; to the former Prime Minister of Australia, Gough Whitlam; to many other distinguished guests including my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, Philip Ruddock.


May I commence my remarks this afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, by extending to my colleague, the Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, my warmest congratulations on his re-election. 


It ought not to be lost on this gathering, ladies and gentlemen, that the first public occasion which I address in Sydney after my election as the Prime Minister of Australia in March of 1996 was this very same Greek National Day in that year.


May I say that the reception today is as warm as it was then.  And it will not be lost on those present that Bob Carr has chosen this particular event as the first occasion to appear publicly after his re-election as the Premier of New South Wales.


I want, ladies and gentlemen, on behalf, not only of the party that I lead but also on behalf of the Australian Government and I know all of the Australian people, to extend our gratitude to Australians of Greek descent for the enormous contribution that they have made to the building of the modern Australia. 


The Greeks have brought many things to Australia and perhaps it is appropriate that this event takes place immediately after a free, democratic and open election because of all the many gifts that the Greeks made to the world, the gift of democracy is undoubtedly the greatest gift of all.


And we have just witnessed, as we witnessed last October, as we will witness again in the years ahead, a peaceful, orderly expression of democratic will, people putting their case to the public, people seeking election and then peacefully and lawfully accepting the outcome.  And that is what Australia stands for and that is what Australia will always stand for.


Australia is a remarkable amalgamation of people who have come from many parts of the world and it would be unrealistic of me, ladies and gentlemen, to address this gathering at this time without acknowledging that there are many thousands of Australians of Serbian descent who have a concern about events that are taking place in their former homeland.  I understand that and that is perfectly human and a perfectly natural reaction on their part. 


Let me say that the great success of the modern Australia has been our capacity to absorb people from all parts of the world who preserve a love and a care and a sensitivity to their former homeland but at the same time, over and above that, they have embr aced the traditions and the freedom and the values and the attitudes of their Australian homeland which gives them peace, protection and succour.  And however much, however its strong feelings may run on events that are taking place in the former Yugoslavia, can I say to you, ladies and gentlemen, that the argument of the NATO countries is not with the people of Serbia but rather the government of Serbia.


And, ladies and gentlemen, Australia has opened its doors and made itself a home to people from everywhere around the world.  And the great success of that experiment and the great genius and the great achievement of Australia is that our binding commitment to this nation, respecting our diverse and multicultural heritage, that our binding commitment to that nation and the values of that nation is the cement which has bound all of us together.  And in that process the people of Greece have made a special contribution, not only their gift of democracy, the way in which they have preserved and nurtured their culture, their traditions, their religion, their family values, their business values, their business principles and their great commitment to communal life.


So ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the people of Australia, all the other Australians, I express my gratitude to the contribution of the Greeks to the building of the modern Australia.  Long may our country remain a beacon to the rest of the world of freedom, of tolerance, of racial and religious respect, a nation that truly honours the individual and the role of the family in the Australian community and a nation that practices, better than any in the world, that great gift of democracy which came from the people of ancient Greece.


Thank you very much.