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Dinner for Australia's winning team in the 1997 World Schools Debating Championships, Sydney, 12 April 1997: address.

Mr and Mrs Wong, Mr Ho and the Honourable Helen Sham-Ho, Mr Minister and Mrs Ruddock, Mr Deputy Mayor and Mrs Tsang, Mr Richardson, other Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Let me say at the outset what a great pleasure it is for Helen and me to be here with you this evening to meet and dine with members of Sydney's Chinese-Australian Community. We are both well aware of the important part played by the Chinese--Australian Community in the life of this city and of the great contribution which members of the Community have, over the years made to the welfare of both the city and the country in every conceivable field of endeavour from heart surgery, through politics and local government, to tourism and even cricket.

There are 2 particular things which add to our pleasure in being here this evening. The first is that this dinner gives us the privilege of participating in the handing over of responsibility for the Sydney Chinatown Chamber of Commerce to the new Committee. The second is that the dinner honours the 4 outstanding young Australians who, in February of this year, brought great credit to themselves and to Australia by winning the 9th World Schools' Debating Championships in Bermuda. I might say that Helen and I are acquainted with the quality of those who participate in the World Schools Debating Championships. The 8th Championships were held last year in Australia and we entertained the participants at Government House in Canberra. This is the first occasion the Championships have been won by this country and I extend our warmest congratulations to the members of the winning team on a truly outstanding effort.

I must confess to a degree of personal bias as I was myself an enthusiastic debater both at school and University. I do, however, think that debating is one of the most effective means of education that there is It not only encourages and develops articulateness and effective communicative skills. It also encourages initiative, reading, research and knowledge. It helps develop tolerance and understanding of other people and their point of view in that you will never convince anyone that the other side is wrong unless you listen to and try to understand what the other side is saying. It 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.

These 4 young Australians are not only outstanding debaters. Together, as an Australian Team, they exemplify the strength and splendour of the multiculturalism which sustains our nation. The team captain, Roger Wong, is a nephew of Mr Wilson Wong. He was born in Sydney of Chinese-Australian parents Pip Webb was also born and grew up in Sydney. Her parents come from New Zealand and the Philippines. Roslyn Dixon was born in South Africa. Mark Thomson was born in Scotland.

The success of these 4 young men and women demonstrates how Australians from completely different cultural, racial and ethnic backgrounds can combine as a single cohesive team to achieve great things.

And that is not surprising since, apart from the Aborigines, we Australians are all immigrants or descended from immigrants. Our real strength is that, while we immediately or more distantly came from all the regions and all the 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 obligations and loyalties 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 genuine tolerance should 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. As I said in my broadcast to the nation last Australia Day, our multiculturalism is not only our Australian way. It is what we are.

I have mentioned these things tonight because I know how much the Chinese--Australian Communities throughout Australia have done, over the years, to develop, strengthen and maintain that mutual respect and tolerance which I see as lying at the very heart of our nation and our way of life.

Finally, let me again say what a pleasure it is for Helen and me to be with you tonight on this very special occasion.