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Speech to the Italian National Day Ball, Sydney



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Speech to the Italian National Day Ball, Sydney FRI 03 JUNE 2011

Prime Minister

I warmly acknowledge:

The Hon. Robert McClelland, Federal Attorney General

Mr John Robertson, NSW Leader of the Opposition

The Honourable Andrew Constance - NSW Minister for Ageing, and Minister for Disability Services and other representatives from State and Local Government

I honour Consul-General Benedetto Latteri and his diplomatic colleagues, who so proudly represent the nation that achieved its unity and freedom 150 years ago.

I acknowledge those Australians of Italian descent in public life who are so emblematic of this community and its success: Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, representing the Federal Leader of the Opposition; The Hon. Victor Dominello - NSW Minister for Citizenship and Communities, representing

Premier O’Farrell; Mr John Sidoti - State Member for Drummoyne; Mr Charles Casuscelli - State Member for Strathfield

Each of you are proud Italian-Australians who have brought great honour on your families and on this community.

I pay tribute to Lorenzo Fazzini, Andrea Comastri and the team from Co.As.It. and the other wonderful groups who do so much to support the Italian community and promote Italian culture.

You presence is a reminder that this event is not only a gathering of friendship and goodwill.

We have work to do - raising funds for a much-needed dementia helpline, and I know everyone will respond with appropriate generosity.

Finally I want to acknowledge Frank Coletta, such a familiar face on Sydney television and so generously acting as our Master of Ceremonies tonight.

In acknowledging all these high achieving individuals, I honour an entire community who came to a great nation and made it even greater - Abundant proof that the sacrifices of those

who travelled to this country bearing high hopes did not hold those hopes in vain.

This is therefore a night to celebrate journeys:

Italy’s journey of nationhood over a century and a half;

The journey of individuals and families across the seas to a new land; and

Australia’s own journey to maturity as a nation at ease with itself and with the world.

Friends, I’m from a migrant family and I know what it’s like to sit around the kitchen table and weigh the arguments for emigration: whether to sacrifice the company of family and friends, leave behind the graves of loved ones, abandon ancient places and timeless rituals, and to travel to a new country, often just on the strength of a few brochures and photographs.

Doing so when travel was costly and time-consuming and there was no guarantee you would ever be able to return.

Thousands of Italians made that momentous decision.

They braved the unknown, but they also came with hope - hope that this new land would repay their courage, repaid with opportunity and the chance to prove yourself, free of the old limitations of class and social distinction.

Friends, Six decades later, we can affirm tonight that those hopes were realised - and were realised in abundance.

They were right to have faith in this new land.

But if Australia was a land of opportunity, it only came at a price.

Years of backbreaking labour in places like the Snowy or the cane fields, working two or three jobs, sometimes facing misunderstanding and discrimination.

But in spite of these difficulties, you held fast and saw Australia as it could be.

Not just a nation that absorbed migrants, but a nation that would also be changed by them.

That is why we must always regard immigration as a source of strength.

Because it renewed and enriched our nation at its core, precisely at the time when the world was opening up and our old insular habits could no longer be sustained.

In any case, Australia had always been diverse.

There were Jews on the First Fleet - and one Italian.

Our founding father, Arthur Phillip, was half German.

The Chinese came here in the 1820s.

Afghans and Lebanese followed throughout the 19th century.

Diversity is as old as the nation itself.

In the 1970s, we simply gave these things a name - multiculturalism - and came to see them as the benefit they always were.

How else was it that in 1861 the citizens of Melbourne banded together and purchased a gift to mark Italy’s Unification.

It was, appropriately, a sword of honour, presented to Garibaldi, costing the handsome sum of 358 pounds.

The Australian community, at the start of its own democratic journey, understood the significance of what had happened in Italy.

After centuries of division and occupation, Italy had resolved to become united and to become free.

It is that historic decision we celebrate tonight - 150 years of nationhood that enabled Italy to rediscover its place in the global community, paving the way for the prosperous, innovative country that stands as a force for good in a changing world.

Friends, Italy has give many great gifts to the world: her culture, her food, her sense of style - but the greatest gift of Italy has been her people.

Around 60 million people outside Italy claim Italian heritage.

And for this gift, Australia will always give thanks.

So friends, tonight we remember the places where our journeys began.

And we honour this place where all our journeys have found their completeness and their end.

The place amid all the world where we can be safe and grow old and hand on a better future.

Our land.

Our home.

Our sanctuary.

Australia