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Launch of national symposium, 'The way forward: harnessing Australia's cultural and linguistic diversity', Parliament House, 7 June 1996: speech

It is with great pleasure that I participate today in the launch of this National Symposium, entitled 'The Way Forward - Harnessing Australia's Cultural and Linguistic Diversity'.

Australia's immigration and multicultural policies have nurtured a culturally and linguistically rich nation, who is in touch with the whole world.

Through the years, Coalition Governments have played a leading role in the development and promotion of Australia as a successfully multicultural nation.

It was not so long ago that our cultural and linguistic diversity was considered to be a 'problem', that, not only, added to the cost of doing business, but also had to be carefully managed.

There is now a growing realisation within business and industry circles, as well as within the general community, that diversity represents a resource which no one can afford to ignore.

Fluency in the languages of export destinations, solid overseas business networks, and an intimate knowledge of consumer preferences as well as of the commercial practices in overseas markets are some of the competitive advantages that have been discovered by Australian firms who leverage the nation's linguistic and cultural richness.

Nearly one quarter of all Australians were born overseas. An additional 17 per cent have at least one parent who was born overseas, and about 17 per cent speak a language other than English at home.

Workers of non-English speaking backgrounds comprise 14 per cent of the labour force. In the last ten years, more than 50,000 business migrants have settled in Australia, and about 21 per cent of Australia's 860,000 small businesses are owned or operated by people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

And, over the coming months, the Government will announce initiatives designed to assist small business - the backbone of our economy.

Moreover, there are more than 160 bilateral chambers of commerce and business associations in Australia. In conjunction with the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, my department will sponsor a National Networking Forum designed to enhance networks encompassing representatives from these bilateral chambers of commerce and business groups, State chambers of commerce and government agencies.

And, in order to ensure that the Australian economy maintains a competitive edge internationally, I have approved measures that aim to give business more flexibility in their efforts to build up international competitive links, while safeguarding employment opportunities for Australian workers.

I have no doubt that one of the keys to Australia's future success rests with making the best use of its linguistic and cultural diversity. The country's push for greater engagement in overseas markets, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, will be facilitated by our ability to draw on people who speak the relevant languages, who understand the cultural traditions as well as the business dynamics of our neighbouring countries and who are able to utilise family and business networks to productive effect.

I would like to thank FECCA for organising the symposium and I look forward to participating in the event.