Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Address at Refugee Week 2018 Parliamentary Function, Parliament House


Malisa, thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen welcome. It's wonderful to have you here in Parliament House. Thank you very much for making the trek to Canberra and for making this a very special day for us and sending a very clear message to all Australians that we support this week, we support this day and we celebrate its many wonderful things about our country.

Can I thank the Prime Minister for his warm words and acknowledge my other parliamentary colleagues Alan Tudge and David Gillespie, Angus Taylor, the Shadow Minister Shayne Neumann, to all of my parliamentary colleagues; the Commissioner for the Australian Border Force Michael Outram, the Acting Secretary of the Department Rachel Noble, Excellencies, all of our humanitarian entrants, but friends and guests here today.

As the Prime Minister said, Australia is a great country and we're built on the hard work and entrepreneurial have-a-go spirit of many who have come before us. Many of our captains of industry and commerce are part of our successful migrant history – including from the worst humanitarian events right across the last century. They have helped put Australia on the global stage and contributed immeasurably to our economic and social success. 

As the Prime Minister pointed out, over 880,000 people have arrived through the humanitarian program since the Second World War, including 55,000 just in the last three years alone and with 20,200 offshore visas granted – that is the highest number since the 1980s – and it is something I think that all Australians should be very proud of.

Today, as we mention, we celebrate the successes and the contributions of those who have arrived through the program, including and specifically today in relation to those who have settled in regional Australia.

At recent consultations I was struck by a remarkable story. It was a story of two Chin refugee families who settled in Coffs Harbour in 2006 and with further resettlement, this now has grown to some 250 people of Chin background in Coffs Harbour. 

Now despite the obvious challenges of starting again in a new country, they have worked tirelessly to contribute and provide the best opportunities for their families. They carpool to get to work each day on the farms in the early years, they have bought houses, they've started businesses, many are now sending their children to low cost private schools and many of them are very proud of the fact, and rightly, that their children have gone on to higher education, including university. 

It is the story of hard work, of sacrifice and of aspiration and that is the Australian story.

We will hear from other speakers today, as we heard earlier and we'll hear right through this week across the country the wonderful success stories of people that have taken a chance, who have taken their family from poverty or from tragedy and they have provided a great opportunity, not only for their children today, but for generations to come – and that is a great success story and it's one of which Australia can be incredibly proud.

In recent times around 9,000 humanitarian entrants have been resettled into rural and regional Australia and there is, as we know for those of us who live in the city, nothing quite like a country-welcome in Australia.

We have seen the generosity of regional communities and I pay tribute to all of the regional mayors and councils and communities who have provided a very open welcome and a very warm welcome to those from the most vulnerable parts of the world, the most persecuted who arrive through the offshore program.

Last year I attended the Yazidi New Year in Wagga Wagga and it was remarkable to see the support from the local community. Many of the young children at that event had been in terrible circumstances and they're now thriving in the peace and safety of regional New South Wales.

The broader community has rallied behind them with a focus on education, appropriate support and employment; the future is now brighter than they had ever dared imagine and we see similar stories across the country in Toowoomba, in Armidale, in Launceston, in Albany, Mount Gambier and elsewhere.

Public support for Australia's generous response is maintained by the fact that we are able to maintain high levels of integrity.

So I would like to extend my sincere appreciation today to the officers within the Department of Home Affairs who have worked not only in our country, but around the world in very difficult circumstances to identify people in need of our assistance, our help – particularly as the Prime Minister pointed out through the intake of people from Iraq and Syria – their work provides for new lives, new opportunities and renewed hope.

We are incredibly proud to be here today with you and we look forward to hearing of the many success stories over a long period of time to come and to celebrate with you the wonderful decision that you've made in calling Australia home, whilst always respecting your heritage, adhering to the Australian way of life and our rule of law and contributing and making our country a peace and harmonious country for many generations to come – and for that we are very, very grateful.

Thank you.