Vote of Thanks at the Inaugural Australian Multicultural Council Lecture, Parliament House
Posted on Thursday, 20 September 2012
It is a real honour to thank Frank Lowy – Companion of the Order of Australia, Australia’s leading philanthropist, former director of the Reserve Bank, chairman of the Australian Football Federation, sometime head of the BRW rich list and dinky-di Australian – for his lecture and for his life.
Ladies and gentlemen, few have had a harder life before coming to Australia but almost none have matched Frank Lowy’s superlative contribution to our country. Tonight’s lecture is an elegant exposition of multiculturalism with a worthy proposal for its improvement, but Frank Lowy’s life has been a demonstration and a vindication of Australian multiculturalism.
Now, ladies and gentlemen, if I may, a personal confession. With Geoffrey Blainey, I used to worry that multiculturalism could leave us a nation of tribes. But I was wrong and I’ve changed my mind. The scales fell from my eyes when I discovered – while running Australians for Constitutional Monarchy, would you believe – that the strongest supporters of the Crown in our constitution included indigenous people and newcomers who had embraced it as part of embracing Australia. At least for them, the Crown was not a historical relic but a continuously evolving symbol of our unity above party politics. I’m not sure whether you’ve embraced the monarchy, Frank, but you’ve certainly embraced Australia with a rare and a magnificent passion.
There’s no doubt that our country has been amongst the world’s most successful immigrant societies and this reflects the welcome that the Australian people have traditionally extended to newcomers including those from a vast variety of backgrounds. As well, it reflects the efforts that migrants have made to contribute to their new home.
The policy of multiculturalism, which all sides of politics support, expresses our willingness as a nation to let migrants assimilate in their own way and at their own pace, because of our confidence in the gravitational pull of the Australian way of life.
It is, if you like, a fancy word for the generosity of spirit with which Australians have invariably welcomed newcomers to these shores – from John Gillard, to my own grandparents and Frank Lowy and his family. I thank you particularly, Frank, for the warmth with which you have acknowledged the welcome that you received in this country.
Of course, immigration has changed Australia but it’s changed our country far less than it’s changed our migrants. A decade after arrival, there aren’t many newcomers who aren’t more fluent in English than in any other language and who don’t take for granted democracy, the rights of minorities and freedom under the law. Usually, the less like Australia that immigrants’ homelands have been, the more exhilarating they have found their life here.
Newcomers to this country are not expected to surrender their heritage, but they are expected to surrender their hatreds. Australians expect newcomers and community leaders to respect our laws, our democracy, and basic values such as freedom of speech and religion and equality of the sexes. In a society such as ours, religion, ethnicity, or a sense of grievance can never justify breaking the law.
But let me say, along with the Prime Minister and Frank Lowy, that the riots in Sydney last Saturday were a product of extremism, not religion. The ugliness we saw on the streets that day does not reflect the Muslim people of this country.
I am never more proud of our country than when migrants choose Australia. After all, they have chosen this country in a way that the native-born never quite have. They are the ultimate vindication of Australia as a land of hope, reward and opportunity.
Successive waves of migrants – originally from the British Isles but increasingly from all corners of the globe – have lent a heroic dimension to our national story. Like America, this country, too, has been a beacon of hope to “your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to be free.”
Ladies and gentlemen, God truly blessed our country in giving us Frank Lowy. So, I salute our country and I thank Frank Lowy on this auspicious occasion.