Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Italians Down Under Conference

Location: Embassy of Italy Residence, Canberra


Can I start by acknowledging you Ambassador and thanking you for your invitation, Consul General, my Federal, State and Italian Parliamentary colleagues, former colleague Santo Santoro, NIAF CEO John Viola, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I am very proud to be here today representing the Minister for Social Services, the Hon. Kevin Andrews MP. The Minister has a very large Italo-Australian community in his electorate of Menzies.

He knows our community well and he has asked me to commend you on this wonderful initiative and pass on his very best wishes.

As you know, my parliamentary colleague the Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon. Andrew Robb AO MP was unable to open today’s conference as he is travelling with the Prime Minister in India.

He has asked me to deliver the following speech on his behalf.

Australia is a proudly multicultural nation.

In this country, your upbringing, your country of origin, your ethnic heritage – none of this matters in the eyes of Australian society.

All Australians are treated equally, and by working hard, have the opportunity to succeed. No migrant group has embraced this opportunity and ethos more than the Italians.

People of Italian heritage are present in all aspects of Australian life. Athletes, musicians, actors, judges, businessmen, journalists – and yes, even politicians.

Italian migrants have made a huge impact on Australia and the shape of our society. This is because Italy does not simply export migrants. It exports knowledge, innovation, fashion, food, film and music.

Italians are famous for their strong family values. Their expressive and honest communication. Their warmth when developing personal relationships. And their image – embedded into the notion of bella figura – is immaculate.

Over the past century, migrating Italians have spread these cornerstones of their culture across the globe. In Australia, the Italian way of life has seeped into the fabric of our society.

Even in the smallest of Australian country towns, there is evidence of Italian influence. In these towns you’ll find an Italian restaurant, a farmer of Italian heritage, a family making home-made passata.

Roughly one in 20 Australians was either born in Italy or has Italian heritage. One in 20.

The Italians Down Under Conference is an opportunity to highlight the people-to-people links between our nations. These links have never been stronger.

They were first forged during the gold rush of the 1850s when hundreds of Italians were lured to this great southern land.

Italian migration steadily increased – peaking in the 1950s, sixties and seventies. During this time, Australia wasn’t home to the multicultural diaspora it enjoys today. Italians were the first group of non Anglo-Saxons to mass migrate here.

Life for them was tough. Like any new migrant group, they were viewed by some with suspicion. But the Italian way of life, that combination of friendliness and determination to succeed, won them respect from the Australian community.

Today Australia is home to a vast number of large ethnic groups. Chinese, Indians, Greeks, Vietnamese. But Italians were the first and they successfully paved the way for these other waves of migrants.

Australia is dotted with little Italies – pockets in our communities where Italian culture thrives and is embraced. Italian is the third most spoken language in Australian homes.

It is no exaggeration to say Italian values, design, fashion and food are now part of mainstream Australian culture. But our enduring people-to-people links are not matched by a corresponding level of trade and investment.

Last year, our two-way trade in goods and services was eight-point-two billion dollars, which represented only 1.3 percent of the Australian trade total.

This is surprising because of the natural match between our two economies. Italy is Europe’s second-largest manufacturer. Australia is one of the world’s leading primary producers.

Trade figures show we can do more to feed Italy’s appetite for raw materials through Australian exports. So I am enthusiastic to be discussing opportunities for developing our partnership at the Italians Down Under Conference.

We know Italy faces severe challenges. The stagnation of domestic demand is driven by high unemployment, low wage growth, tight credit and a shrinking birth rate.

In decades past, Italy enabled Australia to grow through migrants. They assisted in building our country and provided expertise that helped our businesses to flourish.

Now, Australia is well-placed to return this assistance, and our cultural and historic ties provide a platform for this expansion. In Australia, Italy has a partner with fertile ground for trade and investment.

A partner experiencing strong economic growth. A partner with strong ties to the booming Asia-Pacific region.

Italian commercial interests are looking beyond the borders of Europe and there are signs of greater interest in the Australian market.

Just two months ago, Italian luxury fashion label, Ermenegildo Zegna, bought a majority share in a major New South Wales sheep property.

This investment will enable Zegna to benefit from Australian fine wool by being involved in every step supply chain from the farm to the consumer.

We are also working together in global forums. Australia’s chair of the G20 this year overlaps with Italy’s Presidency of the European Union. Our cooperation during this time can help strengthen the global economy and improve financial regulation.

We look forward to the G20 Leaders’ Summit in Brisbane in November, and the first visit by a serving Italian Prime Minister to our shores.

We are keen to host more visits from Italian parliamentarians and business leaders to further deepen our relationship. One area of notable growth has been the surge in Italians visiting Australia for work or holiday.

Student and working holiday maker visa numbers have risen by over 30 per cent per annum in recent years. Last year, almost 70-thousand Italians visited Australia. These strong numbers reflect the positive images of Australia held by Italians.

The ties forged between our young will shape the way in which our nations engage with each other in years to come.

Thank you.

The Hon Andrew Robb AO MP, Minister for Trade and Investment

I have also been asked by the Hon. Teresa Gambaro, Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade and Chair of the Australia Italy Parliamentary Group, to read the following letter:

Dear Ambassador,

I am sorry I cannot be with you for the “Italians Down Under” seminar being held in Canberra tomorrow, Friday 5 September 2014.

Regrettably I have a long-standing commitment that I was unable to reschedule, but as Chair of the Australia Italy Parliamentary Group I wish you every success for what I consider to be a wonderful initiative and I stand ready to assist you in fostering even closer relations between Italy and Australia.

In addition, I also want to compliment you on the luncheon event (prospective date of 22 October 2014) you are hosting with the Australia Italy Parliamentary Group, which will be attended by Members and Senators of Italian heritage.

Events such as these provide an ideal forum for trade and investment development, as well as encouraging Members and Senators of the Australian Parliament to better engage with constituents of Italian heritage in their respective electorates and States.

To this end, I would be very pleased to invite you to a series of business forums in my electorate of Brisbane at a time of your convenience.

I am also very excited by the fact that the G20 Leaders Summit, to be held in Brisbane on 15-16 November, will mark the first time in a long time that a Head of State from Italy has visited my home city.

As such, in my capacity not only as the Federal Member, but also as an Honorary Ambassador for Brisbane, it will be my great honour to welcome the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to the Summit.

The G20 Leaders Summit is a very exciting opportunity for Brisbane and will be the most significant meeting of world leaders Australia has ever hosted with Brisbane effectively being the capital city of the world for those three days.

With 4000 international delegates and 3000 media anticipated to attend, the Summit will bring global exposure to Brisbane in a way not experienced since the Commonwealth Games and the World Expo of the 1980s.

I look forward to working with you on promoting greater engagement on the G20 Leaders Summit, as well as continuing to foster closer relations between Italy and Australia through the Australia Italy Parliamentary Group.

The Hon Teresa Gambaro MP

As the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services with special responsibility for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, I would like to take this opportunity to also add my own comments at this conference today.

I am proud to say that as an Australian of Italian heritage, our community is well established and considered a role model for other multicultural communities.

I also wanted to use this chance to update you on some of the work we are doing in the Department of Social Services that is relevant to the discussions that will occur at this conference.

As Minister for Social Services, Minister Andrews oversees one third of the Commonwealth budget with the department covering a wide range of areas.

An important issue facing the Italian community in Australia – like other multicultural communities – is the ageing of our community and the need for quality and affordable aged care that is culturally appropriate.

Just as Australia as a whole is facing the issues associated with an ageing population, so it is with the cohort of post-war migrants now part the generation of older Australians in need of residential and home care.

The top two groups in that cohort are Australians from Italian and Greek background. The lessons learnt in these communities will provide valuable insight into future demands from other culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Helping our parents find the appropriate care can be quite a challenge – once again I know this from personal experience helping to find appropriate care for my father who has dementia and for my mother who also needed care.

Some 20 per cent of people aged over 65 years were born outside Australia – that’s more than 600,000 people.

By 2021 more than 30 per cent of our older population will have been born outside Australia.

The Australian Government through the Department of Social Services is committed to ensuring that all Australians have access to appropriate aged care, regardless of their background.

To support that commitment, the National Ageing and Aged Care Strategy for People from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds has been developed.

Money has been allocated to help people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds access aged care services.

This will ensure that aged care information is clear, easily accessible and relevant to older people from diverse backgrounds, their families and carers.

Our Department is also funding Partners in Culturally Appropriate Care in each state and territory to equip aged care providers with the skills to deliver culturally appropriate care to older people.

This programme also supports innovative methods of service delivery to meet specific needs and improve partnerships between aged care providers and multicultural communities.

We know the work that the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia has done in this space and has been providing to government.

Can I also reinforce the Government’s commitment to Australian Multiculturalism.

Our successful Australian Multiculturalism has been built through the efforts and commitment of millions of Australians, unified by the goal of a prosperous future for all.

Each small and careful step we take is another great stride towards a better future.

I am proud to be an Australian of Italian heritage because as Italo-Australians, we have had such a profound influence on Australia, and I think that collectively, we are so much richer as a nation for that influence.

There are almost 1 million of us and I am proud to say, we are a remarkable community which has always been at the forefront in terms of the contribution made to our nation.

Before I conclude, I just want to make some short comments in relation to the Italian language.

The Government is committed to increasing further the study of languages in schools, including Italian.

The Ambassador referred to the latest language data for the teaching of Italian. It makes Italian the second most studied language in the Australian school system.

At Year 12 level, in 2010, approximately 10 per cent of students who studied a language other than English studied Italian, making it the fourth most studied language at that level.

According to data from Community Languages Australia, Italian was the most popular language at the Community Language Australia network of schools, with 23,695 children enrolled across Australia in 2012.

The Government has commissioned research into ways to encourage more secondary students to continue language study through to senior secondary levels. Outcomes from this research are due to be presented to the Government in September 2014.

Once the Government has considered the findings of this research, it will work with the states and territories to implement new measures to build further interest in, and revitalise, the teaching of languages.

The Government has also continued to prioritise the development of national languages curriculum for languages. An Italian language curriculum was one of the first developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority and is available for use by schools.

On behalf of the Australian Government, can I thank you Ambassador for your kind invitation.

I wish you all well in your conference deliberations and look forward to hearing about your outcomes.

Thank you.