Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Asian Leadership Network Conference

Location: Immigration Museum of Australia, Melbourne


Can I start by adding my acknowledgment of the traditional owners.

Can I also acknowledge my Federal Colleagues Richard Di Natale and Rob Mitchell, Minister Robert Clarke, Ted Baillieu, friend and former colleague Tsebin Tchen, representatives of the Diplomatic Corps, Farrukh Hussain, Sylvia Walton AO, Assistant Commissioner Andrew Crisp, Chin Tan, Chairman Victorian Multicultural Commission, Mayors and Councillors, academic contributors, many, many distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services, with special responsibilities for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, I am delighted to be here this evening to recognise the importance of occasions such as this for the ongoing vitality of our diversity and of our nation.

Having been involved in the multicultural space and with community organisations for about thirty years, I know how crucial it is to build and maintain linkages and networks between government, business and the community.

These linkages and networks help support our social cohesion. The economic benefits that come through them are one of the primary drivers of Australia’s success as a nation.

Australia’s post World War Two history has largely been built and framed by migration. Our national story features millions of individual accounts of people who have come from other parts of the world and used their skills, their knowledge and business insights to build the country we have today.

Since 1945, we have welcomed about seven and a half million migrants, including some 800,000 under our humanitarian programme.

As the daughter of migrants myself, I recognise the enormous sacrifices made by those who travelled from afar to reach their full potential in their adopted country.

Today we share around 300 ancestries and speak as many languages. We are one of the world’s most diverse and cohesive nations. And this connects us to nations around the world in an unprecedented way.

The success of Australian Multiculturalism arises very much from the commitment to the common elements that unite us, combined with a respect and understanding of our social, cultural and religious differences.

The Australian Government is fully committed to this policy.

Our Prime Minister Abbott paid tribute to Australian Multiculturalism in 2012 when he noted:

“There’s no doubt that our country has been amongst the world’s most successful immigrant societies … 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.

It is the commitment that the Prime Minister had reiterated only last week in his speech to the National Press Club.

An increasingly globalised economic landscape means that, now more than ever, our diversity offers a wealth of opportunity for Australia.

The Australian Government recognises the need to not only strengthen existing trade relationships with other countries, but to create and build upon new opportunities.

Around the world there are many different ways of doing business. There are differing practises and conventions. To be successful, we need to appreciate and understand these differences and identify any barriers or impediments that may exist.

This is where the value of our diversity becomes a real asset. Working together, we can build on what we have already established for over nearly 70 years and create new prospects which will benefit all Australians.

The Government views this arrangement through the prism of what we call ‘productive diversity’. This recognises the importance of working together with our diverse communities in developing business relationships and partnerships and conducting business overseas.

Looking at international trade this way clearly illustrates how people with 300 different ancestries equate to a wealth of opportunities.

Our cultural diversity serves us, and serves us well, giving us a competitive advantage.

It’s not just our different ancestries that help us, for instance the 2011 Census found: 26 per cent of our resident population was born overseas; 46 per cent of Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent born overseas; 19 per cent of the total population speak a language other than English at home, which indicates an increasing linguistic diversity.

This equates to a large percentage of people who have demonstrable links with other countries and who also may have an understanding of the languages and what the business practices and conventions are in those nations.

Further to this, diversity also offers business a wealth of opportunity through increased productivity – in that diversity and inclusion brings together a range of different talents who can work towards a common goal using different sets of skills; through increased creativity and problem solving – with many different minds coming together to help create more solutions and fosters innovation; through diversity in a business attracting a wide range of talent that can give it a competitive edge; and through linguistic diversity helping a business compete in international markets and build a greater customer base by relating to people from different backgrounds.

The Asian Leadership Network is a great example of how business can offer support to communities.

Your goal of connecting Australian and Asian leaders in a substantial way is the ideal platform for the creation of new opportunities and the expansion of our shared interests.

I commend the work you have done and continue to do for the betterment of all Australians. I recognise that your founding member, Farrukh Hussain, has a long history of service to the Australian community and in 2012, received the Multicultural Award for Excellence from the Victorian Government.

Your vision and proactivity forges strong bonds between Asia and Australia helping to deliver economic and cultural dividends.

I would also like to acknowledge your ongoing work with organisations such as the Royal Children’s Hospital and the Australian Red Cross.

In addition, I commend the work of Dr Sylvia Walton AO, who has been an outstanding and award-winning work educator for many years, and whose leadership has been recognised through the Sylvia Walton Equity and Diversity Annual Public Lecture, the first of which was held in December last year.

I commend the Network for the efforts and commitment you have shown to our community and for all you have achieved.

I am sure that your current work and future achievements will be equally rewarding and fulfilling. Strengthening the links between community, business and Government to advance our trade and investment opportunities are of great benefit to all Australians.

The Asian Leadership Network can certainly play an important role in relation to helping shape future opportunities for Australia.

Given that seven of our top ten export markets and six of our top ten import markets are in the Asian region, the benefits of your understanding and insights are obvious.

If we build the right bridges, our diversity will give us a greater opportunity to enhance productivity, foster innovation, build on our current trade and investment enterprises and create new opportunities.

With an ageing population and an increasingly globalised economy, migration and diversity will remain key assets for Australia into the future.

I thank you for your efforts and your commitment and I commend the work you have done in helping our nation prosper.

It has been a great privilege to be with you this evening.

Thank you.