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Event in recognition of Refugee Week, Lennox Head Cultural Centre, NSW

[As delivered]

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, the Bunjalung People of the Bunjalung Nation, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present, emerging leaders and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders gathered here today.

  • Councillor Sharon Cadwallader (Mayor, Ballina Shire Council)
  • Councillor Michael Lyon (Mayor, Byron Shire Council)
  • Mr David Arnold (Assistant Secretary, Settlement Program Operations Branch, Department of Home Affairs)
  • Members of Ballina Region for Refugees, Ocean Shores for Refugees, Ballina Refugees Support Group
  • Members of Community Refugee Sponsorship Australia (CRSA) and refugee families here today
  • Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning, everyone.

It is an absolute delight for Linda and me to be in Lennox Head today for what is an important occasion in our national calendar.

Refugee Week is an opportunity to highlight and celebrate the many contributions that refugees make to Australia and to broaden Australians’ understanding of the challenges of resettlement.

The Lennox Head Cultural Centre is a fitting venue for today’s celebration, as it is home to many rich and diverse stories of Australia, reflecting our history and culture.

One of the focuses of this year’s Refugee Week activities is the Community Refugee Settlement and Integration Pilot, or CRISP.

I like CRISP.

I will tell you why.

I go back to my days in uniform.

In the Australian Defence Force every year, there are two staff courses run for junior and senior officers. They are 12-month courses for professional development; a select group go.

The majority of students who attend are Australians, but 30-40 per cent come from overseas — from overseas militaries, navies and air forces.

At the start of each year, there is a commencement ceremony. And, as Vice Chief of the Defence Force, as Chief of the Defence Force, I would address that group — 100-odd students, and their families. There were maybe about 200 people there.

And I would say to the Australians: I don't care what academic result you get this year. That is your business. But if you don't know two of these overseas students well by the end of the year so that you can ring them up 24/7 for the rest of your working life and beyond, then you failed.

Why? Because if we just leave it to words, policy, then people-to-people links aren't established. People must reach out and do something to connect people together, and that is exactly what CRISP is doing.

It is exactly what you are doing. You are creating those very personal links that are concrete — that create and bind people to us as a country.

I look at the photos behind me, of people hopping off an aircraft and getting that smiley welcome as they arrive in Australia.

Arrival halls can be quite daunting places. So, to be taken in, placed in a community, and shown the ropes and supported, always with a smile — that is creating working relationships, loving relationships — by people who help them move from trauma to triumph in our country.

That is why CRISP is such an important initiative.

That is why each of the CSGs [Community Support groups] and the work that's done by CSRA is such an important thing for showing the way in which we can welcome people into our country.

Now, it's terrible to say we have to follow the Canadians, but we can do it better. That's our challenge.

If you look at Canada’s statistics, more than 300,000 have been welcomed into their country through a similar style program. So, the pilot is in your hands in one sense. The success of this program, with Lisa's crew [Ms Lisa Button, CEO, CSRA], is in your hands. Thank you for what you do.

I am not surprised, though — and I said this to the group of mayors last week at the ALGA [Australian Local Government Association] National General Assembly.

Linda and I travel around Australia every day of the year, meeting Australians on some of their worst days — we were up here in this region and both shires during the floods — and on some of the great days where we have Investiture ceremonies and are recognising people's contributions to Australia by presenting them with medals and so on.

What I see in this room today, when I hear about what you are doing, just fills me with optimism for our country.

It might seem a bit odd to say that. We have issues. We have problems. I don't see the country through rose-coloured glasses. What I see is you replicated so many times across our nation.

We are good people, and we are welcoming in good people to help create a great nation.

It is manifest in the selfless actions of Ocean Shores for Refugees, Ballina Region for Refugees, Ballina Refugees Support Group, CRSA, the list goes on.

It gives me a real sense of how good we can be. Please, keep it going — because we have now got action, mechanisms and relationships put in place that will help future refugees.

Last night, Linda and I had the pleasure of hosting members of the Australian Multicultural Council (AMC) and the review panel at Government House ahead of their meetings today and tomorrow.

Organisations like the AMC are going to help us develop the framework for which CRISP fits in. So, the welcoming arm of Australia and the way we bring people from overseas into our communities can be better defined, better settled, and take us in a better direction. All these things are possible for us.

CRISP is an important part of that because it gives us a different way of doing business.

Again, a resounding 'thank you' and a very warm welcome to both our families [from Syria and Venezuela] who are represented here, and the other families who will be coming in the future.

Please continue your great work, reach out to the community and get others involved.

It is just so difficult to imagine — I have been in countries on military operations where I have seen what produces refugees. I don’t have to imagine what they’re escaping. I can understand what they’re escaping.

But better than that, I know what they are coming to, and that is you. Thank you.