Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils Conference, Melbourne
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is a delight to be here for the start of the 2022 FECCA Conference.
Your conference occurs at an important time as we adjust to life after a difficult two years responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the transition to a new government.
My constitutional responsibilities are important. For example, I will travel directly from here to Government House in Canberra to swear-in Senator the Hon Malarndirri McCarthy.
However, most of my and Linda’s time is spent in the community thanking people for what they do and acknowledging effort across every field of endeavour.
That is why I was very pleased when I discovered that your conference coincided with my visit to Melbourne. I was pleased for two reasons.
First, because you are a group of people that deserve to be thanked and acknowledged for your efforts, your work and for what you contribute to the Australian community. My message to you, as leaders, and your communities is that you are part of the fabric of our community and you enrich our nation.
The second reason I wanted to be here is I need your help. One of my responsibilities is as the Chancellor of the Order of Australia. The Order of Australia is the pre-eminent means by which we recognise service to Australia and its people. Our diversity is a great national strength. It should be reflected in our nation’s pre-eminent awards system.
I grew up in Port Kembla – a steel-making town. Half of my classmates were recent migrants. I was eating spaghetti before most people in Australia had heard about it.
What I learnt in that environment has been reinforced to me – in my military career, as Governor of New South Wales and now as Governor-General of Australia. That it doesn’t matter how long someone has been here. It doesn’t matter what accent they speak with, what their faith is or what food they eat at home. What matters is the character of the person, how they treat others and what they contribute to our community and to Australia.
In my role I see many examples of what I call our ‘richness of spirit’ – people who are kind, compassionate and serve tirelessly. Linda and I meet people like this in good times and challenging times; for example, in communities devastated by the bushfire, pandemic or flood.
These people aren’t famous and they’re not seeking recognition or thanks. They are selfless, gritty and help those around them.
Of course, we saw those characteristics writ large by many during the pandemic. We saw it in our healthcare and aged care workers, in people working in our supermarkets and supply chains and in a range of other roles that are often underappreciated.
We know that many, if not most, of the workers in these jobs are from culturally diverse backgrounds. Their efforts helped our country get through one of the most challenging periods we have experienced. We are enormously grateful to those Australians.
We know that there are many individuals in our multicultural communities who make Australia a better place. Yet, at present, there are not enough people from culturally diverse backgrounds recognised in the Order.
There is a simple solution and I need your help. There is a need to nominate these people for recognition.
Anyone can nominate someone to be considered and all Australians, regardless of their background or field of endeavour, are eligible. The only caveat is that service or achievement should be for service to Australia rather than a specific community. We're not celebrating a great, for example, Polish person; we’re looking to celebrate a great Polish-Australian for what they’ve done for Australia.
Conversely, it doesn’t matter how amazing someone is or what they’ve done, if they’re not nominated they can’t be recognised.
Like I said, I need your help.
We need you to spread the work in your organisations and communities. We need you to personally consider nominating outstanding people.
I have staff with me today who will remain here today during the conference. They’re here to assist. If you need more information, they can provide it. If you need help with the nomination form, they can arrange it. And if you need them to reach out after the conference, they can.
The Order of Australia works from the bottom-up and starts with community members nominating other community members. It is designed to reflect the very best of Australia, With your help we can ensure that it does.
To conclude, thank you for the opportunity to speak this morning. Thank you for what you each do as leaders in your own communities. The sum of your efforts makes us the nation we are.
I wish you well for the conference.