Thank you very very much Denise for your very warm welcome. Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
Can I start by also adding my acknowledgement of country.
I would like to congratulate the members of the Diaspora Learning Network on convening this excellent initiative, which I understand is Australia's first conference of its kind and my Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is especially pleased to support your work here today.
I am also very pleased to have this opportunity to be with you today and to also share some of my thoughts on the important role that diasporas play not just in their own communities, but more broadly to our cultural diversity, to our social cohesion and to what I term, productive diversity.
As the daughter of migrants to Australia and as someone who has had a close involvement in multicultural Australia for about 35 years, I have experienced this first hand.
Australia is one of the most culturally diverse, yet socially cohesive nations on earth. Since 1945, we have welcomed over 7.5 million people to Australia including about 825,000 people under our humanitarian program.
We speak about 300 different languages and identify with about 300 different heritages. Today, about 47% of us were either born overseas or have at least one parent who is born overseas.
We are a welcoming country where rights are balanced with responsibilities.
Our success as one of the most culturally diverse, yet socially cohesive and economically prosperous countries in the world stems from our adherence to the values which underpin Australian society and culture and to which Australian citizens adhere.
Earlier, we referred to civic participation. Civic participation is a vitally important component of this landscape.
Like millions of migrants, my parents came to Australia to build a better life for themselves and for their children.
My brother and I had opportunities that my parents could not have given us had they stayed in Italy.
Notwithstanding that I was born here in Australia, the first day I went to school, I didn't speak a word of English.
As I was growing up in Wollongong, there were many people who like my parents, had also come from Italy.
The community became our family. We helped each other. We looked out for each other. As more migrants came from Italy, they joined the community and the help and support continued, in turn, for them.
This was the diaspora in action.
I learnt this at an early age and it became for me, the driving force to embark on a career of service to my community and to my country.
Today, the Italo-Australian community is well established and integrated yet distinctive in the contribution it continues to make.
Last weekend, the Italian Embassy in Canberra hosted another Italians Down Under conference, bringing together the key stakeholders in the Australia-Italy relationship.
These key stakeholders are the cornerstone of the ongoing and very successful Australia-Italy relationship.
Today, the Italo-Australian diaspora includes first, second and third generations. It includes many successful Australians of Italian heritage who remain committed to furthering this relationship.
The latest iteration is fundraising following the devastating earthquake in Amatrice and surrounding areas.
I say this because the established communities can be a valuable source of information and guidance not just about good integration, but of how productive that diversity can be to not only contribute to Australia's economic growth, but also in fostering Australian relations with many different countries.
Today, whilst our migrants and humanitarian entrants hail from different countries and times have changed, the basics are still the same.
Like my parents in the 1950s, their motivation is to build a better life for themselves and their children - to make the most of the opportunities this great land has to offer.
Can I commend the Diaspora Learning Network, for creating this important and very timely forum to examine research, policy and linkages related to multicultural communities and their engagement with their countries of origin.
The conference will formally explore the unique and significant value which migrant and refugee communities, both new and old, bring to formal and informal efforts of peacebuilding, human development and humanitarian action in their home countries.
Ultimately, this develops into fostering a much stronger bi-lateral relationship between Australia and that country.
With diaspora communities frequently having migrated as a result of experiences of war, poverty or political unrest, there remains powerful ties to family and community, particularly in the developing world.
I have no doubts that the conference will highlight in vivid terms just how much Australia's past and present immigration policies have led to a dynamic and powerful multicultural society that can and should contribute effectively to help solve some of the world most pressing challenges.
Why? Because you have lived the migrant experience.
It just so happens that finally, we are addressing formally what we have all been doing informally for decades.
And can I take this opportunity to acknowledge your work as diasporas in drawing on that opportunity, through your own hard work, to not only benefit your communities here, but in your countries of origin.
Diasporas living in Australia are an enormously important source of assistance for people around the world, especially in their times of greatest need and most especially, when those countries are developing countries facing challenges of war, drought and famine.
As a former Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, I had responsibility for settlement services and for this reason, I am particularly pleased that this conference has brought us together.
The first step to successful collaboration is to understand one another's experiences and learn from them.
Today, I would like to give will give you a brief overview of the purpose and priorities of Australia's aid program, with a particular emphasis on innovation and humanitarian responses.
Then I will offer a few thoughts on how we might work together and I will reflect in more detail on the importance of diaspora communities for our unique Australian multiculturalism.
The first thing to say about the Australian aid program is that it is squarely in the interests of all Australians and all of our nation.
The fact is Australians benefit when people in our region are healthy, well-educated and participating in their economy. This in turn leads to a stronger and more stable region.
We want to live and do business in a secure and prosperous world. Achieving that is a big task and not one that Australia can or should bear on its own.
Whilst all developed, wealthy countries have a part to play, we certainly do not have limitless buckets of money.
With that in mind, first of all, Australia has made a conscious decision to concentrate its efforts in our own region.
At least 90% of the aid that we direct to particular countries goes to the Indo-Pacific region, mainly our immediate neighbourhood, the Asia-Pacific.
At the same time, we are also a significant player in a global development policy. We are a steady and reliable contributor to multinational organisations, including the World Band, the Asian Development Band, the Global Fund and the Green Climate Fund, just to name a few.
We were very active contributors to the development of the Sustainable Development Goals for example.
And as good global citizens, we respond to acute need in other parts of the world. For example, in 2016-17, we will spend almost $4 billion in overseas development assistance, both bilaterally and multilaterally.
In our budget this year, we announced $220 million in humanitarian funding for those affected by the Syria crisis.
As well, in July this year, Australia increased its humanitarian assistance to South Sudan by $8 million for a total of more than $50 million since December 2013.
At the same time, we provided $5 million in food relief in the Lake Chad basin region.
These are only a few of our many initiatives.
Secondly, we concentrate our efforts on the areas where we can most effectively help societies help themselves.
Our aid program is carefully designed with partner governments to achieve key objectives including: to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth; to ensure prosperous, healthy and educated people; and build resilient communities.
These goals support one another and are vital to ensuring a stronger and more stable region.
Well governed and strong private sectors, generate the wealth that pays for the things that people value. And we find that in our aid partnerships, people value good health, good education and good governance.
In turn, well-educated and healthy people build better businesses, making for a stronger private sector, which pays for more health and education and so, the virtuous cycle goes on.
Two elements stand out as being particularly conducive to long-term progress. They are the empowerment of women and support for trade and investment. If we empower a woman, we empower her family and we empower her society.
That is why we are aiming for 80% of our aid investment to effectively address gender issues.
We are determined that our aid program will make a lasting difference, and very often, it is women who invest in the future of their families.
Women leaders in the diaspora community play an important role, acting as role models and supporting other women and girls to rise to their potential.
The other thing that makes for sustained development is access to markets and openness to trade and investment.
Trade is the engine of economic growth and investment is its fuel. Through our aid program, Australia seeks to assist partner governments to help their entire population to benefit from trade.
For example, together we invest in roads that will help the poorest people access markets for their produce, so that they can earn more cash and save more.
This in turn adds to economic growth and ultimately, reduces a country's dependence on aid.
Development is not just building infrastructure for business, though that is important, but it makes improvements that every part of society can use.
We help climate-proof the roads and maintain them, so that families' economic opportunities in transportation, including getting goods to market, are sustained.
We also help link domestic markets to international markets, by assisting governments to facilitate international trade and investment. Very often, our commitments to supporting trade and investment and empowering women go hand in hand.
Of course, Australians want to help our neighbours in their time of need, and in recent times we have not only helped Fiji, but other countries such Vanuatu and Tonga following cyclones.
During my recent visits to these three countries, I have seen how Australian aid has helped rebuild lives.
More than that, it is in Australia's interests that our Pacific neighbours do well, for they are part of our future in the Pacific Ocean as well as being our trading partners.
Some months ago, we released the Defence White Paper. After the security of Australia, our highest priority is the stability and security of our region.
Many of our nearest neighbours remain vulnerable to severe weather events. Hence, building resilience is another important aspect of our aid partnerships.
As you know, the Turnbull Government is committed, through and through, to innovation.
Accordingly, we have invited entrepreneurs, business, universities and NGOs to propose better ways to assist our communities in our region to prepare for and recover from natural disasters.
We are now working to implement the best ideas we received, including: using mobile phones to deliver low-cost insurance; using drones to provide data that agencies can use to target emergency relief; and working with Australian Red Cross to develop stand-by arrangements for businesses to rapidly deliver relief.
As the Government continues to invite new ideas from the community, I hope that diaspora groups will get involved and bring their unique knowledge and connections to formulate new policy.
Which returns me to the business of this conference.
Ladies and gentlemen, in very briefly introducing Australia's aid program, I hope I have already set you thinking about ways that the Government and diasporas can work together.
There is huge potential in a range of areas with the one at the front of my mind being humanitarian relief.
In the coming months, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will seek to engage with diaspora communities on ways to respond to humanitarian crises.
There is much to be gained by sharing information in this way.
We should continue to work together on communicating Australian Government advice to diaspora communities during crises, as we did during Cyclone Winston.
To make use, and this is something that I have done very much in my multicultural activities, to use the vast ethnic media that we have in Australia and to use many of those stakeholder organisations which have that day-to-day contact with so many of our communities.
I think there is also potential for mutual learning in preparing for and recovering from natural disasters. However, we need to be aware of some complexities.
The very things that make collaboration between Australia's aid program and diasporas so promising, also pose challenges.
Typically, diasporas provide effective humanitarian relief because they move very quickly to help the particular communities with which they have connections.
The Australian Government, in contrast, works to support the leadership of the partner government on natural disasters and in conflict settings, we deliver our support through partners committed to helping the most needy, whoever they may be.
Australia also has its successful Australia Awards program and the New Colombo Plan, which addresses the fundamental issue of education, particularly in our Indo-Pacific area.
In many ways, it is natural and appropriate that the efforts of diasporas and those of the Australian Government proceed independently of one another, heading in the same direction but working on different levels.
In a globalised world, where communication between countries is so much easier, it is very common for today's migrants to be transnational. In short, many have a foot in two or sometimes three different camps. For example, about 20% of Australians speak another language at home. Global communications mean many in Australia are not only connected with what's happening in Australia, but very connected with what's happening day to day in their country of origin.
I am committed to working with diaspora communities so that they benefit from the Government's aid expertise and in turn, that the Government benefits from diasporas' local knowledge.
I would encourage you to discuss the value that diaspora groups can bring to partnerships with other development actors. What can you offer as development partners to government or other development actors such as the private sector?
I look forward to hearing your ideas after your two days of deliberation.
In concluding, can I share some of my own passion for diaspora issues. I believe strongly in migrant communities' ethos of self-help and self-sufficiency.
This was the ethos that I saw first-hand growing up in Wollongong. I believe that ethos builds social cohesion and helps us all to build the future that we want.
It is a good thing to meet as part of a diaspora community united in our desire to help and strengthen the community from which we have all come.
An outstanding way this occurs is through conflict resolution here in Australia.
For instance, last week in Sydney at the NSW Parliament, the Great Lakes Association held a workshop with the Sydney University Peace Research Centre.
Former members of highly divided societies from Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda came together to study conflict resolution skills.
The Australian Government strongly encourages this kind of community initiative and a senior official from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Mathew Neuhaus, helped launch the event and joins the conference tomorrow to discuss diasporas and economic development.
In solving conflicts imported from abroad, you are also contributing to the proud tradition of our unique Australian multicultural society.
What is very important, and our history, our successful history of migration has taught us this, that whilst we come from different parts of the world and we enjoy the richness and the culture that that tapestry brings to us, to our lives and to Australia, first and foremost the success of our multicultural country is the social cohesion that we enjoy and putting our commitment to Australia, first and foremost above other commitments.
That has been the social glue that has bound us together and that is where you as key stakeholders in the diaspora, in your respective diasporas, have a responsibility to assist and to develop very much that social glue because ultimately, that is what will continue to make Australia the great country that she is.
You help, and your work will help strengthen Australia.
And in this spirit, let us discover the ways that the Australian Government and diasporas can work together for peace, for development, for resilience and for prosperity.
Thank you very very much for your kind attention.
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