Asialink Leaders’ Opening Night

  • Speech, check against delivery

I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians and Owners of the lands on which we meet, the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung and Bunurong Boon Wurrung Peoples of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to their Elders past and present.

I extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in attendance.

And I reaffirm the Australian Government’s commitment to implementing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full – Voice, Treaty and Truth.

In 1994, in the Asia Lecture given to the Asia-Australia Institute, Prime Minister Paul Keating said:

“…in a quite different way from the past, [in] a deeper, more urgent and more intense way, that Australia's economic, strategic and political interests now coalesce in the region around us.”

That was nearly 30 years ago.

In the decades since Keating’s speech, what we now call the Indo-Pacific has become even more important to Australia’s interests. 

It is imperative that Australia foster greater political, economic and cultural literacy of our region – particularly Asian literacy - within our next generation of leaders.

Only with greater understanding and people-to-people links can we most effectively work with partner countries to meet the challenges facing our region.

Because, to quote Foreign Minister Penny Wong: “we share a region and we share a future”.

For more than 30 years, Asialink has been at the forefront of expanding Australia’s cultural, economic and personal ties with our Asian partners. 

And not long after Paul Keating gave his Asia Lecture, Asialink started its Leaders Program.

A program which has developed Asia-literacy for over 27 years.

I know this firsthand, having completed the Leaders Program in 2017. 

The Leader’s Program recognises that Australia’s past, present and future are inextricably linked to our partners and friends in Asia.

And it seeks to forge new connections – and deepen old ones – between and among our communities.

Understanding Asia not only helps us understand the region we live in.

With the diversity of Modern Australia, it helps us understand ourselves.

Of the top ten countries of birth outside Australia in the most recent census, six were Asian nations – India, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Sri Lanka.

Four of the top five languages spoken most commonly at home other than English are Asian languages.

On top of this, the fastest growing language in Australia is Punjabi and the fastest growing religion is Hinduism.

The diversity of skills, languages, cultures, and experiences found in those living in Australia today are some of our greatest assets.

In my first speech in Parliament, I noted the openness of our society and the opportunity we have extended to migrants to our nation has left Australia better placed to succeed in an open, global economy.

As the great Australian chronicler of our nation’s Anglo-Celtic convict heritage, Robert Hughes has noted:

“[Multiculturalism] proposes…that some of the most interesting things in history and culture happen at the interface between cultures...the a globalized economy…will lie with people who can think and act with informed grace across ethnic, cultural, linguistic lines…In the world that is coming, if you can’t navigate difference, you’ve had it.”

Organisations like Asialink play an important role in helping Australia develop its Asia capability and to harness the potential of that capability.

To respond to Hughes’ warning, Asialink helps future Australian leaders navigate cross-cultural environments, not for a “world that is coming”, but for the diverse, interconnected world we live in today.

Finding new ways to bridge cultures and build connections has been the life’s work of tonight’s keynote speaker.

Mitu Bhowmick Lange AM migrated to Australia in the early 2000s, swapping the busy streets of Delhi and Mumbai for the bustling laneways of Melbourne.

Already an accomplished director and producer in India, Mitu has spent the last 20 years bringing Indian film and television to Australian screens.

In those early days, it was hard to find anywhere to see an Indian movie in Melbourne, despite Bollywood being the largest producer of films worldwide. 

Mitu set about changing that.

Her company, Mind Blowing Films, is now the leading film distribution business for Indian cinema across Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

In 2005, she produced the first Indian film ever filmed entirely in Australia, Salaam Namaste, which tells the story of two young Indians who migrate to Melbourne.

In 2012, she founded the Indian Film Festival of Melbourne, which is now the biggest festival for Indian cinema outside India.

Through film, Mitu has provided all Australians with a new window into Indian culture and society, generating countless new Bollywood converts over the years.

I’ve been to the Festival many times over the years and like many members of government, I’ve seen plenty of Indian films that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen as a result.

Mitu has built an invaluable cultural bridge between Australia and India.

Indeed, the recently announced Australia-India Audiovisual Co-production Agreement, which will boost joint production opportunities, wouldn’t have been possible without the efforts of pioneers like Mitu.

Mitu’s achievements and extraordinary contribution to Australian cultural and community life have been recognised through a Screen Leadership Award and an Order of Australia in this year’s Australia Day Honours List.

She’s a well known and much loved figure in Melbourne’s cultural scene.

Everyone seems to know Mitu, and no one seems to be able to say no to her when she’s pursuing a new endeavour!

Mitu’s story is one that is likely familiar to diaspora communities around Australia.

It is a quintessentially Australian story.

A story that underscores the power of culture and the arts to build bridges, shaping how we connect to one another.

And a story that directly addresses that pressing challenge for Australia: how we build the cultural understanding and connection which helps us to best work with our region.

It gives me great pleasure to introduce Mitu Bhowmick Lange AM to you here tonight to share her inspiring journey and insights.

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