The Asian Century

I spoke in parliament tonight about Asia-literacy, Ken Henry's Asian Century report, refugees, and the Canberra Multicultural Festival. The speech is below (and if you're at the Festival this coming Saturday, please come over to the Andrew Leigh stall and say g'day).
The Asian Century
7 February 2012

If there’s one prediction we can confidently make about the Australia of the future, it’s that our nation will become more ethnically diverse and more enmeshed with Asia. Since the end of the White Australia policy, the share of our migrants coming from non-English speaking countries has continued to grow. The effects of this immigration can be seen in the diverse cuisine now available in our restaurants, but this is really only a superficial picture of how migration has affected the nation.

In thousands of workplaces today, Australians are drawing on the culture and experiences of nearly every nation on the globe. At the same time, the growth of China and India is placing us closer than ever to the economic centre of gravity of the world economy. This isn’t just a mining story – in fact, Australia’s service exports to China exceed our coal exports. It’s a story that illuminates the evolution of our national character. The next generation of Australians will be more likely to have been born in Asia, travelled to Asia, worked in Asia, or married someone from Asia.

To look at the economic and social opportunities that this change provides, the Prime Minister has commissioned former Treasury Secretary Ken Henry to produce a report on ‘The Asian Century’. Dr Henry will be assisted by an advisory panel: Peter Drysdale, John Denton, Catherine Livingstone, Gordon de Brouwer, David Gruen and Heather Smith. Submissions for the White Paper close on February 26, and I encourage interested groups and individuals to make a submission.

Growing engagement with Asia means that the parliament needs to keep increasing our Asia-literacy. We can be proud to have a Mandarin-speaking foreign minister and representatives of Asian descent such as Senators Penny Wong and Lisa Singh. I hope we can welcome more Nguyens, Desais and Zhangs into this parliament over the years to come.

Some of us have spent time living in Asia. One of the things I’ve found since coming into parliament is that I’ve increasingly drawn on my own background growing up as a child in Malaysia and Indonesia, and had the chance to tell the stories of people like Jamie Mackie and Herb Feith, who helped forge our nation’s relationship with the region. Thanks to the encouragement of Melanie Tait, I even told the tale of my childhood as an ‘AusAID brat’ in Aceh as part of ABC 666’s ‘Now Hear This’ event last December. It was a daunting and rewarding experience.

As a local MP, a diverse Canberra is a great source of pride for me. This weekend, the annual Canberra Multicultural Festival will be held in my electorate. The festival celebrates differences by showcasing the art, music, dance and food of culturally rich Canberra.

The face of the festival is German immigrant Wolf Blass. Performers will include Troy Cassar-Daley, Anthony Callea and Joe Dolce. The event involves 200 community groups, local and national arts groups, up to 70 diplomatic missions, numerous businesses and tens of thousands of people who attend over the three day festival.

Over the summer months, it has been my pleasure to speak at a number of multicultural functions in my electorate. In December, I attended the launch of the new premises for the National Ethnic Disability Alliance in the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre. I have also had the pleasure of speaking at the Karen New Year celebrations in Cook, and the Mon National Day celebrations in at Merici College in Braddon. Both the Karen and Mon communities have proud histories, yet continue to be repressed by the Burmese government. I particularly acknowledge the valuable work of Karen community leaders Nai Shin Thu, Ester Kyaw and Saw Tha Wah, and Mon community leaders Nai Tin Aye, Nai Pe Thein Zar, Nai Loka Chanmi and Hongsar Channaibanya.

Canberra is fortunate to have many champions of multiculturalism, including Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs Senator Lundy, ACT Minister for Multicultural Affairs Joy Burch, her director Nic Manikis, Kathy Ragless of Companion House, John Gunn of the ACT Multicultural Youth Services, and many others who work to resettle refugees, including Geoff McPherson, David Cran and Bevil Purnell.

Finally, I congratulate Sam Wong who was announced by the Prime Minister last month as one of only 40 ‘People of Australia Ambassadors’ for 2012. As an ambassador Sam will strengthen our capacity as a nation to bring people together and build bridges of understanding and respect.

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