It s my privilege tonight to help to introduce the award for journalism.

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1 MIGRATION & SETTLEMENT AWARDS JOURNALISM AWARD INTRODUCTION It s my privilege tonight to help to introduce the award for journalism. I ve been asked to offer a personal perspective on reporting migration and settlement issues because of my own experience in settling refugees -- and may I thank the Migration Council and the National Archives of Australia for such a non-controversial assignment! Next month, the archives will host Shake Your Family Tree Day to encourage Australians to explore their family histories. As we ve heard, it s also launching the new website Destination Australia you ve seen some images here tonight which highlights the migrant contribution to our country. And if you haven t had a look in the glass cases down the back, I d encourage you to do so. They contain the family documents and photographs from some of our migrant politicians and prominent Australians. They re a great read. I work for SBS and we are also committed to highlighting what migrant communities bring to Australian life. When I say we re committed, I speak from personal experience. I ve been involved with refugees since 1979 when, as a 13-year-old, I went with my parents to the airport to welcome a Vietnamese family. Through the Uniting Church, Mum and Dad had volunteered to support a family they d never met.

2 Getting off the plane, gaunt and without English, were a young husband and wife carrying a baby girl and an airline overnight bag. I was there in my school uniform and I remember being gobsmacked that this was everything they had. They d fled Vietnam by boat to a refugee camp in Malaysia and eventually come to Australia. The church rented them a townhouse and furnished it with donations. My parents and a second support family organised drivers licences, English classes, Medicare. I did what a teenager could, learning bits of Vietnamese, helping around the house. This family became part of ours. Language was the biggest barrier. We laughed, got frustrated -- and used the telephone interpreter service a lot. As the brutal Canberra winter descended, we discovered they were sleeping on TOP of the bedspread. We hadn t thought to explain that there were layers of sheets and blankets underneath. In Vietnam, the husband had been a specialist diesel mechanic so Dad helped him get a job cleaning buses, in the hope ultimately futile that they d eventually want his skills. He got himself another cleaning job -- here at Parliament House. More jobs followed - in a restaurant, a greengrocer. At home, the young couple sat up at night, putting the spokes in bicycle wheels for money. They sent money back to family, spent enough to live and saved the rest. Eventually he learned baking and they bought a hot-bread shop. And then another. At one point, they owned 5 retail outlets and a bakery depot.

3 They had 2 more daughters. Thirty-four years on, we ve seen the weddings of all 3 and now grandchildren. ***************************************** In the early 90s, I volunteered in my own right to support a family arriving from Bosnia. The husband was Serb, the wife Muslim their two young children deemed to be born of a mixed marriage. They were forced to flee their home in Mostar hours after their baby son s birth to avoid being ethnically cleansed that means murdered and they moved something like 7 times before reaching a Belgrade refugee camp and, ultimately, coming here. A few days after arriving, their little girl turned 5. We rounded up all the 5-year-olds we knew and threw a party with presents and a giant chocolate 5 on top of her cake. Her mother sat in the corner and cried. It was the first birthday party her daughter had had. In January this year, I went to that little girl s wedding on a glorious summer afternoon at Margaret River, in Western Australia. A year or so after the family first arrived, the wife s brother joined them from where he d fled to - Sweden. We tried to get visas for their parents -- still in Mostar, effectively squatting with other families in what used to be their family home. They managed to get application forms to the Australian Embassy in Belgrade and we made long, frustrating phone calls. Things went round and round and never progressed. Their father got sick and deteriorated. It was clear he wasn t going to live. I had some money saved so I urged sister and brother to let me send them home to see him. They resisted, I insisted and they went. Among the things they packed was a fresh white sheet so he would

4 have a proper Muslim burial. They were able to see him before he died and be with him when he did. And they buried him in the sheet. There remains a great nagging on my soul that had we managed to better navigate the bureaucracy and get their parents here, their Dad might not have died when he did. When they came back to Australia, they insisted on repaying me those airfares, $50 at a time. They brought their grieving mother, on a visitor s visa. She had to return to Mostar and wait more than two years before being allowed to come back permanently. ********************************* The so-called queue is very long. Join it and you can wait an interminable time. Jump it and you can get here sooner. But you risk your own life, end up in detention and make others wait longer. What sort of choice is that? ***************************** The members of both families -- Vietnamese and Bosnian are now all proud Australian citizens. And I ve gained far more from knowing them than I ever gave. One year, we all had Christmas together and they swapped stories of refugee camps. I didn t work in television then, but I wish it had been on camera. Their stories were different but both involved struggle and physical danger. I ve learned that refugee stories asylum seeker stories -- are all different.

5 How do we assess who is most deserving? How do we weigh one person s desperation against another? It s a terrible dilemma. Indeed, all migrant stories are different. Some people come by boat, some have to wait years. Some have money and choose a new life, some are fleeing for their lives. Some come to work, some join family, some seek adventure. Some feel exploited, bewildered, hurt, privileged, excited. Some come with family, some alone. But they all arrive in a new, often strange place having left what they know, behind. It s rarely easy. Making migration policy is a different kind of hard. And so is reporting on it. Especially at the moment. I would hope that those of us who do these things might bear in mind that these are people we re dealing with, not labels or categories. And I hope we can all be guided by fairness, compassion and the desire to encourage harmony -- and to genuinely strive to avoid the reverse. Thank you.

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