NSW PREMIER GLADYS BEREJKILIAN SPEECH TO AUSTRALIA DAY LUNCH

Tuesday, 15 January 2019
Thank you Yvonne for that wonderful welcome to country and can I also acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we stand and pay my respects to elders past and present.
    
In just over a week’s time, we will gather with our friends and  communities to celebrate Australia Day.  

And what would Australia Day be without the passionate debate we seem to have leading up to January 26 every year?

For my part – as the daughter of migrants and a proud Australian – I love celebrating Australia Day on January 26, and all that it represents.

There are of course other milestones that show how as Australians we have come together to build our nation, and these too enhance the unity we feel on Australia Day itself.

Milestones such as:   
  • 1901 - when Sir Henry Parkes brought the states and territories  together for the first time to form the Australian Federation.
  •  1908 - the year when all Australian women were finally granted the right to vote in all elections.
  • The date when we first marked Anzac Day in 1916 – honouring service, sacrifice and resilience.
  • And the date when our nation overwhelmingly passed the 1967 referendum – overturning discrimination against Indigenous
Australians and finally becoming a mature nation with equal rights for all.     

January 26 is the celebration of all these things. Every single one of these milestones, and others too, have helped forge our national identity and define our shared values.
 
Whilst our unique shared Australian values of freedom, opportunity – a fair go, and mateship are deeply ingrained – our national identity has never been a static concept – it has continually evolved and moved forward.   

Australia Day is a time for us to celebrate these values and of course to pay tribute to the legacies of those who have come before us.   

Importantly, it is also a day when we can reflect on the legacies that we all want to leave for future generations. 

For instance, I feel so incredibly privileged that we celebrate the longest continuing culture on the planet.   

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles have walked this land for tens of thousands of years and all of us now are custodians of that culture and part of it.   

The lessons of the Dreamtime and the importance of respecting the environment around us are as relevant today as they were when that oral history was first shared.

And from the days of the First fleet, our Colonial pioneers showed enormous resilience and determination in a harsh climate and unfamiliar conditions.   

I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be transported to the other side of the world for stealing a loaf of bread or a pair of scissors.

Yet somehow, they and their descendants helped build our institutions and forge our new democratic and egalitarian society.  

And of course in the post war years, migrants from around the world arrived with little but strived for a better life for themselves and their families.   

Together these threads have resulted in the forging of one of the strongest and fairest democracies on the planet, where the vast majority of our citizens enjoy a good quality of life.

Our identity isn’t one of these threads – but a combination of them.

As someone who is the daughter of migrants, who was born in Sydney, but who didn’t learn English until she started school – you can appreciate that this issue of national identity is one I thought about often.     

I am first and foremost a proud Australian, but also proud of my Armenian heritage and roots.   

Growing up, a week didn’t go by without my parents reminding my sisters and me about how fortunate we were to be Australians and how important it was to give back to the community.   

They reminded us of the freedoms and opportunities we had, which they never had.

Every year, as he has done for as long as I can remember, my father proudly hangs an Australian flag on the family home in North Ryde as a sign of his respect and gratitude to our country.

I believe this is the key to Australia Day – that whatever our background or our circumstances may be, that all of us have an equal right to celebrate and feel proud of the part we have played in supporting our nation and protecting everything that is so good about it.

Australia Day is, of course, also a day when we can look ahead at the opportunities we have to help shape our country’s future.

For all of us, it is both humbling and exciting to consider the opportunity we have to leave a legacy for others that follow.    

Hopefully one day they will look back at the positive milestones we have achieved and will feel inspired to do the same.

As the very proud Premier of the largest (and best) state in Australia, I have been simply overwhelmed by ordinary Australians whom we may not formally recognise - but who are doing extraordinary things for our state and nation

For instance last week, on the far south coast, I met with three young people who saved two lives on Christmas Day.  

The three teenagers were members of the Batemans Bay Surf Lifesaving Club - and one of them wasn’t even on duty – but they put what they had learned to the test and two people are alive today because of the years of training and volunteering these three young lifesavers had done at their club.    

On Tuesday this week I met a member of the Lions Club of Raymond Terrace who had racked up 42 years of volunteering.

Because of his efforts, a hospice was created at the local hospital to support the families of terminally ill patients.

And just two days ago I met the owner of the Paragon Restaurant in Goulburn owned by proud Greek Australians who were celebrating thirty-five years of local service.

I am so fortunate in my role to witness these contributions made by ordinary Australians every single day.

They show us what can be achieved if each of us play our part in supporting our communities.

And it is contributions like these that inspire me, and leave me in awe of the potential of our state and our nation.

It reminds me of why we can feel so proud, and be so excited about our future, and why we have so much to celebrate and to be grateful for.  
 
And, on Australia Day, it is important that we pause for a moment to do just that.

Happy Australia Day everyone.