Bill's Speeches


Good evening everyone, it’s fantastic to be here. I’d like to acknowledge some of my Parliamentary colleagues who are here. There is Mark Dreyfus who is modern Labor’s answer to Isaac Isaacs, and of course there’s state members of parliament here, and I know they teach in politicians school either mention everyone, or mention no one, but I’ll acknowledge Mark McCouller, Philip Dalidakis and David Southwick and to the others who are here, I acknowledge you too. I acknowledge of course the Publisher, Robert Magid and Zeddy Lawrence the Editor.

I was thinking as I came to this building that there’s not a lot of things which are 120 years old. Of course there are the traditional owners of the land, who have a continuous connection here for 40,000 years and I acknowledge their elders both past and present.

Certainly 120th birthdays are rare – for people and for newspapers – so it’s a privilege I think for all of us to be here at a 120th.

Now 120 years ago this paper was originally known as the Hebrew Standard of Australasia. They chose an auspicious year for their first edition, 1895.

In London, audiences were queuing for Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, in St Petersburg audiences were applauding Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake and in Winton in outback, colonial Queensland, they raised a glass to Banjo Paterson’s Waltzing Matilda.

Now of course, comparing the founding of this newspaper to these three geniuses is somewhat unfair, because after all – Paterson, Wilde and Tchaikovsky haven’t produced  anything in decades, whereas this paper has been delivering every week for 120 years.

Now tonight in launching this important commemoration of an enduring cultural touchstone, we celebrate a great newspaper, but indeed a magnificent community.

In 120 years, under several banners and owners, through hard times and good, the Australian Jewish News has constantly strived to seek and speak the truth.

Proudly and wholly independent throughout its history, the newspaper has been a powerful voice and a conduit for the Jewish community in Australia.

As a longstanding and forthright advocate for an independent Jewish state, the Hebrew Standard ran the banner headline: “World Jewry Hails New Israel” in May 1948, rejoicing in what it called and I quote:

undoubtedly one of the happiest events in Jewish history…the realisation of a two thousand year old dream’.

And ever since, the AJN has provided comprehensive coverage of uplifting, and sometimes troubling news from the Jewish community’s ancient homeland and its modern hope.

Because this newspaper, like all of us, understands that Israel will always be at the core of the Jewish diaspora and its sense of self.

Australia can be proud that when the United Nations Assembly considered the resolution to create an independent Israel, we Australia were the first nation to cast its vote in favour of the proposal.

As its been mentioned as a Minister, I had the privilege of leading a Parliamentary delegation to Israel in 2012 – and I was inspired.

In Israel, innovation, science and entrepreneurialism drive a thriving venture capital industry. It’s an economy where people are rewarded for their ideas and encouraged to take the risks. An economy where failure isn’t automatically written down as the end of the story but merely another lesson in life.

It is an agile, creative and adaptive economy and a society which I believe Australia can learn much from.

In 2015, a glance at the lead stories on the AJN website, remind us that this is indeed a challenging time for social cohesion in our world.

Across the globe, the ties that bind us: faith, family, community and nation are being tested by violence, extremism, prejudice and hatred.

In the last two months alone, in Paris and in Copenhagen, Jewish people have been amongst those murdered by extremists.

And I am sure that as a people who have endured centuries of prejudice, of persecution and atrocity, that every act of violence that affects people of the Jewish faith casts a long shadow and carries the echo of darker days.

In these challenging times, and amidst this uncertainty, it is common for us to talk about ‘how lucky we are’ in Australia.

How ‘lucky’ we are to live in a peaceful, multicultural society where everyone is welcomed, valued, respected and equal.

But tonight, as I look out on an audience of remarkable achievers in every field, I see proof that ‘luck’ has nothing to do with the success of modern Australia.

Our great and diverse society is not a lottery prize, nor is it the product of happy accident or fortunate circumstance.

The open, tolerant, harmonious nation that we know and we love has been built and cared for by successive generations and people of every faith: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism – and many more, and indeed by people of no particular faith.

And ever since the First Fleet, the Jewish community have been amongst the most significant and most influential contributors to our national success and our national progress.

National leaders in war and peace: Sir John Monash, Sir Isaac Isaacs, and Sir Zelman Cowen, generations of business titans and philanthropists: Frank Lowy, Richard Pratt and Victor Smorgon, just to name some.

And of course, modern Melbourne, indeed modern Australia, owes so much to the Holocaust survivors who came here in the 1940s.

People who brought with them the memories and the texts and the traditions, the song and the sorrow, the music and the ritual and the family obligations of a remembered way of life that were smashed and burnt in the great aberration that was briefly Hitler’s Europe.

That generation settled here and built their networks.

Their children studied hard, as always, and passed their exams with distinction.

And as academics, doctors, lawyers, business people, musicians, artists, actors, directors, entrepreneurs, they refreshed again the European habits of mind and joy and pursuit and of honour of achievement which had nearly been wiped out by atrocity and war.

Restoring a tradition and building a new life, here in a very faraway land. That great generation, in many cases the parents or the grandparents of people here, they set up the charities, underwrote the scholarships, funded the university departments and that study of the past from which all understanding flows.

Having seen the worst of times they proposed to build, with diligence and honour and mercy, the best of times for their children, and the coming generations of their new home, Australia.

They paid their dues, and did the work, they joined our politics and argued the issues.

This gang of survivors and strugglers played their part in the amazing creation of this proud multicultural city and nation and they wrote their chapter in our ever-evolving national story.

Celebrating the contribution that people from every race and faith can make to our national shared adventure has long been a tenet of this newspaper, whose birthday we celebrate.

Indeed, the second page of the very first edition of this newspaper made a powerful argument for ‘toleration’: respect for difference and diversity.

The words are worth recalling, especially when we consider that they were printed six years before the White Australia policy of our  Federation – was adopted in a far less enlightened, far more suspicious, insecure age.

On 1 November 1895, this newspaper wrote:

 ‘the sympathetic bond which is generated among the followers of a particular worship, often becomes a motive of exclusion, hatred and war between those of other denominations’

And it condemned the ‘odious’ sentiments of those who wrote:

‘under the pretext of religion, separating human beings who ought to love and assist one another’

This was 120 years ago and it rings true now as it did then. It is a timeless truth.

It reminds us of our shared humanity and our common goals, our duty to look after one another – our responsibility to respect everybody’s right to be their best, and to be themselves.

I congratulate to all of you who have played a part in the enduring success of The Australian Jewish News.

I cannot, as is traditional for a Jewish birthday, wish this paper, I apologise for what I’m about to do to the Hebrew language, this is written “ad meah v'esrim”, I’ll get someone to translate that.   

Because tonight we don’t celebrate 120 alone, we look beyond 120.

So, I would like to offer the Jewish News a blessing from my own Irish ancestors, for the journey ahead:

May the road rise up to meet you.

And may the wind always be at your back.

It is my great pleasure to launch this commemorative book: a reminder of a very proud past – and an inspiration for a brighter future.