Philanthropist Peter Scanlon praises courageous immigrants in migration award speech


The winners of Australia's Migration and Settlement Awards have been honoured at a ceremony at Parliament House.

Peter Scanlon was taught the value of migration from an early age while working at his parents' newsagency in northern Melbourne.

"In the 1950s my role was to appear at 7 o’clock each morning and serve the newspapers to the many migrants who had moved into the area," Mr Scanlon said.

"There were many - mainly Greeks and Italians. Each morning I would serve over 100 migrants on their way to the train station to go to work.

"I would watch them grapple with the language, try to work out what two shillings was, mix up please and thank you, and occasionally, I would chuckle at them."

Mr Scanlon didn't laugh for long. 

"Each time I did these two big fingers would grab me by the lobe – it was my father – who would say he needed to talk to me," Mr Scanlon recalls.

"And he did. He constantly told me of the courage of those people. The difficulties they faced. And the skills they brought to Australia."

Mr Scanlon, a former chair of the Migration Council of Australia, was recognised with a lifetime achievement gong at the Migration and Settlement Awards announced in Canberra on Wednesday night.

Peter Scanlon has received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Peter Scanlon has received the Lifetime Achievement Award.

A former top executive in John Elliott's Elders IXL in the 1980s and a successful property developer and investor, Mr Scanlon started the Scanlon Foundation in 2001.

The foundation recognises that Australia is largely a migrant nation.

It supports projects focusing on cultural diversity and provides funding for research on population and immigration.

"For me, it has always been about how well our new Australians settle," Mr Scanlon said in a speech given at the event.

"And how well us old Australians accept them and help them."

The foundation has spent more than $12 million on activities and research to encourage multiculturalism, as well as pursuing its own programs including the annual campaign Taste of Harmony, which encourages Australian workplaces to celebrate diversity.

No wrong door

At the Access Gateway in Queensland there is no wrong door.

“Straight from when you walk in, there isn’t a wall,” Evan Alexander from Access Community Services explained.

The not-for-profit organisation provides settlement services to refugees and migrants in Queensland. 

“You’re not met by a desk, you’re met with a wide-open space with couches… just the entire situation is made out to be inviting.”

The concierge-style service which offers tea and coffee on arrival has encouraged thousands of migrants and refugees to get help with everything from securing housing to doing their tax, or simply use the space as a meeting place.

“There's no wrong door. If we haven’t got a service that can provide what it is that that client needs, we’ll be able to refer you onto someone else who can or put you directly in touch with one of our other partner organisations who are also housed within the Gateway,” Mr Alexander said.

Visitors to the Gateway are offered tea and coffee while staff work out how best to help them.
Visitors to the Gateway are offered tea and coffee while staff work out how best to help them.

Its success was also recognised at the Migration and Settlement Awards, taking out the settlement innovation award.

Mr Alexander said people don’t need a specific reason to go to the Gateway building.

“We get a lot of kids who’ll come in after school just to hang out.

“We have internet access, we have computers, we have tea and coffee, we have an opportunity where people can come together irrespective of who they are or where they are from and just be in a comfortable, engaging, happy space.”

Legal Aid ACT took out the diversity and the law award for its efforts to provide outreach to migrants and refugees in Canberra.

For the past three years, two cultural liaison officers from the legal centre have engaged culturally and linguistically diverse communities to increase their knowledge of Australia’s legal system and their rights.  

"They’re so vulnerable, they don’t know their rights. They face a lot of stuff [and] they don’t know what’s going on," one of the cultural liaison officers Hussam Hashim told SBS News.

Mr Hashim, who speaks Arabic, said some people may not know they had a right to request a lawyer when speaking to the police or ask to see a warrant before allowing a police search.

"He thinks a police officer can do anything."

Legal Aid ACT deputy CEO Jane Campbell said the officers' work had boosted the number of migrants and refugee clients.

“They (create) that bridge, enabling those people who are disadvantaged and vulnerable - particularly for refugees and migrants to this community [and] they are in that category - for them to be able to access legal services. It is empowering for them.”

SBS producer Pema Dolkar was also honoured for journalism excellence for her story on a Tibetan learn to swim program.

SBS launched the Tibetan radio program last year in an Australian first.

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