House debates

Monday, 14 February 2022

Private Members' Business

Australia-Poland Diplomatic Relationship: 50th Anniversary

11:36 am

Photo of Jason FalinskiJason Falinski (Mackellar, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that 20 February 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and Poland;

(2) acknowledges that Poland and Australia enjoy a significant tradition of cooperation which started much earlier than the establishment of full diplomatic relations on 20 February 1972; and

(3) honours:

(a) the long history of Polish settlement Down Under; and

(b) Polish-Australian bonds of friendship that reflect a true partnership between our nations.

In 1972, diplomatic relations between Australia and Poland began. While today I rise to celebrate 50 years of formal relations, we must also recognise that the strong partnership between our countries that we enjoy today was born many decades earlier. Today I am honoured to acknowledge the long history of Polish settlement Down Under. Tales of Poles settling in Australia and contributing to our nation's development date back to the early days of the 19th century. For as long as there has been an Australia, there have been Polish Australians. The partnership between our two nations has been made stronger by our shared ideals.

At the siege of Tobruk, during World War II, Australian and Polish forces fought side by side. In the aftermath of World War II, thousands of Poles fleeing that dark era in our history, when nations fell into the darkness of communism and oppression, migrated to Australia. Among them were my grandfather, my grandmother and my father. These were people who sought refuge in Australia, dreaming of hope and the opportunities their new home would offer.

Decades on, Australia and Poland's relationship remains stronger than it's ever been. Polish Australians have made and continue to make significant contributions to all aspects of Australian society, from sharing their diverse culture to their vital role in our nation's economic success and innovation. The Polish community in Australia today are dedicated to preserving our history and promoting Polish-Australian cultural ties through the work of numerous community clubs and groups across our nation. Polish Australians strive to enrich the lives of those around us by both acknowledging our heritage and appreciating our new home. Members of the Polish community should be proud of all we have accomplished and contributed to Australia.

The presence of an Australian embassy in Warsaw is central to our bilateral relationship. The embassy offers significant support to Australians visiting and living in Poland. The embassy never fails to promote the spirit of Australia in Poland.

Between 2015 and 2019, total merchandise trade between Australia and Poland grew by 11 per cent. In 2019 Australian investment in Poland reached $1.2 billion, and Australians enjoyed nearly $2 billion worth of merchandise imports from Poland. In terms of exports, Poland continues to seek Australian resources and services to support its growing economy. Both nations benefit from our strong bilateral academic and business relationships. I'm proud to be part of a government that remains cognisant of the benefit of free trade and accordingly continuously seeks opportunities to promote Australian business abroad. I commended the work of the Australian embassy in promoting Australian trade and investment interests in Poland and the numerous Australian companies that already operate in Poland.

Further to our cultural and economic support of each other, Poland and Australia are true friends. Both nations have proven their commitment to our relationship time and time again through numerous formal agreements and gestures of goodwill. For example, in 2012 the Australian government donated half a million dollars to support the preservation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial site. Frank Lowry, an Australian businessman, and his family were instrumental in preserving that site so we will never forget the atrocities that can occur when we turn around and walk away. Following the Black Summer bushfires the Kosciuszko National Park, which Polish people would pronounce differently to the way we pronounce it, received generous donations from Poland. With Australia's borders reopening I look forward to welcoming back many Polish visitors.

The other thing I want to mention is that a dark period in our history was the totalitarian state that took over Poland, which is a proud nation. For hundreds of years it didn't exist except in the hearts and spirits of Polish people. But when freedom came, it first came to Poland through Lech Walesa and the boatyards and millions of its people were set free. (Time expired.)

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

11:41 am

Photo of Ged KearneyGed Kearney (Cooper, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Health and Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I rise to second the motion moved by the member for Mackellar. Polish Australians have made a great contribution to this country over the last 50 years and way back further, prior to formal diplomatic relations between our two countries. Following the atrocities of the Second World War, Australia received an influx of Polish refugees. The Polish born population increased from 6½ thousand to more than 56,000 people between the years of 1957 and 1966. Most arrived from war-torn Europe, though some came from various fields of battle having fought with Australians throughout the war, such as in Tobruk. Many brought with them memories of the horrors of the war, some from concentration camps and others from various fronts. Though they were grateful to find a welcoming home, it was the new Polish Australian community that got them through these horrors and helped them to settle into their new home.

This lasting connection with their homeland has meant a thriving diaspora community exists in Australia, with a significant presence through community groups as well as sporting clubs. These are particularly prevalent in my home city of Melbourne, which has the largest Polish Australian population in the country. That Polish Australian community has blessed us with people like Dr Karl, Magda Szubanski, the member for Mackellar and, of course, the terrific Premier of Queensland, Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Today, though, I want to tell the story of one Pole in particular, who is not as well known. His name is Slawomir, or Stan, Lasek. Stan was born in Warsaw in 1926 and was barely a teenager when Poland was invaded in 1939. Like so many young Poles, Stan was unable to complete his education. He took up arms and joined the Polish resistance, fighting mainly in the mountains in Poland's south. He was caught by the Germans and arrested, but managed to escape and rose through the ranks fighting proudly in defence of his country. Stan Lasek lost his father and many other family members in the war, some in the deadly concentration camps established by the German regime. When the war came to an end in 1945, Stan decided to flee Poland which came under the control of Russia and he started a new life in England, where he married Barbara and they had four sons.

In the late 1960s Stan and Barbara made what they described as the best decision of their life, emigrating to Australia. The family settled in Wollongong, where Stan worked at the Port Kembla steelworks. He coached junior soccer and he was without doubt one of the biggest supporters of the Socceroos as they created history by qualifying for the World Cup finals for the first time in 1974.

Stan, Barbara and the boys didn't hesitate in becoming naturalised Australian citizens in the early seventies, and in 1975 Stan and Barbara joined tens of thousands of others outraged by the dismissal of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and taking to the streets in protest. Stan loved Australia's landscape, such a far cry from the dense forests of his native Poland. In 1988, having moved to the bush, he was named the Gulargambone citizen of the year for his amazing tree-planting efforts, trying to green one of the driest parts of our continent.

In his later years, Stan travelled to Canberra to receive his long-overdue wartime medals from the Polish ambassador. What made Stan even prouder, though, was receiving Poland's highest military medal—posthumous—on behalf of his late father, Antonio, who was recognised as a national hero by those who fought with him in World War II.

Stan Lasek, like so many, was a proud Pole. He had risked his life for his birthplace, but, like so many of his compatriots, it is Australia that made him happiest. Stan would have turned 96 last week, and, while, sadly, he's no longer with us, his memory and his legacy continue to live on through his four proud boys.

Stan is a terrific example of the contributions of our Polish Australian community and the values that form the basis of the relationship between those two peoples, and it is these shared values that must underpin this relationship for years to come. In recent times, Poland and the European Union have been in a bitter feud over a wide array of issues. These include efforts to marginalise its LGBTIQ community, its assertion that Polish law is paramount to EU law and its reluctance to phase out fossil fuels in line with Europe's ambitious climate policy and to move away from the independence of its judiciary. On this 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties, we are reminded of Australia's responsibility to engage with allies like Poland on issues such as these and to assert the importance of these issues as core to our relationship.

11:47 am

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this private member's motion moved by the member for Mackellar, and I commend him for his fine words. I commend also the member for Cooper—Stan Lasek's story is a story that is so typical not just of Poles but of people from so many countries all around the world. It's a fabulous migrant story, and thank you for sharing it with the House.

Poland is a good friend of Australia's, and indeed, as the member for Mackellar has indicated with this motion, our friendship extends beyond the half-century of formal years of diplomatic relations. Our ties with this small country, which is only about four per cent the size of Australia, are in fact far greater and far longer than that. Our ties stretch back to World War II, as the member for Mackellar indicated, in the trenches of Europe, defending Allied territory against Adolf Hitler in the protection of freedom, with our troops, our diggers, our men, our women as well, making sure that they did what they could to prevent the spread of totalitarianism and, later on, communism. Our troops fought alongside Poles in the siege of Tobruk in 1941, and a number of Australian aircrews flew in support of the Warsaw uprising in 1944.

More recently, in August 2021, the Australian government, working with our friends in Poland, was able to strike a deal to secure more than a million Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines to help support our vaccination campaign—our vaccination campaign which has been one of the most successful in the world, I might add—and the outbreak last year in Sydney. We are grateful to our many, many Polish friends for this assistance at one of the most serious times of the pandemic here in Australia.

Closer to home and highlighting the connection between the Riverina, my electorate in the central west, and Poland, I'm proud that the town of Cowra, known for being home to Australia's World Peace Bell, holds an annual festival known as the Festival of International Understanding. This festival highlights the customs and traditions of a different country each year, and in 2006 Poland was the feature country. Regrettably, I was not the local MP at the time; Cowra was then in Hume. But, from all accounts, there was plenty of traditional dancing and Polish cuisine such as pierogi, potatoes; sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers; and plenty of vodka, I'm told.

Turning to trade: Poland is a growing market for Australia. Between 2015 and 2019, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported that two-way trade between our two nations experienced growth of 11.2 per cent per annum, valued at nearly $20 billion. That's a lot of money. Our major exports to Poland include coal, ores and other concentrates. The Riverina and Central West regions are home to a number of mines—not coal mines, but gold and copper mines—with the CMOC-Northparkes mine in Parkes and the Evolution mine at Lake Cowal, near West Wyalong. I trust and hope that some of the exceptional minerals that are extracted from the ground there make their way to Poland.

In 2018 Australia was proud to host a visit from the President of Poland, and, just as we were pleased to welcome His Excellency Andrzej Duda—when we're not in the middle of a pandemic—we usually welcome thousands of Polish visitors to our shores. When those borders are lifted, I'm sure they're going to be coming flocking back to work, to visit, to play and to catch up, of course, with relatives. Up until June 2020, we welcomed about 17,400 tourists to Australia and almost 500 working holiday-makers. That shows the great relationship between Australia and Poland.

With the borders reopening very soon, I encourage more Polish tourists to come back and consider visiting my electorate—from Warsaw to Wagga Wagga!—and indeed they will certainly be very welcome. They can pick cherries at Young. They can help out wherever they can, as a farmhand or in any of our other great industries throughout the electorate. Perhaps they may make lifelong memories, and, today being St Valentine's Day, maybe they might even come to Australia and fall in love—not just with the place but also with an Australian here—further strengthening the strong ties that Australia and Poland have enjoyed for 50 years. May this association continue for many more years to come.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I give the call to the member for Newcastle and extend my own happy Valentine's Day to everybody, in the spirit of the member for Riverina.

11:52 am

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It's with great pleasure that I rise to speak on this motion before the House today. This Sunday, 20 February 2022, marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Australia and Poland. This is, indeed, a significant milestone, which underlines the very strong partnership between our nations. It's an important occasion that is most certainly worth recognising and celebrating in the Australian parliament today. The contribution of the Polish community to Australia's social, cultural and economic life is immense. It's estimated that over 200,000 Australians have Polish ancestry, and, as well as celebrating this important milestone, I want to take some time today to acknowledge the enormous contribution of Poles to my community of Newcastle.

Certainly one of the largest groups of migrants to come to Newcastle as part of the postwar wave of migration were the Polish people. They have changed our city for the better in so many ways. The very first intake of displaced peoples from postwar Europe arrived in the Hunter region via the port of Newcastle back in 1949, and, up until 1960, there was a migrant camp established in a town called Greta, in the Hunter, which became home to more than 100,000 people. Some 18 different nations from war ravaged Europe were represented by the people passing through that camp, but the Polish community were indeed amongst that group.

Around 10,000 babies were actually born in the Greta migrant camp during its life span, and, while there's nothing really left of that camp anymore, there are exceptionally strong memories of that place when you talk to members of the Polish community in Newcastle. It was a city unto itself. It had its own water and sewerage, a hospital and a transport division—buses, ambulances, the whole works. It had cinemas. People have very fond memories of all sorts of activities that they were organising at the time.

Men from the migrant camp in Greta were sent all around the place to work. Many of those men came into Mayfield, in my electorate, to stay at a hostel which was very close to the BHP steelworks. Whilst that old hostel in Mayfield West is off limits now, the building has survived all these years.

One of the men who arrived in Newcastle in 1949 and grew up at the Greta camp was the late John Gebhardt. I really want to pay tribute to his enormous contribution both to the local Polish community and as the founder of the Ethnic Communities Council in our region, which has become Hunter Multicultural Communities. John Gebhardt's daughter is now the CEO of that organisation. John spearheaded a dedicated focus on delivering adequate services and support to refugees settling in the region, and he fought really hard on issues of education, aged-care services and community development.

I also want to take some time to acknowledge Victor Lupish, another Novocastrian who arrived on one of those first ships coming into Newcastle in 1949. Victor is a life member of Hunter Multicultural Communities and played a vital role in ensuring that Greta migrant camp is a rich part of our history. There are so many people currently serving on the executive of the Polish Association in Newcastle that I would like to acknowledge, and I'm not going to have time to name them all today. Former president Janina Sulikowski has been an extraordinary influence in our region, as has the current president, Marek Bartczak. The community still runs a fabulous Polish school, and that's an important part of our community.

I was fortunate to meet with the Polish ambassador last year to talk about this milestone occasion. Whilst we're all focused on this today, there is great concern about what is happening now in Poland's neighbour Ukraine. Whilst we stand in solidarity with the Australian Ukrainian community at this difficult time, Australia should be looking to support, in every way we can, Poland in its efforts to build resilience and civil society in Ukraine. (Time expired)

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is interrupted and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.