House debates

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Grievance Debate

Fraser Electorate: Australia Day Awards

6:53 pm

Photo of Daniel MulinoDaniel Mulino (Fraser, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to pay tribute to the residents of Fraser who have been honoured with medals of the Order of Australia this year. Underpinning their longstanding community service are personal stories of resilience, generosity and determination. Their stories go a long way to explaining why they continue to give back so much to the community. Many of those honoured are from migrant communities who have repaid many times over the faith that Australia invested in them decades ago.

Elizabeth Drozd, the CEO of Australian Multicultural Community Services, was honoured for her 30-plus-year service to Victoria's multicultural communities. A mentor, a leader and a champion of anti-ageism, she is also a fierce advocate for multicultural communities. Elizabeth fled Poland as a 21-year-old just months before martial law was imposed. Having lived all her life under communist rule with no freedom of speech, no freedom of association, the living in fear, the constant rationing and the empty shelves, Elizabeth could see no end to suffering. She still remembers the day she was handed her passport, the first in her family to be granted one. She said:

It felt so much bigger than winning Tattslotto. It meant freedom. There's no price you can put on freedom.

All her plans had to be made in secret. She still remembers saying goodbye to her family at the bus stop and her mum asking, 'When will I see you again?' Elizabeth never saw her again, as she died six years later. The price of her escape was high. Her five siblings were punished for four years and denied permission to travel. It took 10 years before they were granted permission to leave the country.

After spending nine months in a camp on the outskirts of Vienna, Elizabeth was granted a humanitarian visa for Australia. Elizabeth arrived speaking three languages—Polish, German and some Russian—but not a word of English. She did not know a single soul here. She was put up in the Midway Hostel in Maribyrnong, and on her third day she started work in a factory, installing 3,500 screws a day into car dashboards. By her side constantly was a Polish-English dictionary. Every spare moment she had, she listened to English tapes and memorised thousands of words. Her dream was a university education—the same dream as her parents, who had been denied that opportunity because of World War II. At times Elizabeth was full of despair at her future, but she focused that despair into a determination to master English. Finally, at the age of 28, her English was sufficiently fluent to study a humanities degree in multicultural studies. She later completed a master's in social sciences. Elizabeth says she never takes for granted a single day of her life in Australia. She never forgets the opportunity that she has been granted.

Then there's Long Nguyen, who has served the veterans' and Vietnamese communities for many years as president of the Footscray RSL, the Victorian branch of the Vietnam Veterans Association and the Victorian chapter of the Vietnamese Community in Australia. Long still remembers the day he landed in Australia in May 1983. Surrounded by a sea of white faces, it felt like a dream, he says, after his five years detained in a labour camp for serving as a navy officer in the Republic of Vietnam armed forces and fighting the Viet Cong. When the war ended in 1975, as a newly married man, Long was detained in a camp near the Cambodian border. Fed barely a subsistence diet, he was put to work felling forests and planting rice. Upon his release, Long started planning his family's escape and that of some other families. Because of his navy experience, Long was made the leader. On the fateful night in December 1982, Long, his wife and their two toddlers headed to the rendezvous point with 32 others. But when his wife and children were captured by police, Long faced an impossible choice. He remained responsible for fulfilling the dreams of the whole group, and he felt he had to proceed with the plan.

After seven days and seven nights at sea in their 12-metre boat, the group reached Indonesia. Long spent six months in the UNHCR-operated Galang camp before being flown to Australia. However, while Long felt grateful for his new start and the safety of Australia, the trauma of the family separation remained. It was another two years before he and his family were reunited. Long worked for 24 years at Holden's Port Melbourne factory, and he says the family remains fiercely loyal to the Holden brand.

Another deserving winner in this year's category of OAMs was Charlie Desira. For 23 years, Charlie Desira has been the driving force behind the Loaves and Fishes food bank, a lifeline for literally thousands of people in Melbourne's west. A ten-pound Pom, Charlie left Malta at the age of 18 in 1963. After starting work in a cardboard factory, he climbed the ranks, eventually retiring from an operational role at Australia Post.

Even while working full time, Charlie always found time to volunteer, primarily with the Starlight Children's Foundation, which supports sick children. He had also been involved with his local church, the Holy Eucharist parish, supporting refugees, finding them places to live and delivering food parcels. When the local priest asked Charlie if he wanted to start a food bank, he didn't hesitate. Charlie and his team of 24 volunteers spend their days picking up donated food, handing out food parcels from the St Albans church or delivering them directly, and constantly trying to raise money to cover their costs. He says, 'I thank God that he gave me the opportunity to do this. I enjoy it.'

Valentina Brjozovsky was also awarded. Valentina arrived in Australia as a four-year-old with her Russian parents, who had been forced to work in German labour camps. In her teens, Valentina became involved with the Russian Orthodox church and began decades of volunteering. She and her friends started a sports club and ran dance groups. When the Chernobyl disaster hit, she was a founding member of the Chernobyl Relief Fund, raising money and collecting supplies for family in Ukraine. Now 70, Valentina has been volunteering for more than five decades. Every Easter she and her fellow volunteers continue to make hundreds of Easter breads to distribute to their local community because keeping alive cultural traditions remains so important.

While all the award recipients are grateful that their work has been recognised, I must note that they are also all quick to point out that it was having a strong team around them that made it possible for them to achieve what they did.

Gary Lee has called Melbourne home for more than 20 years after moving from Malaysia as an international student. He had been in Australia just one week before he nominated for a position on the RMIT association of international students committee, and so began his long community involvement. Passionate about the wellbeing and interests of culturally and linguistically diverse communities, including international students, in 2016 Gary was awarded the 'New Australian of the Year' award, which recognises the contributions of migrants and refugees in Australia.

Samuel Parker competed in the 1960 Olympics and is Australia's most successful wrestling coach. His coaching career began in 1965, and he has trained numerous wrestlers at the highest international levels. Sam was convinced that local Australian wrestlers could win at the world level if given the proper training, and he travelled the world to garner coaching skills and provide competitive opportunities for his wrestlers. All of the people that I've just talked about won the OAM award.

Guy McCrorie won the Australian Fire Service Medal. He was awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal for his long involvement with fire services. Guy joined the Metropolitan Fire Brigade in April 1986 and was promoted to station officer in 1991. He became a senior station officer in 2003 and started in his current role as community safety and emergency management commander in 2010. Guy has fought major fires over a very long period of time and has also worked as an incident controller at large structural fires and hazmat incidents. Gary, very meritoriously and deservedly, was awarded this year with the Australian Fire Service Medal.

I would like to congratulate all the recipients of these awards for all that they have done and continue to do in the Fraser community.