Festa della Repubblica

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:5 4): I want to take the opportunity to note that today, 2 June, is Italy's national republic day—Festa della Repubblica. On behalf of the government, I feel it is important to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Italy and all Italians, who are celebrating this year the 150th anniversary of the country's unification. I am aware that the Prime Minister has put out a statement celebrating this anniversary also. Nearly one million Australians have Italian ancestry and have contributed to our society over many generations.

Currently, we have around 200,000 Australian residents who were born in Italy and at least 30,000 Australians are today living in Italy. Our two countries have a friendly, robust and collaborative relationship with each other and we enjoy many mutual benefits from our warm and longstanding friendship. Italian culture, language and heritage is widespread across Australian communities, including my own. This has enabled us to share rich social, cultural and economic links with Italy. Today, for example, trade between our two nations is worth nearly $6 billion a year.

As the largest migrant population in my electorate of Cunningham, Italo-Australians have had significant involvement in the economy and the culture of Wollongong and the Illawarra more broadly. The Italian Social Welfare Organisation of Wollongong have played a excellent local role in this development.

They actively engage in delivering a range of services to the Italian community as well as the promotion and education of the much-loved Italian culture to the broader general public. Only recently I had the opportunity to attend to look at their broadbandfor- seniors kiosk, where I met many elderly Italian residents who were learning to use a computer for the first time and getting great pleasure out of being able to read in real time, on the day, the local newspaper from their home town. It brings together our wonderful multicultural heritage and the advantages of broadband in the broader community in one example.

I commend them, as I do the Illawarra Association of Teachers of Italian, who are holding an Italian day in Crown Street Mall in Wollongong this Saturday which I will be participating in. This is an event which celebrates Italy's influence and presence in our local area and is well-loved by many, many locals as we tour around, particularly, the food stalls, which are enticing and a great example of the combination of our cultures in our region.

As chair of the Australia-Italy Parliamentary Friendship Group since 2007, I have also had the pleasure of seeing this kind of contribution the Italian community has made and continues to make to Australia first-hand. I understand that my deputy chair, Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells, will be seeking to make a similar statement in the Senate to celebrate this important occasion.

I am also pleased to note that, at the Prime Minister's request, the Governor-General will be representing Australia today in Rome, following an invitation from the President of the Italian Republic, Mr Giorgio Napolitano. This trip will also include an audience with Pope Benedict, a meeting with the Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, and a visit to Domus Australia, the Australian Catholic Church's newly renovated building in Rome. This will only seek to strengthen our ties with each other. It is a special relationship which Australia treasures and will continue to build on. I convey our sincere hope that our two countries will continue to work together for the benefit of both our great nations for another 150 years, and I extend the government's best wishes to the people of Italy on this special day of celebration and Italian national pride.

In finalising my contribution on this matter, I have covered the national and indeed my own regional influence but I also want to acknowledge that for many of us this was a very personal experience as well.

In my own family, both I and one of my brothers have partners of Italian-Australian background. I often look at my brother's two children and think that it is epitomised in them with Nicholas, the elder, who is five, who has lovely dark hair and big brown eyes that melt your heart and Isabella, who is three, with her fiery red hair and porcelain skin. To me, they epitomise the wonderful combination of the two cultures and bring great pleasure and joy to all of us but also epitomise the great strength of the long-term relationship as it works down to even the most intimate levels of our lives together as a community.