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Monday, 21 June 2021
Government House
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC

Bujari gamarruwa

Diyn Babana Gamarada Gadigal Ngura

‘G’day’ in the language of the Gadigal people, the Traditional Owners of the land on which Government House stands. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Dennis and I are delighted to welcome you to Government House for the 2021 Humanitarian Awards presented by the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors and the Refugee Council of Australia. This afternoon, it will be my honour to present 10 awards recognising exceptional efforts made to support refugees in our State.

This time last year, the awards were conducted virtually and I participated by sharing a video message. To be able to gather together today here at Government House, albeit in small numbers and masked up, is very special, especially as the City is nervous again with this recent outbreak.  

The last 18 months have been challenging for everyone, notwithstanding that in this State, the restrictions on us have overall been very minimal and reasonable. 

But that is the experience for those of us who have a job, a home, a car, family and friends -  not everyone is in that position and refugees have been particularly hard hit - socially, economically, and in terms of access to services and not only because of what is happening here.

COVID-19 continues to spread within countries of first asylum and refugee camps throughout the world.   The home countries of many refugees and asylum seekers are the worst hit,as the pandemic rips through those communities.   This has heightened anxiety among refugee survivors of torture and trauma, worrying about their endangered family members overseas and compounding previous experiences of trauma.   

There is then the more immediate impact here in Australia:  lack of employment opportunities, lack of social connections so vital in a new place, the question how to put the next meal on the table.   This, too often, is daily fare for refugees and asylum seekers who are trying to make a home amongst us. 

Over the past year, in my role as Governor, I have been afforded a unique view of the responses of our communities to extraordinary circumstances. Overwhelmingly those responses have been positive.   

A principle expressed by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind – that our ultimate measure is not found when we stand in moments of comfort and convenience but when we encounter times of challenge and controversy.[1]

Today, this room is full of those who have responded with compassion and adaptability in this time of real challenge to the section of the community you serve.

At STARTTS, you transitioned rapidly to provide counselling and other services by telehealth and online. Even with the pandemic, you managed to provide support services to 6,260 clients around New South Wales in the 12 months to June 2020, with just over 1,400 of those living in rural and regional areas.[2]

At the Refugee Council of Australia, you advocated fiercely, and worked urgently to alleviate the hard-hitting impacts of lockdowns and policy positions, particularly for people seeking asylum. Your survey[3] of emergency providers in August last year, revealed how dire their situation was. Of those surveyed:

  • 70% of people had been forced to skip meals due to hardship;
  • 14% were experiencing homelessness, with 55% at imminent risk of homelessness; and
  • 88% had struggled to pay their rent since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Those being honoured with awards today, you have been at the centre of providing such necessary support.  Each of you adapted your care for those you support. Some of you set up very specific services to respond to urgent economic needs created by the impact of COVID-19, others assisted with technological support.

In recognising all of your contributions today, we say ‘we see you - we appreciate you – we thank you’. Each time we shine a light on your service and amplify your stories we give the broader community a glimpse of the best of who we are, as the people of New South Wales, as Australians.

It is now my pleasure to commence the presentations.

[1] Strength to Love, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr:

'The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.'

[2] STARTTS Points – Some numbers at a glance and impact of COVID-19, supplied by STARRTS

[3] Homelessness and hunger among people seeking asylum during COVID-19

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