Australian Institute of Polish Affairs

Hon Michael Danby about AIPA – speech in Parliament of Australia

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (21:55): On Saturday night, despite all of the political events that were happening inside government, I had the pleasure of being the guest of honour at the 20th anniversary dinner of the Australian Institute of Polish Affairs at the beautiful Windsor Hotel in Melbourne. I would like to congratulate that wonderful organisation with its mission of introducing serious people from Poland to Australia, and Australians to Poles. The roles of a former president of the institute, Mr Eherenkreutz, and the head of SBS, Mr Zubrizki, are very well known to people here. If I could hear myself above the speakers across the other side of the aisle, I would also be able to recall that Professor Ruth Pearce, the Australian Ambassador to Poland, and Andrzej Jaroszynski, the very cosmopolitan Ambassador of the Republic of Poland to Australia, were also present, as was the president, my friend Professor Jan Pakulski, and very dear personal friends Adam and Margaret Warzel.

I have been involved with the Polish community for more than 20 years. As my friend Adam Warzel recounted, we were first involved in a concert to support a Solidarity bard, Jacek Kaczmarski, in Melbourne 26 years ago. Later, I offered the Polish community help with the visit of the great Polish journalist Leopold Unger. When I looked at the wonderful publication by the Australian Institute of Polish Affairs celebrating its 20 years, I was amazed at the number of leading Poles who had been to Australia and at the number of events that I had attended.

The great journalist Jan Nowak, the famous Polish activist Adam Michnik, and of course that great emissary and great professor Jan Karski, who had visited the ghettos and death camps in Poland and who met all of the wartime leaders—President Roosevelt, the American Supreme Court Judge Felix Frankfurter, even the British foreign secretary—and had tried, to his great detriment, to convey what was happening inside Europe, but he was not able to convince them. Jan Karski is one of the greatest speakers I have ever heard. I will never forget the night he addressed a local hall in Elsternwick in Melbourne. The Australian Institute of Polish Affairs has brought to Australia people like Professor Timothy Garton Ash; prime ministers and foreign ministers of Poland; Professor Michael Heller, the Templeton prize winner; and Adam Rotfeld, the former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs. The work that the institute does is to its great credit.

Mr Speaker, I have a long-standing interest in Poland, as you may know, because my father was born in Poland in what the Germans call Poznan, the town of Torun, the spa town in what is now Poland. It was a great honour to be at the dinner given by the Australian Institute of Polish Affairs, which has done so much to encourage Polish-Australian relations. I think we do not reciprocate this enough on the Australian side. The Polish economy is such a great success and is one of the few economies in the world that resisted the global financial crisis. Only Australia, South Korea, Poland and Israel have officially grown since the GFC. I know that in some of the less-informed sectors in Australia the archaic perception of Eastern European Poland has not caught up with the reality of the fast-growing dynamic economy that is Poland. On Friday, unfortunately at a hearing of the foreign affairs committee, we heard another rather pathetic response by a leading banker in Australia who said that he did not know anything about Poland’s economic dynamism and did not want to know.

A miraculous political and economic transformation has taken place in Poland since the fall of communism. It is no longer East-European in its national outlook. It is the central European hub of the EU. Unlike its Soviet bloc neighbours, Poland has taken incredible reforms to liberalise its economy. As we now know from recent events, there has been no banking collapse in Poland. They built an independent currency and had constitutional debt limits. Poland is the only EU member that has avoided recession and, unlike the Greeks, I am sure that the Poles are very glad that they stuck with the zloty.

Poland has, of course, at its head the wonderful foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, and I congratulate the Institute of Polish Affairs on trying to reach out to Australia, something that unfortunately this country and this government, and even this foreign ministry, the Department of Foreign Affairs, does not do enough to recognise.

Source: Parliament of Australia website

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