On Tuesday 10 September 2013 the Maltese Community Council of Victoria held a welcome reception in honour of the Speaker of the Maltese Parliament, the Hon. Dr Anġlu Farrugia, who was on a two-day visit to Melbourne.
Standing in for the MCCV President Prof Maurice Cauchi, who was unable to attend due to other commitments, Vice President Mr Victor Borg welcomed Dr Farrugia to the Maltese Community Centre in Parkville. Mr Borg thanked Dr Farrugia for visiting the Maltese community in Melbourne and said that it was a great honour and a pleasure to welcome him to the Centre.
Mr Borg provided some background information about Dr Farrugia’s career. He said that Dr Farrugia was first elected to parliament in 1996. He was subsequently re-elected in 1998, 2003 and 2008. He spent many years as opposition shadow spokesperson for justice and for employment and workers’ rights. On 6 April 2013 he was appointed as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Mr Borg said that Dr Farrugia started his working life after completing his education as a teacher. Between 1977 and 1996 he was a member of the Malta Police Force and left office with the rank of police superintendent to go into politics. While in the police force, he undertook a law degree and graduated as Doctor of Laws from the University of Malta.
Mr Borg said that, as a member of parliament, Dr Farrugia represented Malta in a number of international conferences organised by the European Union and other bodies and made a great contribution to the proceedings in the conferences that he attended. The most recent one, from which Dr Farrugia had come to Australia, was a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference held last week in Johannesburg, South Africa. Earlier in the week Dr Farrugia met with his counterparts from the State Parliament of New South Wales.
Mr Borg said that, while many members of the Maltese community in Melbourne have been away from their country of origin for more than 50 or 60 years, there is still a love of country that is never lost. Any news of Malta is always taken very well. “We listen, we look forward to seeing Malta advance and maintaining communication with our relatives and friends in Malta,” said Mr Borg.
Mr Borg then spoke briefly about the MCCV and the Maltese Community Centre that was built by the Maltese community in partnership with the MSSP. All funds for the building of the centre were raised by the community through various fund raising activities over a period of time that ensured that it would be paid off as quickly as possible. This community centre is the core venue for Maltese activities in the State of Victoria. The MCCV runs a professional welfare service for the Maltese community from this centre and obtains federal and state government grants for the welfare programs. Much of the focus of these programs is on the aged, as the Maltese community is ageing quite repidly. Mr Borg said that in the morning Dr Farrugia had the opportunity to visit Rosary Homeaged care facilities run by the Maltese Dominican Sisters, where he was able to meet some of the residents of the home.
Mr Borg spoke about the other cultural activities regularly held at the Maltese Centre and Maltese language classes. “We are very conscious that we need to leave a Maltese heritage behind when we pass on,” said Mr Borg. It is important that the younger generations get involved and enthused about Maltese values and culture. The MCCV has an active Youth Committee working hard to get the younger generation of Maltese Australians involved using modern means of communication, such as, Facebook and other electronic social media.
Mr Borg said that overall we have a great community in Victoria and each member is a great ambassador for our country of origin. “We all do our utmost to contribute to the Australian community and we are appreciated by Australian governments of any political persuasion,” said Mr Borg.
Mr Borg then spoke of the many successes achieved by Maltese living in Australia. “We always encourage our children when it comes to education … and you will be pleased to know what great successes have been achieved within the Maltese community. There is not one aspect of life or one profession that is not well represented by persons of Maltese background,” said Mr Borg.
Finally, Mr Borg thanked Dr Farrugia for his visit and hoped that this would be his first visit of many visits and that Dr Farrugia would enjoy his stay in Melbourne and Australia.
In his address in reply, Dr Farrugia thanked Mr Borg for the welcome and introduction. He said that, when he was appointed Speaker on 6 April of this year, he felt the need to elevate that role, if possible, above the traditional one of Speaker as the person who presides in the House of Parliament to keep the order. The Government and the Opposition have the right to speak within the time allocated to them and the Speaker gives his rulings from time to time on issues that arise during debates in order to ensure the business of the House is conducted as smoothly as possible.
Dr Farrugia said that, when he was appointed Speaker he felt that such a role was too monotonous. In fact, in his presiding role in the House, he also represents the highest institution of the country. The role of the Speaker is a national one and is clearly defined in Maltese Constitution, which is a written constitution, as the person who presides over the highest institution and has national functions above every level of political involvement and conditioning.
Dr Farrugia said that he is the first Speaker in Malta’s political history to resign from the political party he belonged to upon his appointment as Speaker. He said that he took this step with total conviction because he believed then, and even more so now, after his has occupied the position for a while, that the role of Speaker is there for all the Maltese and Gozitans. To be able to carry out the role properly, one needs to have “a convincing moral authority”.
Dr Farrugia said that the role must ensure that every person in Malta and even those who have a legal reason to introduce a matter for debate in Parliament are able to do so. Dr Farrugia said, for this reason, in the past six months, he has opened parliament to public participation. Students, NGOs, members from university faculties, such as law and science, all visit parliament and put questions to members of parliament.
Dr Farrugia said that when the Australian High Commissioner visited him after his appointment, he asked her about ways how the Maltese Parliament could exchange ideas and work with the State Parliaments of Victoria and New South Wales as well as with the Federal Parliament of Australia on matters that would be of interest to the Maltese communities in Australia. He suggested to her that meetings for this purpose be organised with the respective Speakers to start working along these lines.
Dr Farrugia made reference to the passing of Act XX of 2011 which established by law the Council for Maltese Living Abroad, having the function to safeguard the interests of all generations of Maltese living overseas. He said that, as a result of this legislation, in his role as Speaker, he is able to receive reports from this Council and place them on the agenda for discussion by the relevant Parliamentary Standing Committee, foremost among them being the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Dr Farrugia then spoke about the benefits of having friendship groupings between the Maltese Parliament and the state parliaments of Victoria and NSW
. He said that, after visiting South Africa for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, he felt the need to travel to Australia to establish and strengthen the relationships of the Maltese Parliament with the NSW and Victorian State Parliaments. Dr Farrugia said that the day before he had a meeting in Sydney with the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the NSW Parliament, the Hon Shelley Hancock MP. The next day Dr Farrugia was due to meet with the Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Victorian Parliament, the Hon Christine Fyffe and other Victorian MPs, some of whom had visited him in Malta last July.
Dr Farrugia said he was pleased to take the opportunity of his first visit to Australia to meet with the members of the Maltese communities in Sydney and Melbourne and particularly, those people whom he had heard a lot about, such as, Mr Victor Borg, who has done great work for the community, members of the Missionary Society of St Paul, and Sister Doris Falzon of the Dominican Sisters of Malta who run the Rosary Home, where he was pleased not only to see the great work of the nuns but also to experience the love that one feels in that place. This work shows the values of the Maltese that are very strong and it is important that we give our children the opportunity to participate in them, so that these values are transmitted to our younger generations.
Dr Farrugia spoke about Maltese values. He said that the Maltese, wherever they live, apart from remaining Maltese, have values that are not always easily found in other peoples. Thanks to our religious faith and beliefs, we are also a tolerant people. He said that he visited another aged people’s home also run by the Dominican Sisters in Sydney and he was told that some of the residents were Muslims. This was a nice thing as it send a message that we, Maltese, not only tolerate but give space to those who perhaps do not agree with us, he said.
Finally, Dr Farrugia thanked those present for the opportunity to address them and said that he hoped to have an opportunity to come back for another visit to Australia so he can further discuss matters on which work would have already begun.
Following the addresses, Dr Farrugia presented Mr Borg with a publication of the history of the role of the Spaniards in Malta during the time of Count Roger that includes a detailed map of Malta and of Valletta in the Spanish language. The publication was produced by people in Spain of Maltese origin. Dr Farrugia said that the Maltese diaspora is generally known to have spread out to Canada, Australia, the United States, etc., but, in fact, there is also a hidden Maltese diaspora that has been forgotten and no-one speaks about. In earlier times, the Maltese migrated to other places in European. For example, in Gibraltar, which is currently in the news, one-third of the population have a Maltese surname (such as, Azzopardi, Caruana, Theuma, Sciberras, etc.). In Spain, in the area of Seville there are about 60,000 people with Maltese surnames. In his role as Speaker over the coming five years, he intends to make the Maltese living abroad aware that their contribution is respected and appreciated.
Dr Farrugia also presented three copies of the first edition of the publication Il-Parlament recently published by the Parliament of Malta. While Parliament in Malta has existed since 1921, there has not been any such publication and he felt there is a need for it. When the next issue is published, the MCCV will be on the mailing list. It can also be downloaded from the Parliament’s website – www.parlament.org.mt. He said that for those who have the time, they may listen and view live streaming over the internet of all proceedings of Parliamentary Committees from this website. Dr Farrugia said that he strongly believes that whatever is discussed in Parliament should be discussed openly in a transparent manner, everything above board, as this is what true democracy is all about.
Finally Dr Farrugia presented Victor Borg on behalf of the MCCV with a limited edition stamp issued by Malta Post to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the Maltese Parliament and democracy in Malta.
On behalf of the MCCV, Vice President Victor Borg presented Dr Farrugia with three interesting books about the Maltese in Australia, the first about the history of the MCCV, Under One Umbrella, written by Prof. Maurice Cauchi; the second called Maltese Achievers in Australia also by Prof Maurice Cauchi; and the third called From Humble Beginnings – Mackay Maltese Pioneers about the Maltese migrants who settled in Mackay, Queensland written by Carmel Barreta and Larraine Schembri and launched at the Maltese Centre in Parkville in 2001, describing the very hard work of the early Maltese settlers in Australia.