Maltese Migration and Community
The Maltese community has a long history of immigration to Australia. Indeed, the first Maltese to arrive in Australia came in the early 1800’s during the convict period, with the first free settler, Antonio Azzopardi, arriving in the late 1830’s.
Attempts at group migration from Malta at the end of the nineteenth and the first quarter of the twentieth centuries ended in failure. Despite British lobbying for the Australian government to allow Maltese immigration, those encouraged to make the journey received no government assistance towards their passage, and upon their arrival continued to encounter considerable public hostility to their entry into Australia.
A softening of official attitudes towards the Maltese can be traced to the 1925 Federal government appointment of the first Maltese commissioner in Australia. This was followed by the granting of financial assistance towards the cost of the passage for wives wishing to join their Maltese husbands in Australia. In a matter of ten years the number of Malta-born persons in Australia rose by almost fifty per cent from a total of about 2,800 in 1929.
The turning point in Maltese migration to Australia was provided by the Second World War. At that time Australia promoted the ‘White Australia Policy’ and only began to open its borders to Eastern European migration after the threat of ‘Asian invasion’ from the north was increased after WWII. Post-war immigration followed the slogan ‘Populate or Perish’ and coincided with a great intake of Italian, Maltese and other non-British migrants. Additionally the heroism of the Maltese people during this conflict made a deep impression on many Australians leading to an improvement in Australian attitudes towards Maltese. Post-war immigration from Malta accelerated during the twelve years between 1949 and 1961. The highest point was reached in the year 1954-55 when some 10,000 Maltese arrived to a new life in Australia. In Summary, Australia has a significant Maltese community, largely concentrated today in Victoria (48 per cent) and New South Wales (40 per cent) due to considerable migration during the mid-twentieth century.
Despite their high level of adaptability, the Maltese in Australia have retained the most important aspects of their own culture. At a visible level, this reality also manifests itself in the popularity of Maltese language programmes on ethnic radios, and the proliferation of organisations within the Maltese community. Most of these groups take pride in celebrating feasts in honour of saints as happens in Malta. They also sustain a number of Ghana groups, brass bands, choirs and reception places, and are supported by them in return.
Diplomatic relations with Australia were established on 21 September 1964. Political relations are currently excellent owing to many shared attitudes and values. Malta has a High Commission in Canberra (established in 1964) and has Consulates-General in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Honorary Consuls in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. There is also an Honorary Vice-Consul in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria.
Since diplomatic relations were established, relations on the political level developed very warmly, and in certain respects converged on issues of mutual interest and benefit. This is not only by virtue of the close social connection through Maltese emigration but also due to principles of good governance shared by all members of the Commonwealth Group. Foreign Minister Michael Frendo’s visit to Melbourne, Canberra, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney in March 2006 showed a strong and unequivocal commitment by the Maltese Government to network effectively with the Maltese people abroad, and to build closer political and economic relations with Australia, a country that has welcomed thousands of Maltese migrants. In March 2007 the then Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg’s visit to Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney brought about the announcement that the Maltese Government would amend the Maltese Citizenship Act (1988). The announcement was greatly welcomed by the Maltese Community and in the intervening period there has been a substantial increase in the level of applications for Maltese Citizenship by second generation descendants of Maltese ascendants now eligible for Maltese Citizenship.
It is clear that the strong links that exist between the two countries are underpinned by an ongoing close proximity between Maltese and expatriates residing now in Australia and the level of interest by Australians in Maltese culture. According to the Australian Government 2001 Census of Population and Housing in Australia ,136,754 Australians claimed Maltese descent with 46,998 Australian residents having been born in Malta. Taking into account unreported Maltese ancestry, the number of people of Maltese ancestry in Australia is estimated at 152,282. The migrant community in Australia represents the largest Maltese community outside of Malta. Since first arriving in Australia in the 1800s, the Maltese have contributed greatly to the cultural enrichment and economic development of Australia. During the early part of the twentieth century 1,900 Maltese immigrated to Australia. In May 1948, Australia and Malta signed an assisted-migrant-passage agreement, which extended the benefit of subsidised travel costs to over 63,000 Maltese. The peak period of migration to Australia occurred in the mid-fifties and sixties and the number of people in Australia who were born in Malta peaked in 1981. Since then the Malta-born population in Australia has been declining. It has also been ageing, to the extent that there are now few Maltese born persons in the 0 to 24 age bracket. Most of the Malta-born population has lived in Australia for more than 15 years and over 70 per cent have taken up Australian citizenship. Victoria and New South Wales have attracted, by far, the largest numbers of Malta-born persons.
The Hon. Prime Minister Dr. Lawrence Gonzi visited Australia between 31 July 2007 and 12 August 2007. The Prime Minister met the then Australian Prime Minister John Howard, then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer and current Prime Minister, the Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd. During his visit, the Prime Minister also met of the Maltese Community in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney.
The Hon. Dr. Tonio Borg, the then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Justice and Home Affairs visited Australia in March 2007. The purpose of the visit was to meet the Maltese communities and announce the Malta Government’s commitment to amend the Maltese Citizenship Act (1988).
The Hon. Dr. Michael Frendo, former Minister of Foreign Affairs visited Australia in March 2006 The purpose of the visit was to meet the Maltese communities and enhance bilateral relations between Malta and Australia, as well as undertaking other Commonwealth commitments, including attending the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.
The then Prime Minister Dr. Edward Fenech Adami visited Australia to take part in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in early March 2002. The theme of the meeting was “The Commonwealth in the 21st Century: Continuity and Renewal “. The Meeting was held in Coolum.
Dr Fenech Adami and Malta’s then Foreign Minister, Dr Joe Borg, visited Australia in March 2002 for the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Coolum, Queensland. Dr Fenech Adami again visited Australia as a guest of government in August 2002, accompanied by the then Deputy Prime Minister Dr Lawrence Gonzi.
In April 2007 a delegation from the Parliament of Australia visited Malta. The delegation was made up as follows:
- Senator the Hon. Paul Calvert, President of the Senate and Senator for Tasmania, Liberal Party Mr Bernie Ripoll, MP Member for Oxley (Queensland), Labor Party
- The Hon. Ian Causley, MP, Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Member for Page (NSW), The Nationals
- The Hon. Warren Entsch, MP Member for Leichhardt (Queensland),Liberal Party
- Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Senator for New South Wales, Liberal Party
- Senator Andrew Murray, Senator for Western Australia, Australian Democrats
- Ms Andrea Griffiths, Delegation Secretary, Department of the Senate
- Mr Don Morris, Private Secretary to the President
The Australian Prime Minister John Howard visited Malta in November 2005 to participate in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and held a meeting with Prime Minister the Hon. Dr. Lawrence Gonzi.
The Australian-Maltese Chamber of Commerce organised a Trade Mission to Malta in October 2003 in order to promote export and import, to establish business collaboration in exploiting opportunities offered by Malta’s EU membership and for collaboration with Malta-based companies to access third country markets in Europe and North Africa (particularly Libya). The trade mission was considered successful with many contacts and agency agreements made. In October of 2005 representatives from the Australian-Maltese Chamber of Commerce were once again in Malta.
Trade with Australia
The Australian-Maltese business community is active. Trade Missions to Malta have resumed, with the purpose of promoting exports and imports, and establishing industry contacts to exploit opportunities perceived to be offered by Malta’s EU Membership. Indeed Malta can offer a strategic location for Australian small businesses at the cross roads between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Strong opportunities exist to use Malta as a transhipment centre. Australia seeks to attract investment opportunities in Malta for mutual benefit.