Refugees: crucial to Australia’s success story

The refugee journey is part of Australia’s success story and has helped shape its multicultural 

" Beyond inspirational stories, the business case for a diverse workforce is clear."
Tony Nicholson, Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence

There can be no argument the Australia we know today has been built on successive waves of migration. It's also indisputable some of our big contributors have refugee backgrounds. 

They span business leaders such as Frank Lowy to medical researcher Gustav Nossal, entrepreneur Tan Le to writers Alice Pung and Osamah Sami.

Hieu Van Le fled by boat from the turmoil of the Vietnam War and arrived in Australia with "nothing but an invisible suitcase filled with dreams", as he says, and is now Governor of South Australia.

Beyond inspirational stories, the business case for a diverse workforce is clear.

A 2012 study by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission and Deloitte, which surveyed 1550 employees in three Australian businesses, linked improvement in performance with high diversity and inclusion levels. 

Australia's rapidly ageing population also means a younger refugee population helps boost the available pool of people of working age who can participate in the labour market. 

At the Brotherhood of St Laurence, we believe the best form of social welfare for those who can work is a job. And that is what refugees with whom we work also want.

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They are aspirational and energetic: they know the passport to a good life in Australia, and a future for their families, is to work. But there also need to be strong programs and social supports in place for these job seekers to be able to find, be trained for and be retained in jobs.


The Brotherhood of St Laurence, as a national welfare organisation, has been assisting refugees and migrants settle in Australia for more than half a century. In 2007, we forged a key partnership with ANZ to join our Given the Chance employment program.

We aim to implement what the name of the program implies: to tap into the capacities of potential employees from refugee backgrounds with ANZ providing pathways for paid work in the banking sector.

It's a practical approach where ANZ offers four- and six-month paid work placement opportunities for participants to prove themselves across the business, including in back office operations, customer service and retail branches.

More than 100 people have participated since the program was established at the bank. From the 2013-2015 intake more than 80 percent remain employed.

Importantly, as the world confronts the biggest refugee crisis since World War Two, ANZ has shown its commitment to the values guiding our program by recently adding a number of asylum seekers with work rights into the intake. 

The Given the Chance program with ANZ is a good model of a supported employment opportunity for people to learn skills on the job. It tackles one of the big barriers people with refugee backgrounds also face - their lack of relevant local work experience.

In the end, for refugees who've already overcome many hurdles in their lives to come here, it's all about being given a chance - and then they will seize it. And we all benefit. 

Tony Nicholson is Executive Director of the Brotherhood of St Laurence

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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