Frances Voon, Executive Manager of UNSW’s Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, was on 7 September 2021 named one of the 40 Under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australians, honouring her outstanding leadership in advancing the rights of refugees. Here are her remarks upon accepting this award.

I am pleased to join you today from the lands of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

Thank you to the award co-convenors – the Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership, Johnson Partners, PwC Australia and Asialink – and to the award judges, for the honour of being named the winner of the Not-for-profit/Community & Advocacy category of the 40 under 40 Most Influential Asian-Australian Awards. Thank you also to my family, friends and my colleagues at the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law and beyond, without whom my contributions would have been far less.

By celebrating Asian-Australian leadership, this award does more than just recognise the contributions of Asian-Australians across many sectors of Australian life. 

In seeking to diversify our image of leadership, this award highlights the fact that not everyone’s contributions are visible and valued – and begs the question of who else’s contributions we’re missing out on.

It’s a call to acknowledge that when it comes to promoting a truly inclusive society, in which everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential, we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

This is abundantly clear when it comes to refugees and people seeking asylum. I believe that how we treat people seeking safety is a test of how truly we hold to the idea that everyone deserves the opportunity to flourish. When we allow any group to be treated without dignity – as we do with refugees and people seeking asylum – we undermine the foundations of an inclusive society. And in that, we all lose.

I believe all of us who are named in these 40 Under 40 Awards today are called upon to be champions for diversity and inclusion. Change won’t simply happen by accident – it will happen because we believe it has to, and commit ourselves to making it a reality. For me that means committing myself to being a good ally to all those who face barriers to inclusion; to use whatever opportunities I have to celebrate their strength and contributions; and to call out policies, attitudes and behaviours that fail to live up to our promise of dignity and respect for all. I’m committed to the work ahead, and I’m honoured to be able to embark on it together with the other winners and supporters of this award.   


Image: Alex Wigan/Unsplash