Australia Day Message
It is interesting to note that the buzz this year on Australia Day has been about diversity. At a time when many countries around the world are facing challenges, increasingly Australia is being seen as a very good example where diversity is a plus rather than a minus.
Today, Australia is one of the most culturally diverse, yet socially cohesive nations on earth. Since 1945, we have welcomed 7.5 million people to Australia, including 825,000 under our humanitarian programme. 47% of us were either born overseas or have at least one parent who was. We speak about 300 different languages, including indigenous languages.
Notwithstanding all of this, Australia enjoys a degree of stability and harmony that is the envy of the world. As Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, I am frequently asked why this is so.
Firstly, Australia is a country of migration. It is a feature of our past, our present and our future. According to a recent OECD report, Australia has one of the highest up takes of citizenship with about 80% of eligible migrants choosing to become Australian citizens. Indeed many Australia Day celebrations across the country today will include a citizenship ceremony.
This is why we must have an ordered migration process with stringent checks and balances. We need to know who comes into Australia because in a relatively short period of time, that person is likely to become a citizen.
Secondly, Australians, by birth or acquisition, adhere to a sense of nationalism based on our Australian values and founded on rights and responsibilities, including: freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good.
These great Australian values are encapsulated in the oath of citizenship, which millions of migrants have sworn or affirmed their allegiance to Australia. Through this, we have developed a uniquely “Australian multiculturalism”.
Not surprisingly, the 2015 Scanlon-Monash Index of Social Cohesion report shows there has seen a steady increase in support for multiculturalism to 85% according to the latest survey released; and that 92% of respondents have a strong sense of belonging in Australia and take pride in the Australian way of life and culture.
Thirdly, migrants have contributed to our productive diversity. Like my parents, the overwhelming number of our migrants left their home countries to travel to a land far away to build a better life for themselves and their families. Australia abounds with success stories.
This has been the land of opportunity for so many, and will continue to be so. 30% of small businesses are started by migrants. Migrant workers and their children, often, who are bilingual, offer diversity in the workplace. Our migrants are at the core of the people to people links between Australia and their country of origin, and are often at the core of the trading relationships that this country has with the rest of the world.
Fourthly, our diversity has meant that most of the world’s religions are practised in Australia. Our freedom of religion is underpinned by section 116 of the constitution and by a strong interfaith framework.
Fifthly, there is a strong sense that our positive migration legacy should not be tainted by the actions of a few. At a time when Australia, like the rest of the world, is facing challenges to national security from terrorism, our social cohesion is that vitally important social glue that binds us together.
Contemporary Australia is diverse and vibrant. Today, diversity is mainstream. It is little wonder that this Australia Day, the buzz is all about diversity.