Media Release by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Australia Day, 2014 – What Unites Us As a Nation

Around Australia Day we turn our minds to the broader sense of being Australian.

It’s a day we celebrate our achievements including the building of a great nation drawn predominantly from the people of other nations. We are a nation of migrants and it is a time for celebration of our people no matter what their origins.

In 2014 new Australian citizens are drawn from more than 150 countries. We can justly and proudly claim to be one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. The Coalition has a proud record of contributing to that. When we were last in Government in 2006-2007 we welcomed over 148, 000 new migrants to our shores, a record at that time.

As the Prime Minister has pointed out, all sides of politics support multiculturalism and the community overwhelmingly supports it too. The Scanlon Foundation’s Mapping Social Cohesion National Report 2013 indicated strong levels of support for multiculturalism with 84 per cent of respondents agreeing that ‘multiculturalism has been good for Australia’.

That Opposition Leader Bill Shorten insists on harking back to outdated views on multiculturalism is puzzling. There is no need to ‘fight’ for the proposition that multiculturalism has been good for this country when overwhelmingly the community, the Prime Minister and the Government are in furious agreement.

On Australia Day we can all celebrate our diversity as well as the uniqueness that sets us apart. Whether you or your family claim a heritage as ’10pound’ Poms, have come from Asian neighbours such as India, China or the Philippines or further afield, it is often the case that the trip to Australia was with little but the shirt or dress on a back.

A common theme of the migrant story is a willingness to work hard and bring a wealth of knowledge if not investment. Above all migrants have been prepared to take the risk in a foreign land – to ‘have a go’ and build a better life for individuals and families.

Like many Australians I am proud to have lived the multicultural experience and to have the benefits of two cultures. My Italian heritage enriches who I am as a proud Australian.

Not unlike many young Australians from migrant families I learned English in the school yard. Adult Australians learned English on the job, literally. In my father’s case it was a job on the Queensland cane fields and then the steelworks at Port Kembla.

Like many migrants he worked hard, wanting a better life for himself and his family.

The tools remain the same to get ahead today- securing a job and learning English. New Australians can take advantage of government funded programs but the commitment generally needs to go further than that. Retaining a knowledge of one’s mother tongue is important but not at the expense of learning English.

Learning English as a second language is a struggle, but in the 21st century English is even more important as we move from a manufacturing to a service economy. But it is not just a benefit for the nation. A lack of English has a personal cost especially in an ageing population with health issues or for parents that cannot understand their child’s teacher.

Which is why this Australia Day we might all reflect on the rights we enjoy living in Australia but also reflect on our obligations to our country. What is my commitment to Australia and what might I do to make it better?

One of our best achievements in terms of social cohesion is that we are able understand each other. The best way we can contribute to that is by speaking a common language and making a commitment to become proficient in English. I don’t underestimate the challenge but I know from firsthand experience it enriches the experience of being an Australian.