Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

“Say NO to Racism” Training Package Launch

Location: City of Darebin Council Offices


Can I start by adding my acknowledgment of the traditional owners. And I would also like to acknowledge my Federal Parliamentary Colleague David Feeney, Deputy Mayor Julie Williams, religious leaders, other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

As Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services with special responsibility for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, I am very pleased to be here today to help launch this important training package.

And it is interesting to note that this launch comes a few days before the International Day of Peace on 21 September. This year’s theme is about rights – that all people have a right to peace.

How fitting this theme is for discussions about tolerance and diversity.

It is tremendous to acknowledge that amongst the City of Darebin, residents speak more than 100 different languages, with almost one third born outside Australia.

National statistics tell us we speak over 300 languages and around 45 per cent of us were born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas. So Darebin is a great example of a contemporary multicultural Australian community.

What a special community this must be.

Along with tackling racism head-on, you champion social cohesion and truly embrace your rich diversity. The Council’s calendar of events has everything from intercultural conversation nights to Greek film festivals, interfaith days and Arabic and English language classes. You are also home to our first Islamic art museum.

I too was fortunate to grow up in a distinctly culturally diverse city.

My Dad moved to Australia from Italy in the 1950s, and worked at the Port Kembla steelworks in NSW. He was just one of many migrants who found jobs, started families and prospered in the post-war boom.

As the daughter of migrants, I understand the hardships people face in moving across the world to build a better life for themselves and their children.

Since 1945 Australia has welcomed 7.5 million migrants, including 800,000 under our humanitarian programme. This has made us one of the most culturally diverse and socially cohesive nations in the world.

While we enjoy celebrating our social and cultural differences, we should also celebrate what unites us.

We are united by our loyalty to Australia, its democracy, its values and its laws.

We are fortunate to have freedom of speech and religion, equal rights for men and women and a commitment to tolerance and a fair go.

According to the 2013 Scanlon Foundation Mapping Social Cohesion Report, over 80% of us agree that we feel a strong sense of belonging.

Yet with each wave of settlement, there are regrettably instances of suspicion and sometimes resentment.

There are pockets of darkness.

It is shocking that around one in five Australians has experienced race-hate talk such as verbal abuse, racial slurs or name-calling. More than one in 20 has been physically attacked because of their race.

Attacked because of the way they looked or spoke.

The consequences are dramatic. Research for the Racism. It stops with me campaign found racism not only impacts self-worth, but also the ability to work and study, physical health and even life expectancy.

It goes against everything social inclusion is about.

Racism is an anathema to our values and way of life.

Most of us have seen or heard about racist behaviour at some point.

I want to share a story from 21-year-old Carmen Smith, who I met earlier this year after she was announced as one of the winners of ABC’s Heywire competition. Heywire is a great opportunity for young regional Australians to get their ideas heard.

Carmen lives in North Queensland. Her Mum was born in Papua New Guinea, and her Dad in Australia. From a young age Carmen experienced casual racism. She noticed people deliberately walking on the other side of the road or clutching their purses harder as she walked past. These simple actions really hurt.

But she never let that stop her. She doesn’t let anyone paint her a certain colour.

It takes courage to publicly share stories like this, and it also takes courage to say something when you see the behaviour she had to deal with.

Empowering people to stand up to racism is at the heart of the City of Darebin’s DVD and training package.

I note that council research found around 45% of Darebin locals who saw a racist attack admitted feeling uncomfortable, but didn’t take action.

With Australian Government funding support, the Council has developed some fantastic tools for bystanders to say no to racism in a non-violent way.

The DVD uses personal stories from local people who’ve experienced overt, casual or passive racism to explain the impacts of this behaviour. The DVD is the highlight of a comprehensive training package about how racism can affect not only the individual but also the wider community.

I am confident the practical tools in the package will give bystanders the confidence to act when they see racism in their everyday lives.

Well done to all of those who have been part of the initiative and I extend special congratulations to Project Officer Ms Dure de Winter.

I also want to commend the Council’s broader commitment to diversity. This is illustrated through its Multicultural Action Plan and a communication strategy that ensures people of CALD backgrounds can access the services and support they need.

The Government is working hard to maintain Australia’s reputation as one of the most socially cohesive nations on Earth.

The success of Australian Multiculturalism arises very much from the commitment to the common elements that unite us, combined with a respect and understanding of our social, cultural and religious differences.

The Australian Government is fully committed to this policy.

We promote belonging, respect for diversity and engagement with values, identity and citizenship in the framework of Australian law.

We focus on access and equity, acknowledging that all Australian Government departments must provide equal access to services regardless of someone’s background.

We provide grants that foster socially cohesive communities, particularly those at-risk or who have higher needs.

Funding goes to projects such as the City of Darebin’s training package, which encourages fair treatment for everyone regardless of cultural, racial or religious differences.

The Government promotes general awareness through initiatives like Harmony Day, which is held each year on 21 March to coincide with International Day of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In 2015 we are very excited to celebrate 15 years of Harmony Day and the enduring message that everyone belongs.

We also support the Human Rights Commission’s National Anti-Racism Strategy and the Racism. It stops with me campaign.

Last year the campaign recruited more than 160 businesses, sports, education, local government and community organisations as supporters.

Each of us can find the courage to counter acts of discrimination at every opportunity.

This strong moral code is evident in the work of the City of Darebin. Your approach to community empowerment is a shining example for others.

Thank you for what you do to promote tolerance, respect and social cohesion.

Our success as a culturally diverse society – at the local, state and national level – comes from putting our commitment to Australia first.

I take this opportunity to congratulate you once again on the DVD and training package and I wish you all the very best for future diversity projects.