Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Australian Human Rights Commission – Launch of Workplace Diversity Tool

Location: Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Sydney


Can I start by also adding my acknowledgement of the traditional owners. Luke Sayers, Ken Woo, Lisa Annese, Adam Creighton, many, many distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

It is my very great pleasure to be here this evening to launch the Workplace Cultural Diversity Tool.

As Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, I recognise the varied ideas and perspectives a diverse workforce can bring to any business.

Workforce diversity is a national asset. It results in greater innovation. It encourages creative problem solving. It helps create an organisation with great potential. Workplace diversity is not about finding differences. It is about giving everyone the opportunity to contribute.

Today, one in four of our 23 million people were born outside Australia and 45% of Australians, and that’s almost half of us, were born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas. Since 1945, seven and a half million people have arrived here, including 800,000 humanitarian entrants.

We speak about 300 different languages, including indigenous languages. Indeed, one in five of us speak a language other than English at home.

We are not only one of the most culturally diverse nations on earth, we are also one of the most socially cohesive. So it is fitting that we should be leading the world in workplace diversity.

We have seen how our post-war immigration programme has benefited our lives in so many ways. These changes have enhanced our economic, social and cultural fabric and have enriched us as a nation.

The success of our uniquely 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.

Through the years, we have succeeded in implementing decades of growth, change and the redefinition of ourselves as a modern nation.

And an important contribution to this social cohesion have been our workplaces.

As the daughter of migrants myself and having been involved in the multicultural space for about thirty years, I have seen first-hand and fully recognise the potential offered and realised every day through our multicultural society.

In particular, I recognise the varied ideas and the different perspectives that a diverse workforce can bring to any business. Diversity can result in greater innovation, encourage creative problem solving and help a business to reach its fullest potential. In short, diversity adds value.

And with our increasing diversity, it is also important that we maximise the benefits to Australia to enable us to recruit talented people and enable businesses, whether small, medium or large, to attract a broader range of clients and customers. This will all contribute to enhancing Australia’s productive diversity.

This can be a significant asset to Australian business and our economy when you consider that we share around 300 different ancestries and, as I said, speak as many languages.

Through an increasingly globalised economy, this offers Australian business an unprecedented connection to overseas markets and opportunities. This tool will help us make the most of these opportunities.

The Tool is based on international best practice. It draws on the experiences of Australian businesses and has been refined through pilot testing with local councils, not for profit organisations and corporates around the country. It will help build on an already strong record of Australian business using diversity to innovate and expand.

We also should stop and think about the amount of time we spend at work – and think about the workplace as a forum for exposure to cultural diversity.

The workplace is a microcosm of our nation – people from different backgrounds working together for a common good. This will further assist in developing understanding between cultures – something that we need now more than ever.

The Government’s investment in the tool is a clear demonstration of our commitment to helping Australian business – as well as our strong commitment to Australian multiculturalism and the principles of access and equity.

The Australian Government provided $1.7 million to the Australian Human Rights Commission to develop and implement the National Anti-Racism Strategy and the Workplace Cultural Diversity Tool is one of the products of this strategy.

It will add to other successful strategies such as Harmony Day, which as we have seen from the record number of events this year, has become an important celebration in thousands of workplaces around Australia.

I congratulate all involved on your work to develop the Workplace Cultural Diversity Tool, particularly the Australian Human Rights Commission, Diversity Council Australia and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.

You can be very proud of what you have done and the difference it will make to the lives of many Australians.

For some it will mean feeling more included at work. For business it will be the opening of new opportunities, and for customers it will be a case of buying from businesses that understand and cater to their needs and wants.

I am sure that this free tool will assist many employers to maximise the benefits of cultural diversity for their workplace and effectively manage a culturally diverse workforce.

I thank you for your efforts and your commitment and for developing a tool that will help our nation move into the future in a better and smarter way.

Thank you.