Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Speech in the Senate about Harmony Day celebrations

It is my honour to rise to provide a summary to the Senate on Harmony Day 2014, which we celebrated around the nation last week on 21 March. The theme for Harmony Day is: ‘Everyone belongs’. Harmony Day was an initiative of the coalition government in 1999, so I am pleased that it has become a significant day of the year when Australians are encouraged to celebrate the cultural diversity of our country and that 14 years later more than 55,000 Harmony Day events have now been held.

21 March is also the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Harmony Day encourages people to participate in their community, to respect different cultures and religions and to foster a sense of belonging for everyone. And so we should. We are one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. Our diversity is unique and, in the government’s view, it is one of Australia’s greatest strengths.

Without doubt, migrants have helped shape the Australia we enjoy today. Through hard work and a commitment to Australia, our migrants have helped make Australia one of the most prosperous and socially cohesive nations on earth.

As the daughter of migrants myself and now Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services with special responsibility for multicultural affairs and settlement services, I was especially honoured to have the principal carriage of the Harmony Day celebrations. Can I record my thanks and acknowledgement for the support that I received from the Hon. Kevin Andrews, Minister for Social Services, and his office and department.

My message in the lead-up to Harmony Day was to get involved by joining in or registering your Harmony Day event by going to www.harmony.gov.au or to Harmony Day on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to join the conversation–‘Everyone belongs’. I am pleased to say that a record number of people responded. First there was the record number of events staged around the country. No less than 6,632 events were registered, a 35 per cent increase on the 4,905 events registered in 2013. The events staged were in childcare centres, schools, community groups, churches, businesses, and federal, state and local government agencies across Australia. Morning teas, fairs, concerts, school assemblies, sporting events and national costume days were among the different events staged to showcase cultures, traditions and backgrounds. On behalf of the government, I hosted a harmonious and multicultural morning tea for my parliamentary colleagues–the samosas and cannoli were a hit. I thank our Prime Minister, who made time to attend.

As I said, there were record events held this year–evidence of a growing awareness and involvement by the Australian community, with orange, the colour for Harmony Day, in abundance. A highlight was that, for the first time, all states and territories had a landmark bathed in orange, including Old Parliament House in Canberra, Melbourne’s Federation Square, Government House in Darwin, and, close to my electorate office, Wollongong’s Breakwater Lighthouse. The display of orange also translated to the Harmony Day ribbons and show of orange clothing.

We also engaged on social media and encouraged those on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to engage in the conversation about Harmony Day. Again, there were more participants this year. Not only was the Harmony Day Stories app downloaded over 6,780 times–a 400 per cent increase on last year–but there were more than 750,000 impressions on Facebook. Our Harmony Day video was downloaded almost 9 1/2 thousand times.

Food is very important in breaking down barriers where there are differences, and this year proved no exception. So I want to congratulate the Scanlon Foundation’s initiative, A Taste of Harmony. It was great to join Guy Grossi for afternoon tea at Grossi Fiorentino in Melbourne as we talked about the culture of the table–la cultura della tavola. A Taste of Harmony was promoted as a free and delicious way to celebrate workplaces’ cultural diversity in the week of 17 to 23 March, where Australians were invited to organise their workmates to bring a plate of food to share.

Involvement in sport as a player or spectator also has the ability to unite people of all ages, cultures and religions. To celebrate this year’s Harmony Day, the Australian government announced a $180,000 sponsorship of the 2014 Harmony Game Schools Pack, in partnership with SBS and Football Federation Australia. This will be a resource for primary school teachers to teach young people about the value of cultural diversity to Australian society, and it will go to every primary school in Australia. This initiative uses young people’s passion for sport and teaches respect in the classroom and on the football field. Children are offered the opportunity to learn and understand how all Australians from diverse backgrounds equally belong to this nation and make it a better place.

I also extend my appreciation to the Australian Parliament Sports Club for their support with the series of events under the banner ‘Sport in support of Harmony Day’ between 16 and 27 March when the pollies took on the press and others in a range of sports. I particularly want to thank those who came from around Australia to play in support of our Harmony Games, including Lisa Alexander, Diamonds coach; Anne Sargeant, former Australian netball captain; Australia Post AFL Multicultural Ambassadors Patrick Karnezis and David Rodan; former Socceroo captain Craig Foster; as well as Young Australian of the Year and Paralympian eight-time gold-medal champion Jacqueline Freney. I am pleased to report the overall result was respectable for the pollies. A special thanks goes to our Parliament House sports guru, Andy Turnbull.

I would also like to acknowledge and thank the various sporting codes in Australia for their Harmony Day efforts. I was delighted to enjoy Harmony Day with over 45,000 others at the AFL Harmony Day match between North Melbourne Kangaroos and the Essendon Bombers in Melbourne last Friday night. Last Saturday morning I addressed the NRL’s Harmony Day Festival in Penrith before attending the Sunday match between the NSW Swifts and the Queensland Firebirds, as part of Netball Australia’s celebrations.

Young people in particular have an important role to play in promoting diversity and eliminating racism and discrimination. During Harmony Week we also welcomed to Parliament House six young players who have been selected to represent Australia at the Football for Hope Festival to be held in Rio during the final two weeks of the FIFA World Cup 2014. These young Australians were selected from the cohort of participants at Football United programs across western and south-western Sydney. They mirror the diversity of our great country, and a number have come to Australia under our humanitarian program. Dr Bunde-Birouste, founder and CEO of Football United, and their blue, indestructible football were welcome guests at our Parliament House Harmony Day morning tea.

The morning tea was also enhanced by the selection of posters from the annual competition organised by the B’nai B’rith Alfred Dreyfus Anti-Defamation Unit. Through their artwork, secondary students from New South Wales and ACT expressed their understanding of religious and cultural differences and their importance in a harmonious society. On display were the two national winners of the 2013 competition. I recall speaking at Harmony Day 2006 at the Sydney Town Hall and celebrating the works of young people then. I would like to particularly acknowledge the work of Ernie Friedlander OAM, Chairman of Moving Forward Together, part of B’nai B’rith. His contribution to the ongoing fight against racism and discrimination makes him a truly outstanding Australian.

In reviewing the Harmony Day activities of so many Australians, we can take quiet pride in our ability to unite in different ways and celebrate the rich tapestry of our nation, whether in food, sport or simply gathering together. However, it is important that we harness the spirit and enthusiasm of Harmony Day every day of the year. Where we see racial vilification, we must take a stand. Harmony Day reinforces the importance of inclusiveness for all Australians and respect for cultural and religious diversity. The many initiatives around the country in support of Harmony Day are further important steps to counter racial vilification. It is about community participation and inclusiveness. But, above all, it is about respect for each other.

Our country is a great country, but it is only as great as our people. We have come so far, and together we can go so much further. For now I simply want to applaud all those Australians who played a role in making this year’s Harmony Day a day where we truly came together in so many ways to celebrate Australia’s cultural diversity in the spirit of everyone belonging.