Transcript by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Harmony Day, Racial Discrimination Act, racism generally

Location: Wollongong, NSW

Program: ABC Illawarra - Mornings with Nick Rheinberger


[Presenter plays an audio clip from as lead in to the interview]

NICK RHEINBERGER: That’s from the website featuring – or starring, shall we say, Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who is on the line now.



NICK RHEINBERGER: A very nicely put together piece of work there. Your media training is obviously paying off.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, what I wanted to say is it’s showcasing Wollongong, which is very important for me, and showcasing where I was born and where I now – and, of course, where my parents still live.

NICK RHEINBERGER: I want to talk to you a bit about balance, because it seems to me that it’s one of the things that we have to strike here, that multiculturalism seems to be a word that has fallen out of favour. You talk about cultural diversity. How do we strike that balance between proud of your background culture and accepting Australian culture?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Multiculturalism has been very successful and I think it has been very successful because Australia has valued its diversity. Its diversity is one of Australia’s greatest strengths. We are a country where a quarter of the population was born overseas. One in five of us has at least one parent born overseas. Today, we identify with at least 300 ancestries and speak as many languages and there is no doubt that migrants have helped forge the unique Australian way of life that we have today, and, of course, Wollongong is a very, very good example of this.

We know that multiculturalism is very well regarded and there was a recent 2013 Scanlon Foundation Social Cohesion report which found that 84 per cent think that multiculturalism has been good for Australia. It is a uniquely Australian multiculturalism and I think it has been so successful because we have been able to balance our cultural diversity, but at the same time putting our commitment to Australia and its values and to its laws at the forefront.

NICK RHEINBERGER: What do you think makes it uniquely Australian compared to, I don’t know, Dutch multiculturalism or American multiculturalism.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I think because we have come from all parts of the world. We do celebrate our diversity. I mean, Harmony Day has been celebrated throughout Australia since 1999 and I’m pleased to say it was started under a Coalition Government. We’ve had 55,000 different events and, indeed, this year we’ve got a record 6617 events, and in New South Wales 2600, and I am pleased to say that Wollongong is also playing its part in this.
So there’s been a greater awareness about harmony, there’s been a greater awareness about diversity, and we live it in our day to day lives. And I think that awareness has now become such that there is a much greater participation, there’s a much greater number of events, and Australians value that cultural diversity and want to celebrate it all over Australia at grassroots events in their communities.

NICK RHEINBERGER: You mentioned that in that presentation that we should be vigilant for acts of intolerance or racism. There’s a bit of a debate going on about that at the moment about repealing some of the legislation which made racial abuse illegal. Again, it’s another question of balance. Where you do see us striking the balance between free speech and protecting people from this kind of abuse?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It will come down to a balance and, on the one hand, you do want to protect free speech, but at the same time it’s striking that right balance with needing to protect people from racial vilification. And whilst there are still cases of racial vilification, I think what’s happening is that more and more people are reporting it, more people are being prepared to call it for what it is, and I think it’s more of a case of people prepared to take a stand against racism and make more reports when they do see incidences of it.
We’ve got this campaign called “Racism. It Stops With Me” and it has been successful, it has encouraged people to speak out where they do see instances of racism. And many of your listeners would have seen the YouTube video of the young girls on the bus in Queensland. Now, that’s a very good example where you’ve had one person taking a stand and threw them off the bus. Another person videoed the incident and Australians, them saying we’re not prepared to tolerate this sort of racist behaviour.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Do you think that’s where it needs to stop and it shouldn’t be part of the law to have a special law about racial abuse?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I think it’s important that we all understand and we call racism for what it is. Certainly the legislative framework has enabled people to – I think the legislation has resulted in greater awareness and greater reporting of incidences of racism, but it does come back to the fact that with campaigns like “Racism. It Stops With Me”, they have been successful because they have encouraged more people to speak up when they do see incidences of racism.
And that’s why Harmony Day does reinforce the importance of inclusiveness for Australians. It reinforces that message of respect for cultural and religious diversity and it’s really that spirit of enthusiasm for Harmony Day that is spreading. It is about community participation and inclusiveness is a very strong part of that message.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Well, let’s finish off on a positive note. What sort of events are happening around Australia on Harmony Day, besides the orange lighthouse?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, there’s, as I said, 6617 as at today. We’ve got, in Wollongong – and I just wanted, if I could, to focus on some of the things that are happening in Wollongong.


CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: The Multicultural Communities Council of the Illawarra is doing things. You’ve got Illawarra Multicultural Services holding a soccer gala day in conjunction with the Harmony Day festival. You’ve got government bodies – Centrelink, Medicare, the Department of Human Services – also are seaming for the day. The Art Arena Gallery, the TAFE in Wollongong, the various schools – we’ve got quite a number of schools in the Illawarra celebrating Harmony Day with activities, programs for school educators, craft, songs, dances, stories, shared morning teas.

So this is happening all over the Illawarra, so I’m sure I’m sure it will be a wonderful day.

NICK RHEINBERGER: Alright. Hope so. Senator, I hope you don’t mind but I’ve got a song for your mum and dad.


NICK RHEINBERGER: This is Patrizio Buanne and L’italiano, so we’ll ciao to you.