Transcript by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Harmony Day, racism generally

Location: Wagga Wagga, NSW

Program: ABC Riverina - Mornings with Simon Wallace


SIMON WALLACE: Where are you from? And I don’t mean mum or dad were teachers so we moved around a lot. Where did your family come from? Australia is made up from people from all around the world, and today’s Harmony Day. It’s a day to come together and celebrate our diversity in all its forms. Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is a Senator and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services. Today is a special day, isn’t it, Senator?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It sure is. Good morning, Simon.

SIMON WALLACE: What’s happening? There’s events planned all around the country?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes, we’ve got events all over Australia and, of course, Harmony Day has become a very significant event as we celebrate our cultural diversity all over Australia, and I’m very pleased to say that as of this morning, we have a record 6617 events registered for Harmony Day.

SIMON WALLACE: Why is it important to celebrate that? Doesn’t Australia Day encompass that?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Harmony Day is very important because we celebrate our cultural diversity with the key theme that everyone belongs, and it reinforces that important – the importance of inclusiveness to all Australians, including respect for cultural and religious diversity.

SIMON WALLACE: How many nationalities are we? I know we speak – we’ll go to Griffith shortly, and they have an amazing amount of nationalities. I think it’s only beaten – surpassed by Robinvale as in the most multicultural place in Australia.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Of course, diversity is one of our greatest strengths, and certainly the Riverina has a large Australian-Italian community, with which I’m quite familiar. But diversity is one of our greatest strengths. We have a quarter of Australians born overseas and one in five of us has at least one parent born overseas. We identify with about 300 different ancestries and speak as many languages, including Indigenous languages.

So there is no doubt that migrants and migration have helped shape the unique way of life that we enjoy today, and indeed Australia is one of the most socially cohesive nations on earth.

SIMON WALLACE: There were real waves of immigration weren’t there, due to conflicts overseas and I guess the way people are let into Australia, even.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes, there have been waves of immigration, and each one of those waves of immigration has helped and has added to the rich tapestry that is now our unique Australian way of life.

SIMON WALLACE: Do you think there’s still a real us and them attitude? And I hate to say it, but the them become the us after a few generations or a few years?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I think what happens is that people do integrate, they integrate at their own pace, and then you have successive waves of new migration to different parts of Australia. And in my case, my parents came out in post-war in the 1950s and they came out from Italy, and whilst the post-war migration was predominantly from Eastern – well, from Europe, now of course migration is from different parts of the world, all over the world, including Asia.

SIMON WALLACE: That’s right. They came to Australia after they’d been at war with them a decade earlier.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Yes, and my story is so typical of so many migrant stories. My parents came out – my dad in 1953, my mother in 1959. They came from Italy basically to build a life for themselves and for their children, as I must say so many people in the Riverina have also done, and many of them have become very, very successful in all sorts of different walks of life across the spectrum of Australian society.

SIMON WALLACE: And what do you want people to do today, Senator?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Today I want people to get involved, and all around Australia we’ve got events in childcare centres, in schools, in communities, different groups, churches. Here – and can I at this point highlight some of the events that are happening in the Riverina?

SIMON WALLACE: Certainly can.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: In New South Wales we’ve got over 1000 events registered, mainly schools, childcare centres, and there are about 20 across the Riverina. Yesterday two programs which were funded under the Government’s Diversity and Social Cohesion Grant recipients combined for Harmony Day celebrations at your Riverina Community College, a celebration about bringing people from different backgrounds together and showcasing local talent. You’ve got Centrecare and Heaps Decent put on a free concert with the local hip-hop act Ruthless Youth.

Centrecare is organising a family fun day at Kildare Catholic College tomorrow from 12 until 6. There’ll be friendly basketballers, soccer competitions, music and AFL games for children. You’ve also got the Harmony Day Wagga Wagga City Library will host the Colourfest Film Festival this afternoon, which showcases the best culturally diverse colour in films from around Australia. And I’m reading now from the website, and if I can put a plug, and there’s a tab there which says get involved and these are some of the events that are listed for the Riverina.

SIMON WALLACE: And I know there’s events taking place all across the South West and including a lot of schools that got to bring food today, and we’ll catch up with one of those schools shortly.

But you mentioned Australia is cohesive and there’s people from all around the world living here. Do you think it is difficult to [inaudible]…? And, I mean, you do see some violence against different groups that you don’t – well, I guess they bring [inaudible] from the home country, as it were.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Look, certainly we do have – there are issues in this area. I’m not saying that there haven’t been difficulties, but I would like to refer your listeners to the Scanlon Foundation’s social cohesion report. This is a report that tracks social cohesion in Australia, and the 2013 report found that 84 per cent of those people surveyed thought that multiculturalism had been good for Australia. Indeed, the research has found that 92 per cent of people in areas of Australia with large multicultural populations felt a sense of belonging here. Australia has been confirmed as one of the most highly – one of the most socially cohesive nations on earth by international standards.

But, as you say, we cannot be complacent. We must strive to do better, and that’s why the harnessing spirit of Harmony Day is really important to ensure that our cultural diversity and the harmony of our cultural diversity is maintained.

SIMON WALLACE: I think it’s in the food, Senator, when we break bread of whatever type.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: It is. It’s the culture of the table. I agree with you, Simon, as a person who loves cooking and was trained by one of the best, I have to say – my mother – that the table is a very important way that we break bread together. And yesterday at Parliament House we also celebrated with food with a very multicultural morning tea. But food, as you say, very important, and I’m sure there’ll be some very good food served in the Riverina today and some very culturally diverse food as well.

SIMON WALLACE: Having a Southern European heritage, Senator, I’m sure you can very much appreciate that food’s important.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Absolutely. I would probably recommend the cannolis at the morning tea.

SIMON WALLACE: Thanks for having a chat this morning.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you very much, Simon. Happy Harmony Day.

SIMON WALLACE: And to you. That’s Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services.