SPEECH - Matter of Public Importance - Social Cohesion

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Australians have been troubled recently. They have been troubled by the news they are watching on their TVs at night.

Events at home and events around the world have led many to wonder what kind of world they are living in. And of course at times of trouble the most important question we can ask ourselves: are we stronger together?

And what can we do to make our nation stronger together?

We’ve seen stories of Australians who have, inexplicably to most of us, gone overseas to fight.

But just as inexplicably to me, we have seen stories of Australians graffiting mosques, pulling headscarves off girls, threatening schoolchildren, one man alleged to have gone into a Muslim school and threatened those children with a knife. Jewish kids in Sydney threatened on a bus. Sikh taxi drivers threatened when they have been driving their taxis.

I have to say that these two problems – the problem of radicilisation and the problem of racism – are two sides of the one coin. As Australians we have to reject both of them outright. Neither of these represent the Australia that we are part of.

I remember a few years ago I was at the Royal National Park with my mum, my dad and my kids, and my dad told a guy not to get too close to the ducklings because he would disturb them. And this man told my father ‘You should go back where you came from.’ After 65 years living in Australia, paying his taxes, being a good citizens. And the shock was not the dumb racism, the shock was being told that he didn’t belong after 65 years in this country.

We cannot afford to say to any Australian now, you do not belong.

Our responsibility is to show our strength by embracing diversity, embracing difference, and speaking to all of our communities about what makes our community stronger.

One of the best things about being a Member of Parliament, one of the things I enjoy the very most, is going to citizenship ceremonies. Because at those ceremonies we meet people who have chosen Australia as their home, they have chosen to become part of our national family. And we say at each of those citizenship ceremonies our pledge:  “I pledge loyalty to Australia and its people, whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect, and whose laws I will uphold and obey.”

There is no more elegant or eloquent expression of our Australian values.

Our values of democracy, human rights, liberties and the rule of law.

I think Australian schoolkids should learn this pledge because it is such an elegant and eloquent description of what it is to be Australian.

This year, Vietnamese refugee Hieu Van Le became the new Governor of South Australia. He has said when he was a young fellow he remembers experiencing racism, and he really remembers it melting away. Until he Pauline Hanson made that maiden speech in this parliament.

And this is my plea to members here in this parliament.

To remember our particular, our special responsibility as leaders. To say clearly in the Australian community that we value difference, we embrace diversity. What makes us different makes us stronger.

There were 20 nationalities represented at the Eureka Stockade, those people fighting together and standing up for a fair go for other Australians.

I think about that as one of the seminal moments from our nation’s history, but it was the people of many nations coming together to say about their new home: ‘these are the values we live by, this is the way we expect to treat one another, this is what it is to be part of the new Australia.’

Our leadership matters. Our words matter.

It is our responsibility to say again and again in the face of division that we are stronger together.


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