TANYA PLIBERSEK MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
MEMBER FOR SYDNEY
SPEECH TO THE AUSTRALIA DAY CITIZENSHIP CEREMONY
SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE
SUNDAY, 26 JANUARY 2020
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I would first like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation, and pay respect to their elders - past, present, and emerging.
When Paul Keating was Prime Minister, speaking on this day 26 years ago, he spoke of the Australian summer as a chance for us all to get back in touch with the country.
‘Mercifully free from work and politics’, Keating suggested, ‘we have time to reflect’.
Christmas, family holidays, annual leave: the Australian summer allows us to see the nation with fresh eyes, outside the routine of daily life.
It allows us to see more of each other – to see more of the land itself.
Unfortunately, this has not been a normal summer. There’s been little chance for relaxation. The situation has been too dangerous. Too many people have lost too much.
But today, on our national day, we might still allow ourselves a short time to reflect.
Over the past few months, we’ve experienced the continent at its most hostile. We’ve seen communities at their most vulnerable. But we’ve also seen the country at its most generous.
In its scale and destruction, in its damage to life and community, the bushfire crisis has drawn Australians together. It’s been inspiring to watch.
Without pause or hesitation, people have accepted their duty to each other as citizens, as neighbours, as fellow human beings.
And it has come in gestures large and small.
Of course, we are grateful for those wealthy enough to donate big dollars to the cause – to the businesses and foundations giving millions.
This will all make a huge difference.
But we are equally thankful for those who have managed to help with their own modest resources.
These are the Australians who will never receive headlines for their service. Australians who have given what they can.
The examples are endless. From people lending out spare bedrooms to families fleeing the fires; to schools opening their halls to make room for temporary wildlife hospitals; to every single Australian who donated money from their tight household budget.
This has been patriotism at its practical best; patriotism as the thread connecting us all as Australians.
We’ve all felt this impulse over the last few months. The desire to help our countrymen and women – to lend a hand to those who need it – has proven bigger than any difference in our community. It has come from every corner of this country.
It didn’t matter if you came from the Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club, organising a donation drive on the floor of your clubhouse.
It didn’t matter if you came from the Australian Islamic Centre, hauling truckloads of supplies down to the fire front.
It didn’t matter if you came from Melbourne’s Sikh community, cooking hot meals for those without a home or kitchen to return to.
Or if you were one of the thousands of professional or volunteer fire -fighters or other emergency services personnel.
All that mattered was that fellow Australians were in trouble – and that there was something we could do to lighten their load.
Moments like this make me reflect on the nature of patriotism and citizenship. On what it means to truly love your country.
I’ve always loved the citizenship pledge new Australians recite on days like this.
From this time forward, I pledge my 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.
Every Australian school student should learn this, and think carefully about what it means. It’s an elegant expression of what it takes to be a good citizen – of the rights we hold and the responsibilities we owe.
Contrary of what some people seem to think, patriotism is not about exclusion. It’s not about policing the boundary of who does or doesn’t count as Australian.
Patriotism, like mateship, is about solidarity. It’s about what we owe each other as citizens.
Patriotism is the knowledge that we’re not alone in this life; that our neighbours are there to share our struggles; that we have 25 million people in our corner when we need it.
To love your country is not to assume it’s better than others. Patriots don’t need to feel superior to feel proud.
As the bushfires have proven, solidarity crosses national borders. The world has shown us incredible love and kindness in our moment of need.
Of all this international support, what strikes me most is the generosity of Pacific neighbours.
Vanuatu, a developing country with per capita incomes nearly one twentieth the size of Australia's, offered to help us fund the recovery.
Papua New Guinea offered to send 1,000 firefighters and soldiers to help us on the fire front.
We should never forget these acts of regional community.
To love your country is not to assume that it’s perfect. Patriotism is not above self-reflection and self-improvement.
You can be proud of your citizenship and dedicated to progress. You can cherish this nation and want to make it better.
You can be a progressive and love your country: I certainly do.
And this summer has reminded us that there are things we need to do better as a nation.
Most urgently, we need to do better on climate change.
As scientists keep telling us, to keep global warming below two degrees, to stop our summers getting hotter and dryer and more dangerous, we need to reduce our emissions; we need to actually engage with international negotiations; and we need to resource our emergency services properly.
Because patriotism is not a single act. It’s not something we do in summer and forget by winter.
Patriotism is an ongoing commitment to your country – and an ongoing commitment to the people with whom you share it.
When the ash settles, when the news reporters finally move on, bushfire communities will be rebuilding their towns for years. We need to be there with them as they do.
As citizens, as patriots, as Australians, we should all dedicate ourselves to strengthening the ties that bind us together in 2020.
We shouldn’t let ourselves forget the solidarity we’ve all felt this summer – nor the hurt that brought us here.
Australia is strongest when we all embrace the high standards we set for citizenship: as inclusive, egalitarian, and open to all who share our values.
To all our new Australians, I’m so thrilled that you chose our country as your new home.
My parents once stood in your shoes, in the years after World War II. They came from Slovenia in search of new opportunities and a new life.
As they learned, becoming a citizen of a new country is like having another child. It doesn’t divide your love, or lessen your love – it only expands it in new directions.
I trust that Australia will reward your decision – and that the country will embrace you just as much as you have embraced it.