Thursday, 01 November 2018

Address to the International Metropolis Conference, Sydney

Subject: Multicultural Affairs


Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests,

It is a pleasure to be here this afternoon as part of the 2018 International Metropolis Conference and to begin the panel discussion on “Australia: a multicultural paradise – myths and realities”.

Before I begin I would like to thank Settlement Services International, the Australian Multicultural Foundation, Multicultural NSW, and extend my gratitude to the Conference Chairs, Violet Roumeliotis, Dr Hass Dellal and Ross Hawkey for organising this week.

I would also like to acknowledge my State and Federal colleagues, and the many community leaders who are here today for this conference.

Now our nation’s history is one of immigration, and we should be proud of it.

Every town, every suburb, every sporting club, every church in our nation has immigration success stories.  People who have worked hard, played by the rules, and dedicated themselves to providing a better life for their children. 

We should celebrate these millions of immigration success stories.

We are the greatest nation in the world, and our multicultural heritage has played an important part in our success.  Since the Second World War, more than seven million people have migrated to Australia, contributed to society and engaged with the community.

The richness and diversity of our multicultural Australia is, simply put, just who we are. It is not a label – or a government programme – more fundamentally, it is a factual reflection of who we are as a nation. It is a part of our DNA and a part of the fabric that binds us together, united under common values, respect for the rule of law, freedom of thought and speech, and equality of opportunity.

Although multiculturalism has been an overwhelming success, it would be unrealistic of me to stand here and tell you that diversity and multiculturalism in Australia and in our communities is perfect – it is not.  It is important that we are always working together, and talking about issues that arise in different communities. 

In the two months since I have taken on this role, I have met and engaged with key leaders from many communities, including those representing Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Greek, Korean, Muslim, Jewish, Venezuelan, South Sudanese and Ukrainian Australians. They have been good discussions and I look forward to continuing them.

We as the Australian Government have clear responsibilities in building an even stronger and more socially cohesive society.  As a nation and as a community we will not stand for anything less.

The Australian Government condemns all forms of racism.  Our immigration policy is non-discriminatory and the Government will always uphold that fundamental principle.  Today, our nation is comprised of people with over 300 different ancestries, who speak more than 300 different languages, and practice over 100 religions.1 We value people based on the contribution they make – irrespective of race, religion, or ethnicity.

Hard Work

The vast majority of migrants that have come to Australia, come to make a contribution, not take a contribution.  They have worked hard, played by the rules, and together, have built a stronger nation. 

As the Prime Minister said, “in Australia, if you have a go, you will get a go” – and the vast majority do.

In fact, in 2016, the ABS found that 1 in 3 owner/managers of small and family businesses were born overseas.  Think about that: 1 in every 3 small and family businesses in Australia was started by a migrant.

In addition, migrant business owners have been estimated to employ more than 1.4 million people across Australia.  These are powerful statistics that make intuitive sense: just about every shopping strip and industrial park in Australia contains migrant success stories.

These are the success stories that we need to be celebrating.  These are the success stories that I believe if effectively told will lead to greater social cohesion and harmony.

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We are rightfully proud of our multiculturalism, and the harmonious way in which people from many cultures have found a home here without conflict—something that is, unfortunately, not found in many other places around the world.

Today, almost half of all Australians were born overseas, or have at least one parent who was. It is hard to image a modern Australia without the contributions other cultures have brought to our country.

The Scanlon Foundation’s national social cohesion surveys show strong support for Australia’s approach to multiculturalism.

From 2007 to 2017, agreement that ‘multiculturalism has been good for Australia’ has been consistent.2 Between 83 to 86 per cent of respondents responded positively to this statement, with support highest among those aged 18-24.

For the majority of Australians, multiculturalism involves a two-way process of change, requiring both the Australian born population and migrants to adapt.

This is supported by findings from the 2016 and 2017 Scanlon surveys.

They found that close to two out of three respondents agreed with two propositions; first, that Australians should learn about the customs and heritage of different cultural groups; and second, that people who come to Australia should behave in accordance with Australian values.3,4

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[Social Cohesion]

So, the responsibility for our continued harmony is placed on the shoulders of both the new arrivals and the existing population.

In order to maintain the current level of broad social cohesion, new arrivals must be actively encouraged to take positive steps towards integration into our society. 

Our harmonious society is testament to our successes in regards to this ambition, and is supported by hard data.

The 2017 Mapping Social Cohesion Report reflected ten years of the annual national Scanlon Foundation surveys. Overall, the social cohesion indicators have consistently obtained a high level of positive responses.

The questions about sense of belonging, identification with Australia and life satisfaction obtained positive responses from more than 85 per cent of respondents.

But our multicultural society is not perfect.  The scourge of racism still affects our national life.  And social cohesion, while strong overall, is certainly not perfect.

We must doggedly pursue social cohesion, and the harmony that it fosters.

A cornerstone of social cohesion is integration, and the Government is committed to ensuring migrants are not only able to successfully integrate into the Australian community but that as a Government, we are providing the necessary framework and support to facilitate this. 

In particular, for migrants and aspiring citizens learning English is important.  It’s common sense to note that learning English gives people more opportunities in Australian life.  With English, your employment prospects are much brighter, you can get so much more involved in your community, and you can build many more relationships. 

Through citizenship, Australians share a commitment to values including respect, equality, freedom, and the criticality of democracy and the rule of law.

All Australians—regardless of their background—need to make a positive contribution to the economic and social life of the nation.

To support migrant integration, and help support our multicultural principles, the Government has provided $5 million in the 2018-19 Budget for Fostering Integration Grants.

These grants will help local community organisations provide the assistance and support to migrants with integrating into life in Australia.

The program aims to help migrants enter the workforce and participate more actively in the wider community, while simultaneously supporting communities that are working to build social cohesion.

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Ladies and gentlemen, thanks in no small part to our migration programme, Australia is the greatest nation in the world.

But the cohesion of our society has not come about through good fortune alone —nor should it be taken for granted, which is one reason why your discussions this week are so important.

The driver of Australia’s multicultural success story—our migration programme, along with the enduring benefits it has bestowed on our economy and society—should be celebrated.

Thank you.

1 2016 ABS Census.
2 Input from Immigration, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Policy Division, 23/10/18.
3 Actual propositions—‘We should do more to learn about the customs and heritage of different ethnic and cultural groups in this country’ and ‘People who come to Australia should change their behaviour to be more like Australians’ (reverse scored)
4 Markus, A., 2017, Mapping Social Cohesion: The Scanlon Foundation surveys 2017, Scanlon Foundation, P. 90.