I respectfully acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we are gathered today, the Bunurong Boon Wurrung and Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples of the Eastern Kulin Nation, and I pay my respect to their Elders, past and present, and to their emerging leaders. I acknowledge their connection to land, waters, and community. May I also extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in attendance at this event today. This land always was and always will be Aboriginal Land. I am so grateful to all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge holders who have generously provided input to the work I have conducted over the years, and I acknowledge the long history and leadership of First Nations Peoples in anti-racism efforts.
I acknowledge Tony Weldon, the Chair of Courage to Care, and Mike Zervos, the CEO, Uncle Kevin Russell, Uncle Boydie, John and Pauline Gandel and Vedran Drakulic from the Gandel Foundation, Henry Ekert, Susan Hearst, all the corporate and community leaders, and all the volunteers and supporters of Courage to Care with us today. I thank you especially for this invitation to address you and celebrate this auspicious occasion with you.
Thank you for the work that you do in creating learning and teaching on the very important and critical area of discrimination and prejudice in our community, particularly in our current times. This is very close to my work and to my heart and devotion.
Thank you for the belief and commitment to the idea that ordinary people have the power to make a positive difference to the lives of others by being Upstanders. It takes pressure off me when people put the pivot on me as the Race Discrimination Commissioner to assume primary responsibility to do something about racism and to work miracle. You have given me the response to empower others by asking them what they themselves are doing about it. Perhaps they should sign up for an Upstander program.
And thank you for your work that inspires people to make a real difference in their community by standing up, taking actions, and creating real change. Thank you for showing ordinary people ways to understand and counter the dangers of racism, prejudice, discrimination, and bullying, which are corrosive and destructive to our individual and collective wellbeing.
I know there are contrary views to this, but I believe that no child is born a racist, and they only learnt and acquired this along life’s journey. We must seek to teach and show them the way to a better life free from racism and prejudice. Where they have adopted prejudicial beliefs and attitudes, we must seek to teach them to be Upstanders.
People born in any generation come into the world free from any knowledge or experience of racism or prejudice, and they have no conception of the dangers of racism and the history of the evil destruction that it has unleashed and wreaked. But how will people know unless we show and teach them? Every generation is a candidate to the influence of hate and racism, but every generation is also a candidate to learn how to live in a better world. The work is never finished.
I have often been asked if racism has risen and if it is worse than last year or before. But to what do we compare it with, when many seem to have forgotten that a little more than 75 years ago, we witnessed the most horrendous and grotesque display of racism in the Holocaust? Perhaps if more people could fathom the gravity and ugliness of racism exhibited in its most horrible demonstration, then we may all have a better understanding and consciousness that racism and prejudice in all and any form is not acceptable and must be countered.
The work of Courage to Care has a profound role in teaching us to be better people and to care about making the world a better place in the beliefs and practices shared in the values of Tikkun Olam.
I am asked what race I belong to. I tell them that I belong to the human race where the equality and dignity of every human person should be respected and honoured irrespective of their race or religion. I am not Jewish, but if I were, I would fully embrace all that is wonderful and endearing about the Jewish people. But that I am an Australian of Chinese heritage is not a reason to respect and embrace the Jewish community any less. We cannot ignore the fact that the fight for racial justice and equality is ongoing and is, sadly, no less urgent and pressing than at current times.
I am greatly encouraged, and even grateful, when there are organisations like Courage to Care that understand racism remains a key issue that we need to address in our community and are committed to combat it by showing us not just the dangers and evilness of racism, but also what it means to be living in a world free from racism.
[The Race Discrimination Commissioner proceeded to share some of his personal experiences with racism and the importance of standing up against racism and discrimination and supporting cultural diversity.]
My term as the Race Discrimination Commissioner will expire at the end of next year, but I am committed to continue the work that I am passionate about in making the world a better place. I am grateful and heartened to know that you will be there to continue the work long after I am gone. To this, I say thank you all. I ask only that you continue to make the world of my children and the children of my children and further generations a safer and better world.