Doctor of Social Science Honoris
Speech by Dr Sev Ozdowski OAM at
the RMIT University Honorary Awards Conferring Ceremony. Melbourne, 7 May 2004
Thank you, Chancellor.
Well, what a joyous and humbling occasion!
I accept with gratitude
the honorary doctorate bestowed upon me by the RMIT University - a great University
established in 1881 to serve Melbourne's "working men".
And I accept it as an endorsement
of my past work to advance a fair go and human rights in the context of a multicultural
Australia and also as a thank you to all those who have supported me in my work
and made this achievement possible.
My special thanks go, of
course, to my wife Hanna and my children for their support. Also my thanks go
to my mentors and work colleagues for their intellectual stimulation and encouragement.
And, to Australia which has provided me with such fantastic opportunities.
I arrived in Australia in 1975 with
my wife Hanna and son Adam as refugees from then Communist Poland. We arrived
here without passports and with no material possessions.
We chose to migrate to Australia
because it is a democratic country with a solid economy. We chose Australia
over other countries because it is an open society which one can join, and because
it has a strong culture of a fair go. We also chose Australia because of its
distance from Europe and because it has a fantastic weather.
Australia has been good to us. It
has given me and my family a feeling of belonging. It has opened up opportunities
beyond our wildest dreams which we have taken and used to advance our lives
and then to contribute back in return. All this would not be possible without
Australia's fair go culture and policy of multiculturalism.
I want Australia to stay fair and
open to all people born here or arriving as migrants or refugees. And, I want
Australia to provide opportunity for everyone. As such, my public life has been
committed to these goals.
But everything has a price . . .
Only if we continue to judge individuals
on their ability and hard work and not by the colour of their skin, accent,
gender or religion. And only if governments are committed to the removal of
barriers of prejudice and opportunity, and encourage good community relations
based on respect for difference. Only then can Australia continue its remarkable
economic and social progress.
We, therefore, need to work together
to further develop our culture of fair go, inclusion and human rights. And as
these things cannot be taken for granted I have on occasions publicly argued
for the adoption of an Australian Bill of Rights.
Children in detention
As you probably know, I have just
completed my inquiry into the human rights of children in immigration detention.
I cannot give you details now, as my report has not yet been tabled in the Federal
Parliament, but that time is not too far away.
I can however say that Australia,
by signing and ratifying the international Convention on the Rights of the Child,
agreed in international law that "detention of a child shall be used as a
measure of last resort" and "for the shortest appropriate period of time".
But when we look at our detention
practices - we discover that the longest period a child spent in detention in
Australia was almost 5 and half years, after which a permanent visa was issued;
and then the child was told: "go now, catch up with schooling and
be a useful member of the Australian community!"
I can also confirm that long term
detention creates mental trauma and illness and that some 90% of boat arrivals
are sooner or later released into the Australian community.
So I ask: What has happened to our
ability to deal humanly and rationally with difficult social issues? Where are
our compassion and our commitment to the principle of a 'fair go'?
I ask of you today, that you ponder
deeply the following questions: What kind of Australia do we aspire to live
in? and What kind of Australia do we wish to leave to our children?
An Australia ravaged by social division
and prejudice. Or an Australia which is socially just and inclusive for all
I know what my choice is.
Again, thank you for the honour.
And thank you for your support.
updated 19 May 2004.