Speech given at the annual Walk Together event organised by Welcome to Australia in Sydney
Friends, the clouds are gathering, but nothing can rain on this parade.
Walk Together is always a highlight of my year because it’s a carnival and a festival of goodwill. To all of you, thank you for coming out today and saying “Welcome”.
It has been said already, but this is a country that has two foundations. We have a foundation in the ancient civilisation of Indigenous people, the longest, oldest continuing living culture in the world. And we have a modern foundation as a nation of immigration. Because if you’re not an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person then you are either a migrant or a descendant of a migrant.
We should be proud of our migrant heritage and our achievement of a multicultural society. One of the most successful multicultural societies in the world. When it is challenged, when there are those who appeal to fear or division or intolerance we have a responsibility to speak up. And today with your presence here you are speaking up. Speaking up for a better society, for one that will include those who come here as refugees, they may be fleeing persecution, and we’re standing up for a society that judges not by colour or by background but by character.
The smallest gesture can make a big difference. I remember my mother – we came here as migrants from France, my parents were refugees from Laos to France – but when my mother arrived here with her broken English, albeit with fluent French, she found one of the most comforting things that happened in her workplace, she worked as a nurse, was to have a colleague standing next to her on the phone listening to a conversation and translating things or giving her an extra second to make her response.
Now all of us can make a gesture of goodwill. Whether it’s an understanding nod, whether it’s a hand of friendship or whether it is speaking up in favour of others who are suffering or experiencing hardship.
There is a lot to despair about, we still have a long way to go to ensure that refugees are treated humanely, there is still systemic racism experienced by aboriginal people, we have Muslim Australians who are targeted by intolerance and prejudice.
So when we are speaking out there, when we are thinking about our contribution and our responsibility, think not only about celebrating our multiculturalism but also about defending it. And that may involve a more challenging task than saying that diversity is great or that we’re enriched by our multiculturalism. That may involve standing up to racism or religious bigotry.
But in all of this let’s think about the kind of future society that we want. The vision of that future should be a simple one; we should have a country that’s defined not by fear, we should have a country that isn’t about intolerance, rather we should have understanding in place of ignorance and hope in place of fear.
Once again thank you for coming out. I think we can all celebrate today but let’s all ensure that we continue to work together to ensure that we become the best country that we can be.