I am delighted to join you in celebrating and honouring 30 years of the NEMBC and, more broadly, the 40th anniversary of ethnic community broadcasting in Australia.
Today we celebrate not simply the journey that ethnic community broadcasting has travelled, but also the progress that we, as a nation, have made in that time.
We need to recognise the myriad of cultures and ethnicities gathered here today to see the wonderful evidence of this progress and the true makeup of modern Australia.
And as Australia’s multiculturalism has evolved, so too has community broadcasting grown to include diversity in all of its forms - producing over 2,000 hours of multilingual language programs in over 100 languages every single week.
This is a truly remarkable and uplifting statistic which goes way beyond any misconceptions of mere a token role in our society.
These streams have served as a platform to aid recently arrived migrants, fight stereotyping and discrimination, enhance civic and political empowerment, and provide much needed services to the community all in an effort to encourage groups to be open and to interact, so that all Australians may learn and benefit from one another.
No other medium has the reach of ethnic community broadcasting into the diverse communities of Australia. No other medium is more effective in showcasing and celebrating our differences.
And yet, as we mark this anniversary, the question is: where do we direct our efforts in order to continue moving forward in the next 30 years?
Whilst we can rightly celebrate all the extraordinary progress we have made, we must remind ourselves of the work still ahead of us when it comes to promoting the values of equality, harmony and mutual understanding that bind us together as a nation.
It is important to remember that the true measure of success has never simply been the unity of our ethnic broadcasters under one national organisation.
Indeed, from the ‘First National Conference on Ethnic Broadcasting’ in 1983, those who came together rightly affirmed that their goal was not, and never has been, for the doors of opportunity to be merely opened a bit wider.
As one of the speakers at the first conference, Mr Pino Bosi, remarked: “[ethnic broadcasting] must not be allowed to be anything but on par with the best available in comparable situations, if we really believe that ethnicity has a real role to play in Australia”.
What I think Mr Bosi was highlighting is that ethnic broadcasting must not be seen as a distant and symbolic object, but is rather a living and fundamental expression of our modern national identity.
And I agree.
In some ways, though, the advent of ethnic community broadcasting and the acceptance of the term ‘multiculturalism’ in our national lexicon - the very significance of these milestones - have been seen by some as an opportunity to justify their neglect of our growing cultural diversity.
On the one hand we have those who view these milestones as ‘job done’, and that by simply removing barriers to the doors of opportunity there is no real need for governments to devise policies to ensure that minority groups are empowered to walk through those doors equally.
There are then those who view the notion of a multicultural community as fabricated – hence, organisations and forums such as this one are categorised as simply an obligatory form of political correctness which has no real bearing on their lives.
Consequently, the misguided perceptions which such people may harbour, consciously or not, about all those who do not look like them, have been neither diminished nor become outdated over time by more positive images reflecting today’s multicultural reality.
The sad reality is that these perceptions are having a very real and isolating impact on the lives of everyday Australians.
A 2013 Centre for Multicultural Youth report found: “that while migrant young people are generally eager to establish friendships across groups they also experience many challenges and barriers to participating in some networks. Inter-cultural tensions and experiences of racism significantly affected young people’s feelings of belonging and willingness to participate”.
This is the reality of the present. It is an issue that we can ill-afford to ignore.
The fact is that this conference comes at a moment of social tension and anxiety, where divisive comments and actions have surfaced, requiring us to speak openly and candidly if we are to address this issue.
For real and lasting change to occur, we must foster an environment that enables frequent and meaningful interactions between all Australians - thereby allowing every Australian to honestly confront and question any superficial perceptions they may have based on one’s culture or ethnicity.
But how do we bring about the change?
It is worth noting that the 2013 study also found that every single migrant group which participated highlighted their desire, “to present to a wider audience the everyday realities of young people in urban multicultural Australia”.
There is no denying, therefore, that the media, both community and mainstream, will need to play a fundamental role in facilitating this.
The media plays a large part in providing everyday Australia with definitions about who we are as a society, as well as reinforcing what our national values and norms are.
At times, we have seen it become powerful tool in promoting and affirming the unity of our nation and the benefits of our cultural diversity.
But we cannot deny that at other times there has also been an inclination to quickly devalue and marginalise entire minority groups over some perceived slight or the actions of a few.
Progress will only come if we promote the concrete and overwhelming benefits that immigration brings, highlighting the harmony that manifests itself in countless ways across our nation every single day, as family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours who come from widely diverse origins interact as equals.
By doing this, we can ensure that the next generation moves beyond the stereotypes and the assumptions which only serve to widen misunderstanding and mistrust within our communities.
We know that this is the reality the vast majority of Australians want for our society.
What we need is a sustained and concerted effort to align our reality with our ideals.
Labor under Bill Shorten is up for this effort.
The policies that we will take to the next election place multiculturalism front and centre of not only our social advancement, but also emphasise economic inclusion. Now as a member of his Shadow Cabinet, my responsibility for the Citizenship and Multiculturalism portfolio has been elevated to a whole-of-government focus by Labor.
So whilst the challenges before your sector and for multiculturalism in general can appear overwhelming, we are up for it. And having enjoyed such a productive dialogue with the ethnic community broadcasting sector over the past 2 years, including last year’s conference, I can confidently say that I know you are all up for it too.
May this conference serve to foster great social cohesion and reaffirm the story of optimism, achievement and determination which has defined the NEMBC for the past 30 years.