SPEECH TO THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA
THURSDAY, 25 SEPTEMBER 2014
In recent days, we have all been rightly shocked and appalled by the threat of terrorism on our shores perpetrated by those who adhere to the twisted and repugnant ideology of extremists.
The fear and anger that it has provoked is understandable, but in some cases, it has led us to act and speak in a manner which is contrary to our ethics and ideals.
Whilst we must be unanimous in unequivocally condemning these crimes and denouncing the invocation of religion to justify them, we must also be vigilant not to promote hostility towards any religion based on the violent actions of extremists and recognise that all of our religious communities continue to be actively, responsibly and positively integrated into mainstream Australian society.
Our nation takes great pride in its multicultural composition which is at the heart of our national identity and is intrinsic to our history and character.
Indeed, Australia’s vigour and cohesion rests upon the right for all of us to foster our cultural identity and to receive equal treatment, regardless of race, culture or religion.
Of course, we have our differences. How could it be otherwise, given the rich diversity of our nation?
But these differences need to be celebrated and recognised as a source of social wealth and dynamism and as a key driver of our national prosperity.
The reality of everyday life in multicultural Australia is that we all have family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours who come from widely diverse origins.
And each us of want to be accepted as Australians and have a firm commitment to the institutional framework of our political and legal system.
We, as a society, need to build on these shared values rather than perpetuate superficial differences which benefits no one and tarnishes everyone.
We cannot succumb to the divisiveness of suspicion and mistrust.
If barriers exist within ourselves then those who wish to do us harm succeed.
So long as our national identity is defined by our differences, we will empower those who promote division rather than the cooperation that lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.
This is an issue that I believe we cannot afford to simply ignore.
To do so would give credence to a profoundly distorted view of our tenets as a nation.
We must disown incendiary language and actions which only serve to denigrate both the greatness and the goodness of our nation.
And we must also promote the unity and harmony that we all cherish.
If we are going to uphold our proud tradition as a multicultural nation, our values must be guarded and vitalised anew by each generation of Australians.
Next month I will be partaking in the ‘Walk Together’ event being held right across Australia.
The event invites all Australians to come together in a celebration of our diversity.
Its theme of “common people with common dreams” highlights that our national harmony and aspirations are stronger than anything that drives us apart.
Here we have an example, repeated throughout Australia, in which persons of differing ethnic, cultural and linguistic heritages are able to relate to each other on equal terms; in which people are judged by what they say and do and not by what they look like and in which an Australian is not someone who conforms to a particular stereotype but whose citizenship is based upon their commitment to the social and moral values which underpin our society.
Our multiculturalism is about inclusion, not division. It is about interaction not isolation. It is about a melting pot of cultures embracing common values which enrich all Australians.
We, as a nation, need to turn to each other, not against each other and reaffirm our commitment to an Australia bound together by tolerance and consensus, rather than torn and divided by bigotry and confrontation.