SPEECH - HARMONY DAY - SYDWEST MULTICULTURAL SERVICES - 22 MARCH 2016

I am honoured to be here celebrating Harmony Day with you all.

We gather in this historic place, on the very spot where Gough Whitlam proclaimed, “It’s Time”.  But for so many local residents, this place is even more historic for the fact that their new life began here, in a ceremony which conferred on them one of the world’s biggest prizes:  Australian citizenship.

 

We are in a city where in the space of a week we celebrate festivals as diverse as Holi and Nawruz, and we also boast the largest urban Indigenous population in NSW, if not all of Australia.

 

SydWest is an organisation at the heart of Blacktown and the wider community.

 

Every single day, SydWest demonstrates how to help new migrants settle into Australia, continuing a proud Australian tradition. Equally important, they show and help Australians understand new migrants, their background and their culture.

 

This year’s theme for Harmony Day is ‘our diversity is our strength’.  These are not just words and sometimes it is easy to be dismissive of slogans or themes.

But let me take a moment to provide a contrast. Across much of Europe and the United States, people today are fearful of new migrants and diversity. This is occurring partly because economic opportunities have dried up, inequality is rife and new migrants are perceived as a threat, not an opportunity.

 

Not here in Blacktown, and not in the Australia that Labor wants to realise.  And I say proudly on behalf of Australian Labor to Hala Hendawi, President of the Syrian Community Association of NSW:  You are welcome here.

 

But the trends we see overseas are combining to create an environment of fear, eating away at the bonds that bind communities together. Exclusion is fostered by those who yell the loudest and diversity becomes a dirty, dangerous word.

 

The results are terrifying. Society segregates as walls go up between those who used to be neighbours. New comers are not just unwelcome but dismissed.

 

Some in Australia say we are lucky not to have ended up like this. I reject this. While our history here in Australia is far from perfect, we have worked hard since the end of World War Two to first encourage more migrants and then to break down barriers like the White Australia Policy.

 

Today, governments and communities are proactive to the journey of settlement for new migrants. Support for language occurs to promote engagement at work, in school and in society. Innovative programs like the Community Hubs encourage those on the fringe to step into environments where they can be welcomed.

 

This diversity is our strength. In a world where globalisation grows every day and the distance between countries and across the world shrinks, our diversity is ever more important.

 

Here in Blacktown, 34 per cent of our population were born overseas. Our community is strengthened by these people, including my Filipino, Tamil and Indian friends.

 

In conversations with people in Blacktown and in Greenway, I understand how our diversity is our strength because I see it every day. I’m thankful to represent a part of Sydney and a part of Australia where I can experience this not just by attending a festival but from meeting a small business owner or chatting at a train station.

 

Without this community, and the many others like this across Western Sydney, we would be worse off. The dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit places Sydney and Australia in prime position for the 21st century.

 

While racism and discrimination remains a chronic issue for many people across our community, by highlighting the positive and promoting harmony, we work to improve ourselves each day.

 

I have all the proof I need of Australia’s ability to meet the great challenge to work at multiculturalism every day when I observe my 4 year old daughter with her playmates - children drawn from every corner of the world and any faith you can name, not for a second judging one another on the colour of their skin.  They remind us that intolerance and racism are not inevitable human traits.  Their example is there for us all, to continue to build a harmonious Australia we can all be proud of.

 

Happy Harmony Day, today and every day.

 

ENDS