26 February 2016

I would like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

It is a real pleasure to be here to celebrate the official launch of Poliversity.

Let me firstly congratulate all of those who have worked tirelessly to make this wonderful vision a reality, especially co-founders Wesa Chau and Jieh-Yung Lo.

The energy and purpose of everyone gathered here this evening reflects both the duties and privileges of our citizenship and reminds us that the best way to progress our representative democracy is to become actively involved within it.

Whilst we gather tonight in celebration, it would be counterproductive to use this occasion to simply recount the achievements of the past and to gloss over the complexities of the present.

Indeed, too often politicians speak as if events and organisations such as this are simply necessary rituals in which to extend platitudes and then tick off a list.

I firmly reject this way of thinking which only serves to heighten cynical and complacent attitudes towards multicultural policy-making.

The very creation of Poliversity must be seen as a journey and not merely a destination. It must stand as something that challenges us to think more seriously about how we can shape a better future for all Australians.

I take great pride in the fact that we, as a nation, celebrate our right to be self-critical. That we can each examine our national shortcomings and strive to collectively shape Australia to reflect our highest ideals.

Tonight, therefore, is an opportunity for an open and honest assessment of our national progress, and a chance to strongly reaffirm our values and commitment to multiculturalism, fairness and equality.

These are testing times. Of that there can no question. We cannot and should not turn away from confronting the rising tide of prejudice that we are currently witnessing.

Anti-migrant rhetoric has been espoused by world leaders; inflammatory and overtly xenophobic comments and actions have been given credence and augmented by media outlets; and cultural tensions have been exploited and channelled into highly damaging demagoguery in the United States and parts of Europe.

Here in Australia, we must accept that whilst the repugnant and wasteful days of overt prejudice and legalised discrimination are behind us, citizenship has not always meant equal treatment and opportunity.

I am painfully aware that many of you have experienced racial discrimination in this country - being unfairly subjected to slights, sneers and silent judgments that cripple a sense of belonging and which fundamentally damage the cohesion of our society.

Given this, it would be irrational, and indeed irresponsible, to continue with the old and outdated approach to multicultural affairs.

We need to bring a new mindset to this arena and actively challenge the stubborn and detrimental notion that prejudice and intolerance are somehow immutable and that our accomplishments up to this point are enough.

Genuine progress calls for our government to truly work with and address the legitimate concerns and aspirations of Australia's multicultural communities.

It calls for dedication and cooperation to ensure every Australian, irrespective of race, gender or creed, is empowered to walk through the doors of opportunity equally.

In this election year, we stand at a crossroads with the chance to do away with three years of ineffectual slogans and lip-service and move decisively towards the kind of future each of us here tonight want.

No matter what token gestures and empty rhetoric the Liberals embrace on multiculturalism, the only true test of a government's performance is its leadership, not merely its salesmanship, and their position and viewpoint is quite clear.

Theirs is a party which endorses members who aim to demonise and engage in the poisonous language of xenophobia and recrimination.

Members who speak at ‘Reclaim Australia’ rallies.

Members who proclaim that “we need to leave multiculturalism behind”.

Members who argue that safeguards against hate speech are “toxic and destructive” laws which have “no place” in our society.

Theirs is a government which has had four different ministerial arrangements since assuming office and has not deemed it necessary to appoint a Minister for Multiculturalism.

A government which continues to have no clear multicultural policy whilst simultaneously cutting $33 million from CALD programs and organisations; slashing funding to the SBS; trying to abolish family visas and deny migrants the chance to be reunited with their loved ones; launching a nonsensical attack on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in an effort to explicitly permit racial vilification and intimidation; and wants to cut the pension of migrants who need to spend time overseas visiting loved ones.

No Government should ever make it harder for the people who contribute so much to the growth of our nation to feel safe and welcome in the Australian community.

The Liberals have had their chance. They have been divisive instead of unifying. Chosen conflict over cooperation.

They have not led.

Labor will.

We must lead on diversity of representation in parliaments throughout the country and it is incumbent on all Labor Members of Parliament to drive this change.

I don’t assume that this will happen overnight – but it must happen.

Labor is clear about our national identity. An identity marked by opportunity, inclusion and collaboration and we must see that reflected in our institutions.

We do not believe "equality of opportunity" is merely a symbolic phrase but rather we recognise that it is a fundamental guiding principle of our national policy.

We value our heritage, knowing that out of it has come the strength and vitality that has made us a confident, dynamic and prosperous society.

At this defining moment for our nation, we should be proud that ours is a wonderfully diverse Party made up of Australians from virtually all nationalities and ethnicities - united by a common vision for our future.

I am honoured to be a member of the same Caucus as Penny Wong, the first Asian-born member of an Australian cabinet, Ed Husic, the first Muslim-Australian to be elected to Federal Parliament, and Poliversity co-patron Maria Vamvakinou, the first Greek-born woman to be elected to Federal Parliament.

It highlights that ours will forever be the Party where persons of differing ethnic, cultural and linguistic backgrounds are able to relate to each other on equal terms; people are judged by what they say and do and not by what they look like; and 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.

And the contribution of our diverse communities is not just confined to social and cultural expressions of vibrancy, but of economic input and increasing prosperity.

Think about these numbers. By 2050 migration will have added:

·         15.7 per cent to our workforce participation rate;

·         21.9 per cent to after tax real wages for low skilled workers; and

·         5.9 per cent in GDP per capita growth

Overall, by 2050, each individual migrant will on average be contributing approximately 10 per cent more to Australia’s economy than existing residents.

There is no evidence – anywhere in the world – that migrants take jobs. Here in Australia, the effects on wages are positive. A skilled, humanitarian and family migration program are crucial to our prosperity as a nation and Labor will seek to harness this potential and ensure everyone can contribute to the economic, social and cultural success of our nation.

On this foundation we have defined our values and policies. As our nation’s Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism and a representative of one of the most diverse electorates in Australia, I have long been a proponent of ensuring all our policies are guided by this fundamental maxim.

To that end, a Shorten Labor Government will place multiculturalism firmly at the centre of both social and economic policy making in this country, and actively work to promote our cultural diversity as a fundamental pillar of our nation’s prosperity.

We firmly believe that protecting the right to meaningful participation in our political process must mean more than simply removing barriers to the doors of opportunity.

In doing so, our policies will safeguard the principle of inclusiveness that is embedded within our Party's history.

Indeed nearly 60 years ago today, the Chifley Labor Government passed the ‘Nationality and Citizenship Act’ introducing, for the first time, the status of Australian citizenship as belonging to Australia, rather than to Britain.

Few pieces of legislation have defined our national identity as clearly or as poignantly as this Act.

It transformed what it meant to be Australian and advanced the cause of equality and opportunity for every subsequent generation.

I would like to leave you tonight with the words of our first Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, in introducing the Bill into Parliament.

His words and vision remain as powerful and applicable today as it was back then.

“This bill”, Calwell said, “will symbolise not only our own pride in Australia, but also our willingness to offer a share in our future to the new Australians. These people are sure of a warm welcome to our shores… They will be able to say, just as proudly as any of us, "I am an Australian".

“My aim, and that of the Government, is to make the word, ‘Australian’ mean all that it truly stands for to every member of our community… to foster and encourage our young but vigorous traditions of mateship, cooperation, and a fair deal for everybody”.

He went on to note that “this vast and virile country, which we are privileged to hold, and for the development of which we are responsible can be made as great and noble a land as we, with our collective brains, muscles, and devotion…wish it to be.

“We owe that much to…those who will come after us to develop the splendid heritage that is ours. We must hand it on to them untarnished.

“This bill is more than a cold, legalistic formula. It is a warm, pulsating document that enshrines the love of country of every genuine Australian”.

It is with this great Labor tradition that I speak to you and it is for us now to continue and expand upon it.

Just as the Chifley Government paved the way for all of us here tonight, in much the same way, this launch is not just a triumph for our present day ambitions - it is ultimately a triumph for the future of our nation.

The work that you do will have a profound influence on our homes, our communities and, ultimately, on our nation. It will have a ripple effect on our daily lives, the lives of our children, and the kind of Australia they will inherit tomorrow.

Poliversity will act as an enormous force of opportunity and equality and I am very proud to have you working in partnership with Labor to forge an even greater society and lift up the ideals which bind us all together as Australians.

Thank you and I now declare Poliversity officially launched!