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Deakin University 2010 Brookes Oration
Delivered by The Hon Dr Steve Bracks AC.
19 August 2010
I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered – the Kulin Nation – and pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.
It is an honour to deliver the Brookes Oration – named in memory of war hero and business leader Sir Wilfred Brookes …
.. at a tertiary institution named after Sir Wilfred’s grandfather – our second and, arguably, first great Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin.
This Oration was established in 2006 by the Brookes family and Deakin Business School to encourage thoughtful debate about the contribution of corporate Australia in the global community.
The first four speakers lived up to that ambition.
Last year, Australia’s Auditor-General, Ian McPhee spoke about the vital subject of the business of government.
In 2008, the then-Police Commissioner Christine Nixon investigated the question of how corporate Australia could save lives and reduce crime.
In 2007, Dr Harold Mitchell delivered a thoughtful speech on corporate and social responsibility …
.. suggesting that business leaders should ask themselves whether their children or grandchildren would be proud of their actions.
And, in 2006, Hugh Morgan – a former colleague of Sir Wilfred – asked about what Australia needed to do to survive the 21st century.
All important subjects.
Tonight, I want to use my Oration to talk about a subject that goes to the heart of who we are and where we are headed as a nation.
I want to talk about:
A subject that goes beyond the business of government,
A subject that can help make our streets safer,
A subject that requires corporate and social responsibility,
A subject that we need to master if we are to not just survive the 21st century …
.. but thrive as a nation that is united enough to be diverse, and confident enough to be open to new people and new ideas.
I want to talk about multiculturalism.
I want to talk about the generations of migrants – those citizens who are Australians by choice, rather than birth – who made modern Australian possible.
I want to talk about the need to go beyond the passive notion of multiculturalism towards a more active, cosmopolitan acceptance of diversity.
WHAT MULTICULTURALISM MEANS
‘Multiculturalism’ is not an Australian word.
Originally, it was a term referring to the cultural division that existed between French- and English-speaking Canadians.
Imported to Australia by the Whitlam Government in 1973 following the abolition of the White Australia policy, multiculturalism was remade.
Unlike Canada, in Australia, when we talked about multiculturalism we were talking about cultural diversity, not cultural division.
We saw multiculturalism as a positive.
Not a negative.
That’s one of the great legacies of the Whitlam Government:
Turning our back as a nation on the largely economic fears that led to the White Australia policy …
.. and turning our faces towards the possibilities and opportunities that multiculturalism represents.
In many respects, Whitlam was putting a name to what already existed.
It’s incredible to think, but during World War 2 – when Australia faced the threat of invasion – Prime Minister John Curtin and Treasurer Ben Chifley started drawing up plans for the building of a new Australia.
Curtin and Chifley wanted a big Australia – with an industry base and an infrastructure and a highly skilled workforce.
Our automotive industry and national power grid are just two results of their plans for projects such as General Motors Holden and the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
These were massive undertakings – the Snowy wasn’t completed until 1974, during the second term of Gough Whitlam’s Government – and they were made possible by migrants.
In those post-War years, old Australia relied on the brains and brawn of new Australians to build modern Australia.
It was a transformational time for us, economically and socially.
Between 1947 and 1966, Melbourne’s population grew by 1 million people – with the city almost doubling in size from 1.22 million to 2.23 million people.
And the thing is, those migrants didn’t just come here for a better life, they made that better life possible.
We should remember that lesson now.
Because the next generation of new Australians will face the same give and take scenario.
Yes, the next generation of migrants will come here to take up the opportunities of a better quality of life …
.. but what they will give back in return – through their hard work – is the opportunity of a better life for us all.
The modern Australia we know is in many ways unrecognizable to the old Australia that John Curtin knew … but we face a similar challenge.
If we are to succeed as a people, we need to build a post-modern, 21st century Australia.
We need to find ways to care for our ageing population at home, but compete globally.
We need to find ways to maintain our quality of life, but make the shift to a climate change economy.
We need to wean ourselves off the boom and bust cycles of the commodities market and invest in more diversified, value-adding industries – such as biotech.
And – just like in the post-War period – we need migrants.
We need them in our workforce to drive our economy into the 21st century.
We need them to help us make the transition to a sustainable economy.
It’s not a question of yes or no on migration.
It’s a question of balance.
The fact of the matter is that Australia will not be able to make the leap to a green economy without a sustainable migration policy.
Every Australian Government since 1973 has stayed true to the principle behind multiculturalism.
And that principle is the understanding that diversity is a strength, not a weakness.
The understanding that we have far more to gain than fear.
Multiculturalism is one of the pillars of the Australian national model – together with competition reform, opening up the economy, and introducing compulsory superannuation.
Without it, we would not be as innovative, we would not be as prosperous, we would not be the lucky country.
Bob Hawke – a Prime Minister who opened up our economy to the challenges and opportunities of globalisation – and was and remains a strong advocate for multiculturalism perhaps puts it best.
“I saw Australia becoming an economically stronger and more culturally enriched nation as the impact of these millions of new arrivals permeated every aspect of our society,
“In the things we could produce, the art we appreciated, the sports we played, the foods we ate and what we drank.
“I was committed to this new multicultural Australia and determined to do whatever I could to strengthen Australia’s understanding of its virtues.”
Like Bob Hawke, I am also committed to the virtues of multiculturalism.
Its virtues were drummed home to me every time I travelled overseas as Premier to promote Victoria as an investment opportunity.
I would be in New York … or Hong Kong … or Dubai … or Singapore … or Tokyo … or Beijing … or Shanghai …
And I would be promoting Victoria’s strengths.
I would talk about our infrastructure.
I would talk about our liveability.
I would talk about the willingness of our institutions and industries to collaborate.
But – increasingly – I came to believe that one of Victoria’s best selling points was its people.
Their creativity and innovation.
Their experience and skills.
That’s why I am proud that – in my time leading the Victorian Government – we protected the principles of Australian multiculturalism in three landmark pieces of legislation:
Canada may have invented the term ‘multiculturalism’, but I believe the Victorian people embody it …
.. and that culture of diversity and democracy must be protected.
There is no doubt that multiculturalism would not work without Australians’ strong sense of justice.
Conversely, there is also no doubt Australians would not have such a strong sense of justice without multiculturalism.
Because justice and multiculturalism are intrinsically linked.
Our sense of what it means to be an Australian is informed by the give and take of our migrant history.
And those generations of migrants have stayed and flourished because of our egalitarian society and inclusive democracy.
And our country has prospered as a result.
That’s why I believe there is nothing more democratic than multiculturalism.
And there is nothing more Australian than a migrant.
If you don’t believe me, look at the demographics of the home of Australian multiculturalism – Victoria.
We have 5 million residents.
What do these statistics tell us?
First, that – in the truly globalised era of commerce and trade that has flourished since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 – diversity is a competitive edge.
It’s a competitive edge because, if you are competing globally it helps to speak more than one language and understand more than one culture.
Two, it tells us that our heritage does not belong to any one individual, group, or faith.
We are all equally Australian – whether we are Australian by birth or Australian by choice.
You are not more Australian if your ancestors arrived in the First Fleet or stormed the beaches of Gallipoli.
Citizenship is not a hierarchy.
It is a privilege.
And it is a plurality.
The privilege of equality.
And the acceptance of a plurality of ideas and beliefs and the give-and-take of democracy.
In short, it’s all about diversity and equality.
What do I mean by equality?
I mean that, as citizens, we each hold equal rights – and equal responsibilities.
The right to speak our mind, practice our faith, live where we choose, go to any beach that we choose, wear the clothes that we choose, and speak the language that we choose.
And the responsibility to respect the rights of our fellow citizens – and follow the laws and democratic principles of the land.
There have been times when we have strayed from that path – particularly where Indigenous Australians are concerned.
But, for much of our history, Australians have proudly stood up for themselves and their fellow citizens.
A prime example of that can be found in one of the largest race riots on Victoria’s goldfields – when a mob armed with pick-handles attacked Chinese diggers on the Buckland River in 1857.
A Constable Duffy reported –
“Men were knocked down and robbed, their swags taken from them and cast into the river …
“The rage and violence of the mob was not confined to the [Chinese] – it was visited on Europeans who endeavoured to protect them …”
What is most telling about Duffy’s eyewitness account is that numerous bystanders – citizens who came from different backgrounds and no doubt practiced different faiths – tried to protect their fellow miners from the mob.
They stood up for their fellow miners.
That sense of justice – coupled with an openness to new ideas and experiences, and a healthy suspicion of unfettered authority – is inherently Australian.
The Cronulla riots – on the other hand – were a betrayal of the democratic spirit exemplified by the Anzacs and the Eureka Stockade.
They were not brave.
They were not individual.
They were not patriotic.
They were a cowardly, ignorant mob.
The depth of their ignorance was demonstrated by the fact that so many of them chose to wrap themselves in the Australian flag …
.. and claimed the Southern Cross as their own.
After all, the Australian flag has been defended by migrant and Indigenous Australians …
.. Australians of every race and religion.
And the Southern Cross flag was designed by a migrant, and fought beneath by a Eureka Stockade manned by migrants …
.. only 4 of the 101 Eureka rebels were Australian born.
Not only that, the first man tried for treason for standing up for the Southern Cross was not only a migrant, he was an African American.
Ladies and gentlemen, just as there is nothing more Australian than a migrant, there is nothing more un-Australian than that mob at Cronulla.
Attacking someone because they look different is not patriotism, it is extremism …
.. and – as the spate of recent attacks on Indian students showed – it can escalate with alarming speed – with terrible consequences.
That is why we must not tolerate intolerance.
Individually and collectively, we must not hesitate when we are confronted by extremists …
.. because, if we do hesitate we run the risk of being judged by the actions of a criminal minority.
To be judged by the actions of a few would be a travesty.
Because the Australian people have a generous, independent spirit, and an innate sense of justice.
We do not like being told what to think, say, or do.
We like to think and speak for ourselves.
That’s why Australians are democratic by instinct.
We instinctively believe in social equality.
We instinctively barrack for the battler.
We instinctively demand a fair go.
The ethos of egalitarianism is part of our national DNA.
So, too, is multiculturalism.
After all, multiculturalism is nothing new.
Australia has always been multicultural.
This island has always been a land of many faiths, many languages and many cultures.
We were multicultural before European settlement – when Indigenous Australians spoke at least 250 languages.
We were multicultural when the First Fleet landed – with the first convicts hailing not just from Britain, but from across Europe, the Middle East, America, India and the West Indies.
We were multicultural during the Gold Rush – at the height of which one-in-five men in Victoria were Chinese.
And we were multicultural at the Eureka Stockade – where men of 19 nationalities fought and died for democratic principles beneath the Southern Cross.
THE NEED FOR LEADERSHIP
That is not to say that multiculturalism has not had its detractors.
Change can be uncomfortable.
Diversity – when it’s dwelled upon as a point of difference – can be scary.
But that’s no excuse for backing away from what is in our best interests as a people.
It’s not in our best interests to be isolationists.
The seismic powers of issues such as globalization and climate change do not stop at our borders.
Australia needs to be more engaged with the world.
We have to be more open to new ideas and people.
And we have to guard against the demonizing of entire communities …
.. because that’s the kind of fortress Australia mentality that led to the isolationism and mono-culturalism of the White Australia policy.
What I’m saying is that ethnic wowserism is not new.
Members of just about every minority ethnic or religious group – especially when they are a new migrant group or an old Indigenous group – has, at some stage, had to battle to be seen as individuals.
It seems just about every group – from the Chinese to the Irish to the Italians to the Greeks to the Vietnamese to the African to the Indian to the Islamic to the Jewish to the Catholic to the Kooris – have had to face blanket criticisms.
Claims that they are disloyal.
Or somehow un-Australian.
Of course, such thinking is absurd.
There is no relationship between the ethnicity and criminal conduct, for example.
If that were the case there’d be cultures that were crime free.
The truth – as Cronulla demonstrated – is that individuals in every community break the law.
But it is wrong to judge an entire community by the actions of one criminal – or a small group of extremists.
It is worse than wrong.
Making blanket judgments about ethnic or religious groups is a failure of nerve.
And if we allow it to happen, we will all pay a price both at home and abroad.
If we become insular in our thinking we will miss out on new opportunities for the kind of investments and next generation technologies we need to make the leap from a carbon-intensive economy to a climate change economy.
And if we miss out on those opportunities overseas, the future prosperity and sustainability of our nation will be at risk.
The success or failure of multiculturalism is not just up to Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott.
Leaders can set the national tone.
Leaders can set an example.
Ultimately, though, the day-to-day task of living and working alongside people who may appear – on face value – to be different falls to communities.
That’s why I believe multiculturalism needs to change.
In his State of the Arts lecture earlier this month, Jonathan Mills, made an interesting proposition.
Mills said that he supported the concept of multiculturalism – but that it didn’t go far enough.
What Mills suggested – and quoted the sociologist Ulrich Beck to support his thesis – was that multiculturalism needed to become more active.
Rather than just tolerating – or living side by side – with different ethnic or religious groups, Mills believes we need to become more cosmopolitan.
We need to do more to understand and even appreciate the different ways of living an Australian life …
.. in government, business, sport, the arts, and the community.
In short, we need to stop putting up with each other and start getting on with each other.
That vision of a more cosmopolitan multiculturalism is worthy of the Southern Cross.
It’s a challenge we should all embrace.
We’ve done it before.
Australians rose to the challenge in 1973.
And I believe Australians will continue to rise to the challenge of multiculturalism for two reasons.
Number one: We all come from somewhere.
Number two: We all profit from the fruits of diversity.
Personally, I also have a third reason.
I work on a pro bono basis for the Government of Timor Leste and have seen the alternative to tolerance …
.. and it is terrible.
The men and women of Timor Leste are just like us.
They have the same need for community and friendship.
They, too, have hopes for their children.
But what they don’t have enough of is opportunity.
Under colonial rule from Indonesia, they lost a generation and a quarter of their population.
They have literally had to start again from scratch.
The challenge Timor Leste faces over the next generation is to build the institutions and the culture that will make opportunity accessible and tolerance routine.
The challenge Australia faces is to not just keep the faith in a principle that has given us so much, but to take the next step and embrace a more cosmopolitan multiculturalism.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me leave you with a thought.
Nations are not monuments.
They are not made of stone.
They are works-in-progress made — and remade — each and every generation out of the hard work and hope of men and women.
Multiculturalism is much the same.
As a cornerstone of our nation, it is a work-in-progress.
If we want to keep progressing as a nation, …
If we want a more prosperous and sustainable future, …
If we want to build a post-modern Australia for the 21st century …
.. we must never stop working to uphold the principles of democracy and diversity that have stood this nation in such good stead.
Individually and collectively, we must never forget where we came from.
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