Bill's Speeches

BRIMBANK AUSTRALIA DAY CITIZENSHIP CEREMONY - MELBOURNE - THURSDAY, 26 JANUARY 2017

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Good morning everybody and congratulations. My name is Bill Shorten and I'm the Leader of the Opposition. 

I acknowledge all the distinguished guests: the Councillors, State Members of Parliament, Christine Nixon, the Australia Day Ambassador, and of course the Brimbank Citizens of the Year and their well-deserved awards and categories.

But I want to start my talk by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land. I pay my respects to their elders both past and present.

There's a bit of a controversy: should Australia Day be today? Whatever one's view about the date of Australia Day, I think we can all agree that we should remember our first Australians for whom this day actually carries some sadness. 

The people whose ancestors saw the ghost-white strangers perform their strange rituals and raise their curious flag not knowing, on that Australia Day in 1788, what that moment  would foretell to the first Australians: disease, dispossession and all too often death. 

Too many long years of injuries and indignities, great and small. 

So today, on Australia Day we honour them – and every day – the guardians of this ancient continent, the keepers of the world’s oldest living culture, our first Australians. 

Friends, today - both Australians by birth and Australians by choice. 

In this proud moment, you stand before your friends and loved ones as the newest citizens of our nation. You are now the newest members of our Australian family.

It is a privilege to say to you today:  welcome home.

The words of the oath that you just read out to the Mayor have changed over time, but their meaning does not.

Today you have pledged to uphold our democratic beliefs, to respect our rights and our liberties and to obey our laws.

You have pledged to fulfil the responsibilities of Australian citizenship – recognising that we are equal under the law – and we share an equal duty to abide by the law.

You pledged to honour that essential tradition, the unique Australian value – the home of the fair go all round.

Australia is not a new home for old hatreds – but a place for second chances and fresh starts.

Australians take great pride in the great idea that our country is one where your destiny is not predetermined by where you live. 

That everyone, wherever they live, has an equal chance to be their best – and to be themselves. 

We are a nation where success is earned – not inherited. 

Where no-one is limited by their faith, by their race or by the circumstances of their birth. 

And where no part of each of characters, defines all of who you are.

Not your skin colour.

Not the god you pray to.

Not the person you love.

We are equal in this country. We are equal partners in a shared endeavour which is Australia.

And friends - what is exciting about being an Australian citizen, by choice or by birth, is the work of building our nation belongs to all of us.

And as long as there are children living in homes fractured by violence, our work is not done.

As long as women are not treated equally to men, our work is not done.

As long as there is an older Australian, battling to make ends meet – our work is not done.

As long as there are Australians, awake at night in fear of crime, or in the grip of loneliness – our work is not done.

As long as there are kids who can't get a quality education, as long as there is someone who can't find a job who wants a job - our work is not done.

There is more for us to do.

That is why, the oath you take today is, above all – you have made a promise to your fellow Australians.

You've made a pledge of loyalty to all of us who call this marvellous country home.

A commitment to grow communities, to care for the vulnerable, to offer kindness in another’s trouble.

Just like last week in Bourke St Mall. We've always been a nation which believes that when people are in trouble, we'll rally around.

We just didn't expect to see it in our own city last week.

But amongst the carnage there was courage.

In the face of wrong there was humanity.

Amongst the danger there was selflessness. 

You are Australians and you should be proud that strangers, cab drivers, university students rushed to the people who were knocked over by this cruel man.

And even as the man was still being arrested by police, when gunshots were firing, your fellow citizens went to help people.

All I hope is that each one of us can behave in the manner that which our fellow citizens behaved that day.

And of course we had our police and our paramedics and our professionals doing their job.

I feel for the nurses and the doctors, who even now feel disappointed they couldn't mitigate the injuries or keep people alive.

We are a generous city and we are a generous country and we saw that last week in amongst the evil.

Nothing can adequately explain the murders, nothing can really compensate for pain of families.

But we should know that in times of trouble, Australians go to each other’s rescue.

This spirit today, this ceremony, for me, is about offering every new citizen an outstretched hand, an offer of welcome.

Every generation of migrants has made this country better than the country we inherited.

Every group of migrants from whatever part of the world has contributed to this country and made it a better place.

We are a stronger country, because we are a diverse nation.

We are a richer nation, because we are a multicultural nation.

What defines an Australian is not how long they've lived in this country - it's what is in their heart. 

What defines an Australian is not their faith, their religion or their gender - it's how they treat each other.

You are Australian now and you are most welcome here and every day.

You know, it was one hundred years ago, on the same day, that three brothers in the First World War – Theo Seabrook, he was 25, George Seabrook, 24 and William Seabrook, 20 – they joined up as reinforcements in the 17th Infantry Battalion.

They sailed from Sydney together.

They arrived in Belgium together.

They fought in the Battle called Menin Road together.  

They were all three wounded.

All three died.

Three brothers. Three Australians out of 61,000 Australians who were killed in the First World War.

Tens of thousands more were injured, gassed, taken prisoner or traumatised.

Home to families who could never understand what they had endured – and who learned it was better not to ask. 

We are inheritors of generations who had harder, shorter lives – because of the service they gave to our country. 

There is no-one left to speak for those who fought – and fell – on the Western Front.

And a hundred years of change have transformed Australia in ways those young men could never have imagined. 

A hundred years ago, our nation went to war bound to Britain – to the last man and the last shilling we said.  

But today, we see a new place for ourselves in the world.

Australia in 2017 is no longer an outpost of the British Empire – or a branch-office of Britain.

We are now a confident, engaged partner in Asia. 

We're a middle power, with formidable capacities, we are a voice heard in the councils of the world.

And we have changed the way we see ourselves in the mirror of history over the last one hundred years.

A hundred years ago, we looked into the interior with distrust, with suspicion.

We called it the ‘dead heart’. 

Our backs were turned to the wonders of our nation: Kakadu, Uluru, the Flinders Ranges and the Bungle Bungles.

Today – people come from all over the world to gaze at what we didn't fully appreciate a hundred years ago. 

To marvel at the rock-art and way of life of a people whom, a hundred years ago, through ignorance and prejudice were not considered citizens of Australia.

Regardless of their service, their courage and their existence.

Because there was another family who fought in the First World War: the Knight family.

Corporal Albert Knight – and his two brothers.

Albert survived the battle called Bullecourt, he was wounded at Passchendaele. 

Albert went on to win the Distinguished Conduct Medal - very difficult to win - when he and a comrade moved 300 yards across battlefield in broad daylight with only shell-holes for cover in order to discover the positions of the enemy guns.

This hero, this patriot, this brave man you would want alongside you at any time, was the son of permanent residents, he wasn't even counted in the census then – because he was Aboriginal. 

It would take us another fifty years since that battle to at least include our First Australians in the Census.

And now, half-a-century after that, after we voted to end one of the shameful chapter of our history, we now must address the unfinished business of our Constitution. 

We must abolish, from the highest law of our land, our Constitution, the stain of racism. 

And we must add the names of the First Australians to our national birth certificate.  

Until we do that - our Constitution will not be truly Australian.

It cannot tell faithfully  the story of who we are and how we came to be.

And I have to say, as long as our Constitution names a foreign monarch as head of state, it will not reflect a truly independent Australia.

Queen Elizabeth II has lived a life dedicated to service. 

She's an outstanding leader who has fulfilled her responsibilities with utmost dedication.

But ultimately England is her home and her loyalty lies with Britain – ours no longer does. 

On Australia Day – in ceremonies like this around the nation – leaders will tell new citizens that anything is possible in Australia, that every opportunity is open to you and your children.

But until we have an Australian head of state, not every possibility is open to every Australian. 

For as long as our head of state is determined by a line of succession in another country – and not the representatives of the Australian people – we perhaps have unfinished business.

Constitutional recognition of Aborigines is about righting the wrongs of the past. 

A Republic is about setting a new direction for our brave country.

Both are about bringing the Constitution home.

Achieving progress, driving this progress, depends upon all Australians, including the new citizens here today.

Whatever you views, whatever your politics, whatever your desires for this country and your family, you now have a voice in our political system.

A system which should reflect your values, your dreams, your ideals for your family, your views about the progress of our nation.

Friends, today – we celebrate all of our places beneath the Southern Cross.

Pride in our history, faith in our future - we dedicate ourselves to the great Australian story.

You are most welcome as Australian citizens.

Congratulations and I look forward to what comes from here. 

ENDS


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