Bill's Speeches

BRIMBANK CITY COUNCIL AUSTRALIA DAY CITIZENSHIP CEREMONY - SUNSHINE - FRIDAY, 26 JANUARY 2018

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Good morning everybody. And first of all I just want to say congratulations my fellow Australians. It’s an outstanding day for all of us.

Sometimes being a Member of Parliament has its highlights and sometimes not so high, but Australia Day ceremonies and citizenship ceremonies are amongst the best things that any Member of Parliament can do.

And I know that my colleagues here, Maria Vamvakinou, who’s the Federal Labor Member for some of the area of Brimbank, Ben Caroll, who’s a Minister in the Andrews Government, and Bernie Finn, who represents the State Opposition, are all terribly pleased to be here today.

I’d also like to acknowledge the Council, and the fine work of Brimbank Council does in bringing you here today.

I know that all of the Councillors and Members of Parliament, all of the other guests – William, our Australia Day Ambassador included – when we look out and see all of you, see your faces of pride, see your faces of pleasure, the kids, perhaps wriggling in their chairs a bit, it’s a bit of a morning – but all of you, some of you who have been living in Australia for a long time, and finally got around to becoming an Australian, and others who have arrived more recently.

I know that when all of you took your oath or your affirmation, I know that Australia now has 150 more loyal citizens than we did an hour ago, and I know every one of your appreciates that privilege.

We are all lucky to call this remarkable place, this peaceful place, this safe place, our home.

Today you join the Australian family. Today you have a fresh start, and you’re able to make a further contribution to the community which you now call home.

I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet. I thank Aunty Di for her Welcome to Country.

But I think on Australia Day we should also acknowledge that we owe our First Australians more than just a few brief words of respect.

I think we owe our First Australians some imagination, some empathy, and some encouragement for their successes.

We are no different to any other country in that our history has its fault lines. We have our shares of triumphs and successes, and our share of scars and stains.

And it is correct to acknowledge that we have long decades of dispossession and degradation inflicted upon our First Australians by those who came after. 

We need to recognise that historical truth – that our history is one we can be proud of, but also recognise its errors and its mistakes.

There has been some debate in recent days about the suitability of the 26th of January being our national day. Much of the debate is well-intentioned, but some of it more divisive.

I do not sneer at people who want to argue which day our national day should be one. In our democracy, people are entitled to their opinions.

But whatever day you think it should be, and I believe it should be today, I do not subscribe to the view that Australia Day is just a day to have off as a public holiday, a day of uncritical celebration.

I think we should use today to reflect on our national story – what it means to all of us, including our First Australians. 

But I would hate to think that a debate about which day a public holiday falls upon, distracts us from the real task of building a cohesive and better Australia at peace with our past.

I believe that our big challenges in this country are not dependent on which day a public holiday falls in the calendar.

The challenges of our country fall in our schools, in our lecture theatres, in our TAFEs and our universities, with more Aboriginal kids getting a great education, an apprenticeship or a degree.

It is not a debate for me, fundamentally, about moving a public holiday – it’s about investing in our public hospitals, investing in our public services, in our schools, it’s about making sure we are safe in our suburbs.

To me it’s about our communities  – from our big cities to the most remote corners of this marvellous continent –  stopping family violence, treating preventable diseases, creating good jobs for all of our kids, building secure housing, helping all Australians live longer and happier lives. 

If we want to talk about our national identity, I do not start with which day a public holiday falls.

We need, instead, to consider voice to our Parliament for our First Australians, and a meaningful say in the decisions which affect our lives. 

So I think today as you make your oath of citizenship, as you receive the marvellous plant to remind you of today, I think we should make also a pledge to ensure a fairer deal for our First Australians, and all of us.

Do you know, seven decades ago, we actually had our first Australian citizenship ceremony.

We didn't actually have a thing called Australian citizenship til about 1949, 1948, and what happened is there were seven people right across Australia who participated in our first citizenship ceremony.

It's interesting on that day, the lucky seven swore to bear ‘faithful and true allegiance’ to King George VI and to his heirs and successors.

Now as you know from today, the words of the oath have changed over time.

But more importantly than the words the people have been saying at these ceremonies in the last 70 years, our nation has been transformed.

We’ve opened our economy, we’ve found our place with our neighbours in Asia.

We have stripped away racist immigration policies that stifled our society.

Today we embrace and welcome people from every faith and tradition, knowing that their diversity enriches us.

We have learned in the last 70 years that women should be treated with equal opportunity, and their success is extraordinary.

And indeed – as recently as last year – we’ve come to understand that marriage is about love, not gender.

Do you know, today, tens of thousands of new Australians in ceremonies just like this right across Australia, will be taking the pledge of citizenship.

And the words of allegiance won’t even refer to the British crown.

Because their love and loyalty doesn’t belong to a foreign crown in a distant land – overwhelmingly, neither does ours.

Our love and our loyalty, our first affection, belongs to Australia.

It’s measured by how we treat our neighbours, how we care for our friends, how we raise our kids. It’s recorded in what we want for our families and our future opportunities.

Our love of our country is not defined by which day you think a holiday should be on or what you think about our history.

It's by what we can achieve, working together. 

We are a modern, multicultural, open nation. We are not afraid of the future and we should also be ready to declare that our Head of State should be one of us.

Our Head of State should be an Australian, someone whose story we share, an Australian citizen.

Not the head of a royal family of another country but a member of our Australian family.

Friends, I don’t know all your backstories, but I'm sure each one of them is interesting. 

I do not know the circumstances by which you come to be here in the Kevin Wheelahan Gardens in Sunshine, joining the Australian nation.

I don’t know if your journey here was marked by pain or fear, persecution or danger.

By seeking job opportunities or joining family members who had already arrived.

It may have been on a holiday that you decided that this is such a lovely country, you decided not to go back, or as a student studying here.

I do not know the sacrifices you’ve made to be here today.

But what I see, and what all my friends on this stage see is – what we don't see is Asian Australians or Indian Australians or European Australians or Aboriginal Australians – we just see Australians.

What I see when I look out here is not men Australians or women Australians, I just see Australians.

I do not see young ones and old ones, I just see Australians.

I do not see ones of the Christian faith or another faith, I see Australians.

We have a lot of debate about Australian identity in this country at the moment. There is a lot which happens in the political debate which attracts a lot of noise.

But I want to reassure you, that when I look across this marvellous array of faces, I just see Australians.

What makes a good Australian is not defined by the number of generations you've been here. What makes a good Australian is not defined by how much money you have in the bank, by your gender, by the god you worship, by the political party you support.

What makes a good Australian instead, is someone who wants to raise their family and do the best for their kids. 

What makes a good Australian is how they treat their neighbours – do they pay their taxes, do they obey the laws of the land?

What makes a good Australian is not defined by one aspect of your backstory, it is defined by the way which you love and treat your fellow Australians.

I couldn't be more confident about the future of this country. And one of the reasons why I couldn't be more confident that we're capable of rallying around the things that unite us rather than divide us, is because I see another 150 allies to make the story of Australia the story of progress and success.

Welcome and congratulations. I'm sure you'll do great things. 


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