SUNDAY, 26 JANUARY 2014
SUBJECTS: Australia Day; Australian Citizenship; Success of immigration and multiculturalism in Australia; Liberal Senator's cynical politics on Australia Day
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: It’s great to be in the western suburbs of Melbourne sharing what, perhaps after my childrens' birthdays and Christmas Day, is unarguably the best day of the year. Many of us in this country are Australians by birth, but today, tens of thousands of people are becoming Australians by choice. And it’s a humbling experience to realise that around Australia, so many people born in other countries are leaving the countries where they grew up, the songs and music they used to know – the school children they used to play with, and they’ve come to a faraway land making this country an even better country.
Today is all about recognising the contribution of our Indigenous Australians, the oldest culture in Australia, combined with some of the newest Australians. It is a great day and I am particularly pleased with the choice of Adam Goodes as Australian of the Year. He is a role model, not just for Indigenous young people, but for all young people. He is a role model not just for Indigenous Australians, but for all Australians. Today is the day where we recognise that immigration has been a success in this country; we are one of the most multicultural countries in the world with over one in every four Aussies born overseas. This is a great country, but it’s been made great because of the contribution not just of Indigenous Australians, not just because of the English, but because of all the countries of the world and all the people that make Australia their home. Today’s the day for great celebrating that so many people are joining themselves to the Australian story and making us all stronger for it.
Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, you spoke about the need for compassion and for Australians to embrace multiculturalism, that doesn’t gel particularly well with our current policy of asylum seekers and offshore processing, does it?
SHORTEN: Today is the day to recognise that what unites us is greater than what divides us. Australia is at its best when we are a generous and tolerant nation. In all of our suburban streets and streets in our country towns we don’t really care where our neighbours come from, we just care that they’re good neighbours – we want to look after them and they want to look after us. Today is the day where we can recommit to the benefits of immigration, where we recognise that Australia’s greatest days are when we include people, not exclude people, both in the past and in the future.
Today’s the day where we can say in a bipartisan fashion, let’s rectify the wrong of not having Indigenous Australians in our Constitution. Today’s the day where all Australians, doesn’t matter what your politics, doesn’t matter what football team you barrack for, what state you live in – today’s the day we should say, enough is enough, let’s recognise Indigenous Australians in our Constitution. This is a cause for celebration, one which will be embraced by our newest Australians as well as looked on by pride by Australia's oldest inhabitants.
JOURNALIST: So many people here at Brimbank are from Sudan or South Sudan and have waited a long time to become Australian citizens, some of them for ten years. Do you think that’s too long for people who are fleeing war to become Australian citizens?
SHORTEN: No person in the world should ever have to leave their own country because of fear of persecution, but Australia should be a country that opens its arms out to people. Some of the world’s refugees that have come to Australia have become some of our most successful entrepreneurs; it’s the night shifts, it’s the late shifts, it’s the stacking of shelves, it’s opening the milk bars, the market gardens – the entrepreneurial businesses. Australia’s immigrants have added much more to Australia than they’ve ever taken. So we’re lucky to get people, even if they didn’t want to be in the situations they were in at home, we should be respectful of the fact that people see in Australia the best hope in the world.
JOURNALIST: What do you make of calls by some Liberal Senators that migrants should learn English as their first language to be spoken in the community?
SHORTEN: It’s groundhog day that certain people on the right-wing of the Liberal Party look at Australia’s immigration success and want to make contributions which I don’t think are particularly helpful. All migrants in Australia want to learn to speak English – I’m not splitting any atom declaring that. But what we should also recognise with our migrants is that the more jobs that we can encourage them to take up, the more we can encourage well-resourced schools to help their kids, they will do as well as they can. Today’s not a day for simplistic stereotyping of immigrants - in my experience there’s not a single immigrant that comes to Australia that is not hungry to succeed to make their family do better, but also to make their new adopted homeland be a better country than it already is.
Thanks very much.
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