Comment: Our national day belongs to all of us-NewsCO

January 29, 2017

On Australia Day, we have much to be proud of as a nation. 

Research by the Scanlon Foundation over the past decade shows we remain one of the most stable and socially cohesive nations in the world. Latest figures show 91 per cent of us feel a sense of belonging in Australia to a ‘great’ or ‘moderate’ extent.

Of migrants who arrived in the past fifteen years, 76 per cent indicated that they are ‘very satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with life in Australia.

When asked to select the best aspects of life in Australia from a list of 15 possible attributes, the top responses – ‘the Australian way of life’, ‘freedom and democracy’, and ‘standard of living’ – are the same among Australian-born residents and migrants who arrived in the past 15 years.

We do well in being a multicultural nation and this shouldn’t come as a great surprise, given our national identity has long been characterised by its diversity. But that is not to say that it is straightforward. Cultural diversity enriches our lives, but it also pushes us to accept a reality that is different from our own, and that acceptance is not always easy.

As people draw often misinformed correlations between immigration, economic woes, overburdened infrastructure and increased threats of terrorism, what may previously have been cavalierly brushed aside as fear-driven sentiments are now beginning to seep into the mainstream.

Proponents of these narratives have sought to contrast themselves to those who enforce the political correctness and identity politics they admonish. Yet these movements also draw strength by mobilising identity politics to project their own brand of political correctness, and are therefore no better.

We must move beyond slogans, taking down billboards, and rhetoric calling for the dismantling of our nationwide achievements and policies that actively promote integration and, first and foremost, a commitment to Australia.

Using identity politics to defeat identity politics will always be futile. Such sentiments result in zero-sum policies, the solutions of which benefit certain groups at the expense of others.

In the absence of social policies and programs that promote inclusivity and community participation, simply being ethnically diverse does not constitute a successful multicultural society.

Granting rights and resources to certain groups does not need to come at the expense of others. In the face of those who use fear mongering to highlight our differences and drive us apart, our policies and politics must continue to be inclusive. And so must our national day.

We must use our national day as day of learning, respecting, accepting, and recognising the past injustices, but also as an opportunity to reconcile and reaffirm our commitment to where we are going as a nation.

It is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate Australia as a nation whose success has undeniably been underpinned by its diversity. It is also a day to unite and strengthen our national identity.

Let us not fall for slogans encouraging an ‘us’ and ‘them’ debate, and pitting Australians against other Australians. Let us not follow other nations that have had difficulty in determining their own identity.

The idea that Australia Day belongs to one Australian more than an another goes directly against the values that underpin our national identity – values of mateship, a fair go for all, and the freedom to be who we are.

On our national day, we must reflect on our past and our future, to ensure that this day is inclusive of all Australians – even if this means talking about our uncomfortable history. We must pay tribute to and respect our rich Indigenous culture, as well as those who have journeyed from afar to help build a nation based on freedom and opportunity.

If the will is there, we will work together to make this nation prosperous for all. If the will is there, we will accept and we will reconcile. And if the will is there, we will grow in our greatness as we learn to accept and feel comfortable about who we are. 

Dr Hass Dellal AO is Executive Director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation.

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