Podium: Immigrants make us what we are

From a speech given by the Australian Prime Minister at the Australian Museum, Sydney
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The Independent Culture
MANY WORDS have been spoken about the diversity of Australia, and many things have been said about what represents the triumphs of the Australian nation. And also in the process of saying those words and writing those things we acknowledge, of course, like any other nation, our past and that our history has had its blemishes. But the sum total, the balance, is a very positive and a very favourable one of which all of us, as Australians, share in common. And that is that we do have a very rich record of achievement and a great record of tolerance.

In the last 50 years, we've had 5.5 million people who have immigrated to this country from 50 different nations around the world. There isn't an example anywhere else in the world of such a successful absorption and integration as there has been into the broader Australian community of such a diverse group of people. We have been able to do it better than any other country. We have been able to unite people of that diversity into a harmonious, positive, forward-looking Australian society. But we have been able to do it in a way that continues to respect the individual racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds of the different groups that make up the Australian nation.

We should always proclaim the self-evident importance that every man and woman in this country is entitled to equal treatment, irrespective of their racial, national, religious, ethnic or other origin. And that any kind of racial discrimination is abhorrent to the Australian value and to the Australian way of life. And that any practices or attitudes that encourage intolerance and encourage insensitivity towards people on account of their racial or religious background or intolerance is something that should be rejected and shunned by all Australians.

One could not encompass in a short speech of this nature the contribution that has been made to the Australian nation by the people of so many different backgrounds.

It is a well accepted fact that one of the many things that swung the International Olympic Committee in favour of Sydney those several years ago and one of the reasons why we will have the opportunity in this beautiful city of hosting the Olympic Games in the year 2000 was the knowledge of the racial diversity and the cultural harmony and diversity of the Australian nation. And it was something that weighed very heavily in our favour and something that worked very much to our credit.

And there is much to celebrate in the modern Australian nation.

We are, as I have remarked on many occasions, a nation that occupies a unique intersection. We are in so many ways a projection of Western civilisation in this part of the world. We have deep and enduring links with Britain and the other nations of Europe and we share much of the great cultural and politically liberal inheritance, and I say liberal not in any party political sense but in a generic sense, of European background.

We also have very profound links with the nations of North America and we have shared with the United States of America the most powerful and the largest democracy in the world many experiences both in war and in peace.

But here we are in the Asian-Pacific region of the world and we have within the Australian nation itself a very, very vibrant community of people of Asian descent who are playing a magnificent role in contributing to the strength and the vitality of the modern Australia.

In combining those three things we have a special opportunity and we have characteristics and assets that no other country in the world has. And we have an opportunity if we use those characteristics and those assets in an effective way. We have an opportunity to achieve things that no other country can achieve. We are seen in Asia as having the advantages, without the disadvantages, of both our European and our American associations.

We are seen in Europe and in North America as having insights into the politics and the culture and the life of the nations of the Asia-Pacific region. Not only because of our geographic proximity but also because of the people-to-people links that exist between so many Australians of Asian descent and the countries of that region.

And when I think of that unique intersection we occupy, that unique conjunction of cultural and historical and geographical assets, I can only be very excited and enthusiastic about the opportunities that lie in front of this country. It's an incredibly exciting and positive time to be alive in Australia, to be involved in the affairs of our nation.