EVERY year, January 26 can carry meanings as diverse as each of Australia’s 23.4 million citizens. Many of us no doubt will celebrate Australia Day in a way which is meaningful to them. I as always, will spend it thanking my 89 year old Nonno Rocco who boarded the boat headed for ‘the lucky country’, and not the alternative destinations presented. That is part of my story of migration.
As Australians we all have a story of migration, the point in time over the last 220 or so years in which our descendants arrived on these sandy shores. For some, this story might be six weeks old and for others six generations old. This presents a truth both obvious and self-evident, that unless you are one of our first Australians, each of us who enjoy this opportunity-filled land ultimately came from somewhere else.
I will actually spend Australia Day welcoming a few thousand new Australians, officiating citizenship ceremonies across Brisbane, signifying the conclusion to their physical journey of migration. Like all migrants before them, their stories as our newest Australians will begin.
As the world continues to shrink around us we can only be amazed at the extraordinary movement of people and cultures. Queensland is filled with a richness and diversity of over 220 different cultures and languages, leaving a community that is diverse, innovative, economically strong and socially vibrant, because it is open to a rich diversity of ideas, skills, traditions and customs. We recognise this as a result of our long history of migration.
Currently 20.5 per cent of Queenslanders were born overseas and over one third of us have at least one parent born overseas. Overseas migration to Queensland represents the largest contributor to the state’s population growth.
Although limited in number, elements of the wider Queensland community can exhibit an inherent desire to guard their national identity and sometimes new arrivals have varying willingness to share theirs.
Good policy is about demonstrating diversity as a positive and valuable resource, and defining pathways to ensure all can participate in our economy, our society and community as quickly and as fully as possible. As a government we are committed to this.
It’s also about being able to express and share cultural traditions, practices and beliefs while unifying the whole community within the framework of Australia’s democracy and rule of law, and it’s about delivering the best culturally-responsive services in Australia so all Queenslanders can access the same opportunities and levels of support.
People will support any form of diversity if they believe it strengthens the society in which they live rather than threaten it. Fear of the unknown is a great human inhibitor and ignorance a barrier too high for some. With leadership and good policy, fear can be overcome by positive experience and ignorance overcome by awareness.
In Queensland we are focused on improving four specific outcomes.
Language independence, which is not about the pursuit of a homogenous lexicon of Aussie slang, but ensuring the 10 per cent of Queenslanders who don’t speak English at home, aren’t limited in their economic and social participation.
Education participation and attainment is essential for culturally-diverse Queenslanders to maximise employment opportunities, becoming economically independent and improving the competitiveness of our economy.
Economic independence is about making use of our productive diversity – by utilising our cultural knowledge to understand overseas markets, supporting small business development and identifying employment pathways for culturally-diverse Queenslanders.
Good policy is not and cannot be based on identifying or creating victims within the population in order to facilitate dependency, welfare or otherwise. No matter how people come to settle in Queensland, they certainly didn’t come for those reasons.
When you peel back the cover of our newly-complete policy, a single statement occupies the first page: “our vision for Queensland is to provide equality of opportunity for all Queenslanders so that each and every person can participate in our strong economy and enjoy our vibrant society.”
I am proud of this statement, a singular group is referenced, we are simply all just ‘Queenslanders’, we are the same, seeking nothing more than opportunity to contribute.
So for this Australia Day, each of us can celebrate the fact that diversity in all its forms has helped shape this land into the ‘lucky country’, its heart and soul belongs to all of us, not just to those who have been here longer.
To those who will celebrate the day by becoming citizens, “welcome home”.
Robert Cavallucci is Queensland’s Assistant Immigration Minister. He tweets under @RobCavMP