AUSTRALIA DAY CITIZENSHIP CEREMONY
26 JANUARY 2014
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Friends, fellow citizens.
Today especially, I pay my respects to the traditional owners of these lands and their elders, past and present and acknowledge your unbroken and enduring connection to this ancient land.
It’s great to be back at Brimbank for Australia Day.
And it’s a special pleasure to share this day with you in your first moments as Australian Citizens.
Those of us who received the gift of Australian citizenship at birth are proud to welcome you who embrace it by choice.
Some of you have come from places of unimaginable sorrow, injustice, bereavement and despair.
From societies torn by civil war and those still struggling with the long and fraught transition to democracy.
All of you have made the choice, for some a tough choice, to leave behind the land of your birth, to grow old in a country far from your first memories, and to join with us in another, faraway adventure.
Australia has always been blessed with migrants who are ‘joiners’.
For generations you have joined our football clubs and workers clubs, our playgroups and parents associations, our brass bands, our libraries and choirs and our city councils.
You’ve built churches and synagogues, temples and mosques, and added your vivid national architecture to our suburbs and country towns.
You’ve worked the late hours and holiday shifts, driving taxis and stacking shelves.
You have been the entrepreneurs and the risk-takers.
You’ve opened restaurants, law firms, market gardens and corner stores– creating jobs and building national prosperity.
You have added your cultural energy to ours – and enriched our national identity.
The ceremony we observe today was the vision of Australia’s first Immigration Minister, Arthur Calwell.
It was Calwell, and Prime Minister Ben Chifley, who changed the law so that those who chose a new life in Australia became not just British subjects but Australian citizens.
And it was Calwell who wanted a new citizenship ceremony, one with gravitas and dignity.
No more, he said, would:
‘a man’s naturalisation papers come to him through the mail like his annual licence for his dog or motor car.’
Instead, as he put it, the ‘great and joyful decision’ to be an Australian, should be marked by:
‘a solemn ceremony, an impressive occasion’
So on Australia Day 1949, Chifley and Calwell welcomed seven new Australian citizens, who swore their allegiance to ‘George VI and his heirs and successors’.
Today, in 396 ceremonies, more than 17,000 people – a new record – from 155 countries will pledge their allegiance to Australia, and its people.
Joining their story to the four and a half million others who have proudly stood with raised hand, in town halls and parks across this country since that first ceremony.
Millions of reminders that every time Australia has given welcome to those in need, our society has been enlarged and enriched.
Because in reaching out to others, we make ourselves a better people.
This is what we celebrate here at Brimbank and all over our diverse continent on Australia Day.
This is the true Australian tradition.
Not just a British one, or an Indigenous one.
But a tradition woven from all the countries, all the peoples, all the cultures of the world.
Friends, for as long as we have marked this day, we have paid tribute to the ‘fair go’.
A collection of rights and principles that go back to the first years of Federation.
A time when Australia had already gained an international reputation as a ‘social laboratory’.
An egalitarian democracy home to ‘radical’ experiments in:
Safe working conditions and reasonable hours for a decent wage.
A maternity allowance.
And government pensions for people with a disability.
But not everyone benefited from this brave new order.
As Gough Whitlam once said, ‘the main victims of social deprivation and restricted opportunity’ have been the ‘oldest Australians, and the newest’.
And I believe the finest moments in our history have come when we have turned our national will to ending this exclusion and bringing people in from the margins.
Unifying moments like the National Apology and the extension of Native Title.
The cultural transformation that came from dismantling the White Australia Policy.
The lives extended by Medicare.
The comfort and security conferred by universal superannuation.
And the opportunities created by the opening up of tertiary education.
My fellow Australians, our challenge is to continue the Australian anthem of inclusion.
To act quickly to accord Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders a long-overdue place of honour in our Constitution.
And to match that advance with real progress in the fight against Indigenous disadvantage.
To deliver a complete NDIS. One that will, at last, end the apartheid of disadvantage that affects more than 2 million Australians.
To protect the minimum wage and working conditions of those most in need.
To encourage the competition and passion of small business.
To fight for good jobs.
Jobs that give every Australian the chance to provide for their families and fulfil their potential.
To make marriage equality a legal reality.
And to go beyond the politics of fear that have tainted our national debate on immigration for too long.
From this day on, instead of talking about migration as a threat to the peaceful, multicultural nation we have built.
Let us see it as the irreplaceable element in the making of modern Australia.
All of us, from the first Australians to our newest citizens, should be proud to live in a country that is the best hope of so many.
Because welcoming migrants is not just the duty that a safe and civilised nation owes its region and the world.
It is, as it has ever been, the driver of our national prosperity and the foundation of our national success.
And the sooner we recognise the benefits that migration brings, the faster we will arrive at a policy that truly reflects the warmth of the Australian people.
My fellow Australians, we live in a great country.
But we must always challenge ourselves to be a better society.
A compassionate society that strives to lift people up and gather them in.
A big Australia. Big in compassion and imagination, in outreach and neighbourly feeling.
An Australia that puts its faith in the genius and generosity of its people.
An Australia worthy of the dreams of its newest arrivals and the pride of its oldest custodians.