25 January 2016






Friends, proud families, new citizens, fellow Australians.

Today, in particular, I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet, I pay respect to elders both past and present.

I pay tribute to the world’s oldest living culture, and the central place it owns in our Australian story.

And to all of you who join us now as citizens of Australia, who have raised your hands and voices alongside 17,000 people from 145 nations, right around our country on this day, welcome home.

Whether you came to Australia fleeing war or persecution, whether you came as a child in the loving arms of a parent hoping to offer you a better life than they had known…

…or as a grandparent eager to meet new members of your family.

Whether you are new to our shores, or today is the final formal step in a long love affair with life in Australia…

Thank you for joining your story to ours.

Thank you for choosing to better our nation with your energy, your conscience, your passion, your wisdom, your worldview.


Two hundred and twenty-eight years ago and nearly 900 kilometres from here, British Marines hoisted the Union Jack beneath southern skies.

To their English eyes, this was an unfriendly place– alien and hostile.

One officer, Watkin Tench, wrote of a hard life:

“amidst the rocks and wilds of a new country, aggravated by the miseries of bad diet, and incessant toil…”

For the convicts set to work baking bricks, felling trees and building roads, this was to become the land of the second chance.

Those who had watched these new ghost-white arrivals from afar were not to know that their way of life in their ancient home, was about to be changed forever, by the clash of two peoples as fundamentally different from each other as ever came face-to-face in human history.

Australia Day, for me however, marks much more than the opening of a British prison, or a public holiday.

On our national day we should reflect on everything that has changed us, shaped us, made us the nation and the people we are.

We look beyond Botany Bay, beyond Ballarat and Barcaldine.

To the story of a democracy brought forth in peace, tested in war, unbroken by depression.

We celebrate a history of courage in adversity.

Of good humour through hardship - whether it be wrought by nature, ill-fortune or unfairness.

At home and abroad, in and out of uniform.

In the face of bushfire, and enemy fire.

A story with scars and stains: stolen generations, forced adoptions, the Black Line, race riots at Kalgoorlie and Cronulla alike.

A nation unafraid to remake and re-imagine our place in the world.

A people who, in facing the mighty tests of each generation, have found the wisdom to choose:

Renewal over decay.

Co-operation over division.

Courage over complacency.

Openness and inclusion over fear and isolation.

An Australia made stronger always, by co-operation, greater opportunity, shared reward – and our sacred anthem – the fair go.

Friends, last year I stood here and urged us to breathe new life into the dream of an Australian Republic.

To have the confidence to declare to the world that we are running the place ourselves.

To finally have an Australian citizen as our head of state.

Because one qualification you should need to be our head of state is the piece of paper you hold in your hands today.

Now, for the first Australia Day in our history, the leaders of both major parties are avowed republicans.

So today I say to the Prime Minister, let us work together to seize this moment, to lead the movement for change.

Let’s have the courage to match our words with actions.

Let’s have the courage to face up to those who disagree with us – inside and outside the Parliament.

Let’s not simply point to tradition, or the past, of the failure of a previous generation at the 1999 Referendum, from discouraging us from ever trying again.

We should not have to wait for a change of monarch to renew the Republic debate.

People too young to vote in 1999 have children of their own now.

Children born in 1999 will soon be eligible to vote themselves.

A new generation of Australians deserves their chance to have a say.

And the choice of when we become a Republic, should be our choice.

And in that same spirit, let us look with fresh eyes on the idea at the heart of who we are – the fair go.

In doing so, we reflect on the name of our nation: the Commonwealth of Australia.

During the Federation debates, at the turn of the 20th Century, some suggested we call ourselves ‘The Dominion of Australia’.

Others favoured: ‘The Federated States of Australia’

But the influential voices of Henry Parkes and Alfred Deakin, among others, preferred ‘Commonwealth’.  

This was adopted in the draft Constitution – but it was far from universally popular.

The letters pages of certain newspapers said that it ‘smacked of socialist tendencies’.

Some, harking back to the days of Oliver Cromwell, thought it was subversive code for ‘republican sentiments’.

Another ‘expert’ pointed out, with alarm, that the French translation for Commonwealth is ‘Republique’.

Even Queen Victoria herself disliked the name.

But ‘Commonwealth’ had a meaning and a spirit and a substance that no alternative could match.

It’s derived from the old English ‘common weal’, meaning the common good.

And in the end, this very Australian concept, the idea of a nation named for the shared good of all its citizens won the day.

In choosing to unite under the name of the ‘Commonwealth of Australia’, our forebears made a powerful statement about the sort of country they wanted us to be.

Something greater than a ‘federated’ collection of former colonies.

Something more than another dominion beneath a foreign crown.

Instead, our home, Australia, was born and baptised in a spirit of common purpose and mutual respect.

We are a country where prosperity is not a privilege conferred by birth but a reward earned through hard work.

Where your character counts for more than your surname.

Where merit matters more than postcode, wealth or school.

Our greatness flows not from the force of our arms or the reach of our territory, but from the work and wisdom of our people and the warmth of our hearts.

And for most of our history, the gap between rich and poor has been narrowing.

But in the past generation, inequality has begun to grow again.

This is not an academic problem – it is a national task, for all of us.

Because our Australian brand of egalitarianism has never had its head in the clouds.

Australian fairness has always been about simple, practical, policies, that put people first.

Lifting the living standards of the working and middle class families of this nation.

A universal pension, a strong minimum wage.

Helping people find good jobs, and save for a decent retirement.

A great education for all.

Medicare and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

And the mission of building a fairer Australia is not yet done.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples – the long shadow of prejudice, discrimination and exclusion still diminishes their lives and living standards, and taints our Constitution.

On Australia Day, we vow to Close the Gap.

Today, a full century after thousands of women served in the hospitals and joined the workforce of an Australia at war…

…we are still not yet a nation of equal pay, or a country of equal opportunity or a place where women have an equal right to be free from fear and violence in their communities and at home.

On Australia Day, we vow to build a society where equality for women is real and family violence is no more.

Above all, we must summon the courage of true patriots, people whose love of country drives them to make it a better place.

So today, let us promise to make equality and egalitarianism  more than paper virtues, invoked on public holidays.

Let us tackle the poverty, the inequality, the inter-generational disadvantage which jeopardise our national prosperity.

We have achieved a quarter-century of continuous economic growth – and yet inequality is at a 75 year high…

…that means there is more for us to do.

When earnings have risen three times faster for the top ten per cent of income earners than the bottom ten per cent…

And when the three richest Australians control more wealth than the poorest 1 million…

Then too many Australians are shut-off from prosperity.

As long as 2.5 million Australians live below the poverty line, and one out of every four are children.

And until women know true equality, from politics to income…

We cannot say the fair go belongs to all.

While there are teachers and students in classrooms in Logan and Burnie missing out on the resources and support available to their peers in Toorak and Bellevue Hill…

We are not giving every child the chance to succeed in the new economy.

As long as apprentices are denied a chance, or older workers feel the rough edges of economic transformation…

We must make sure new technologies create Australian manufacturing jobs, so change doesn’t leave people behind.

As long as young people feel like they have to conceal their sexuality because they are still subject to legal – and cultural – discrimination…

Then the promise of Australia is not yet fulfilled.

Until every multinational company pays a fair wage and their fair share of tax – we cannot say the economic playing field is level.

As long as a young Aboriginal man is more likely to go to jail than university, we cannot say the fair go is colour-blind.

When both parents are working full days but two incomes aren’t enough to keep up with the cost of living – we must do more to help families keep their heads above water.

When addiction and suicide and youth unemployment leech the hearts of country towns – we must reach out and revitalise our regions.

When salinity blights our soil and rising waters threaten our coasts – real action on climate change cannot wait another decade.

When members of the generation who helped build modern Australia pass their final years in lonely poverty – we owe them better.

We do not shrink from these faults, nor do we shirk our responsibilities.

That’s not the Australian way – it never has been.

At every point in our proud history, Australians have summoned the resources and the resilience to meet and master the challenges of their time: together.

That’s the great shared lesson of our national story.

What we achieve, we achieve together.

So, today, together as citizens.

Young and old, city and country, Australians by birth and Australians by choice…

Let us make a new pledge.

Let us promise to turn the tide of inequality, for this generation – and for future generations.

Let us make the common good of our Commonwealth, our common cause.

Happy Australia Day everyone.