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Celebrate and Protect: Multiculturalism on Harmony Day: 21 March 2018

March 21 marks Harmony Day in Australia; an important day for all Australians to come together and celebrate our cultural diversity. It is also the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and as such provides a good opportunity to reflect on Australia’s multicultural successes and also the commitment required to ensure that those successes continue into the future.

The theme of Harmony Day this year is “Everyone Belongs” and this week the Settlement Council of Australia and its members across the country will be celebrating exactly what this means for Australia and the people who call it home.

Since 1945 more than 7.5million new Australians have migrated to our country, and in 2016, nearly half (49%) of Australians were either born overseas or had at least one parent who was. Unequivocally, this makes Australia a multicultural country. For this reason, it is important to acknowledge our cultural diversity as a crucial foundation of modern Australian society.

And it is a popular one at that, with the overwhelming majority of Australians (85% according to the Scanlon Foundation’s 2017 Mapping Social Cohesion survey), across all walks of life and from every corner of the country broadly supporting and celebrating our multicultural nation.

Across the political divide the concept of multiculturalism is heralded as a success story of global significance. This was recently reinforced by Prime Minister Turnbull when he said:

We are the most successful and harmonious multicultural society in the world. Our multicultural success is at the heart of our national identity. It is intrinsic to our history and our character.’
– Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, 16 June 2016

Similar pronouncements can be found across Australia’s recent history. In October 2016 both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, Mr Shorten, backed a bipartisan motion in parliament supporting Australia’s cultural diversity. The motion reaffirmed the commitment to equal rights, a non-discriminatory immigration policy, reconciliation and multiculturalism and denounced racism. This was followed in March 2017 by the release of an updated multicultural statement by the Australian Government.

SCoA welcomes these developments and calls on all members of Australian community to embrace and support our multicultural nation. Multiculturalism involves active commitment across the broad spectrum of community; from individuals through to community groups; and from small business through to government. It requires that national and state/territory government policy is informed by our cultural diversity and actively supports the engagement of all members of community in civic life.

SCoA celebrates the role of Australia’s settlement sector in supporting Australia’s newest arrivals as they build their lives here.  Effective delivery of settlement services adds to the store of social capital both within and between migrant and refugee communities and the wider society. SCoA believes that as a result of these dynamic services, not only is Australia one of the world’s great multicultural nations but also one with a highly successful settlement program which ensures that recent arrivals are able to start new lives in Australia and enhances their potential to make positive social, civic, political and economic contributions to this country.

Finally, and importantly, SCoA considers that multiculturalism thrives in an environment that is supportive and welcoming. Across all aspects of society a positive discourse must prevail and every effort must be taken to avoid unnecessary stereotyping, discrimination and racism.

With this in mind, we welcome the opportunity on March 21 to celebrate Harmony Day as well as observing the International Day for the Elimination of Racism, and encourage all Australians to do the same, and to embrace our cultural diversity not just today, but every day.