Turnbull government launches renewed Multicultural Statement

20 Mar 2017By David Sharaz

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SBS World News Radio: The Federal Government's released its long-overdue statement on multicultural Australia, with a strong focus on national security, describing English-learning as "a critical tool for migrant integration."

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After using the previous Gillard Government's multicultural statement for nearly four years, the Coalition has come up with one of its own.

It's a message to the seven and a half million people who've migrated to Australia since 1945, and recognition that nearly half of Australians are born overseas, or has a parent who was.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says underpinning the document is mutual respect, learning English and national security as the keys to continued success.

"No-one can look in the mirror and say, 'Australians only look like this'. Australians look like every face, every race, every background because we define ourselves and our nation by our commitment to shared political values, democracy, freedom and the rule of law."

Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs Zed Seselja says the statement is overwhelmingly positive about Australia's cultural diversity.

The statement highlights thought, speech and religion among a list of freedoms which define this country's national identity.

And unlike Labor's 2011 statement, delivered by then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard, this one also recognises the impact of terrorism, and the importance of integration.

"It means people becoming part of a community and isn't that what we want? It's the opposite of segregation. I don't want to live in an Australia that is in any way segregated and in a large part we're not. We should celebrate the fact that when we compare ourselves to many nations around the world we've got a great success story, we've got a good story to tell and the way we continue with that success story is to focus on those common values."

Prime Minister Turnbull says it's impossible to imagine Australia in 2017 without acknowledging all those who've contributed to its success.

He added this country's achievement as a harmonious nation is not an accident, nor should it be taken for granted.

"The glue that holds us together is mutual respect, a deep recognition that each of us is entitled to the same respect, the same dignity, the same opportunities. The mutuality of that respect is of critical importance."

Greens leader Richard Di Natale, the son of Italian migrants, says Australia is a better nation when citizens learn from each other rather than integrate.

He says the Turnbull government's statement on multiculturalism sends a message to select groups of people that they're not welcome.

"The new multiculturalism statement is an attack on multiculturalism and a 'dog whistle' to people on the fringes of society who don't want to see us change and embrace inclusion and diversity. Australia is an inherently multicultural nation. There were hundreds of languages spoken by First Nations long before the Europeans came."

The statement comes on the eve of Harmony Day - a celebration of cultural diversity and cultural respect.

It's a day the Coalition partyroom will use to discuss a change to the contentious section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Senator Zed Seselja denies that is at odds with the goverment's message of unity and praise of multiculturalism.

"The debate about 18C is about exactly where you draw the legal line on what constitutes outlawed speech, and that's a very legitimate debate for us to have as a community so we can absoultely condem discrimination and racism but it's always a legitimate debate to say is 'offend' where we draw the line, or should it be somewhere else?"

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten sought clarity on the issue in Question Time.

"Will the Prime Minister rule out making changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and, if not, what exactly does the government want people to be able to say that they're not allowed to say now?"

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