Opinion pieces, speeches & transcripts

Finding New Ways Of Measuring Diversity

October 10, 2019





I acknowledge the traditional owners on the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to elders, past and emerging.

Happy 40th Birthday to FECCA.

When we talk about how immigration has shaped and is shaping Australia, we must speak of both statistics and stories.

In this speech I want to touch on both, and seek to draw them closer together, as a building block towards a renewed sense of our multiculturalism, and its possibilities.

The statistics which prove beyond doubt the extraordinary, positive contribution migrants have made to our economy and society - but which expose worrying gaps in involvement.

The stories which celebrate success and explain how we are coming together and each day remaking our nation for the better - but also those of failure.

Not the failure of those who have come here from elsewhere.

Our failure.

Our failure to welcome, to listen - to understand, and then to remove all those barriers to full participation in Australian life. From the classroom, to the labour market, and positions of leadership and influence across society.

Today, the capacity of migrants has not been fully realised.

This represents a number of individual tragedies, of potential not realised.

And also a collective missed opportunity.

These exclusions diminish us all, and constrain our economy.

We should celebrate people like -

Dr Munjed Al Muderis – a refugee who fled Iraq – who has since gone on to become Australia’s top orthopaedic surgeon.

And South Sudanese Australians - Thomas Deng and Awer Mabil who made their international debuts for the Socceroos last year.

These stories, just two of many, should be told to demonstrate how we see ourselves, how we think of ourselves, how we’ve changed, how we are changing

But what of the stories that haven’t been told?

These matter, too - and they should matter more.

It’s fine to talk of giving a go to those who have a go.

But this aspiration rings hollow if it’s not matched by a genuine commitment to ensure that everyone who does endeavour to contribute is - effectively - supported to do so.

And let’s be very clear about this: too many Australians are denied these supports, and so are denied opportunity.

This too, should matter more.

A recent SBS / Deloitte Access Economics report showed that greater social inclusion could boost the Australian economy by $12.7 billion.

By improving health and employment outcomes and increasing workplace productivity social inclusion can boost GDP growth and make Australia a fairer society.

There are massive economic and social benefits available to Australia by being more inclusive - so that people are less likely to experience discrimination, increasing their capacity to seek employment

Australia has a relatively poor record of collecting data on ethnic diversity.

At the moment our data is largely limited to ancestry, language and place of birth.

By contrast New Zealand, Canada and the United States all ask questions about ethnicity or race in their respective censuses.

While in the United Kingdom, authorities have produced a Race Disparity Audit, which looked at the treatment of people from different backgrounds across education, employment and the criminal justice system.

That’s why I have written to the Australian Bureau of Statics calling on them to find new ways to measure diversity in the next Census due in 2021.

The Leading for Change reports released in 2016 and 2018 both make and respond to this point – by providing a sense of the (lack of) diversity across a range of senior leadership roles in Australia, in the public sphere and the private sector.

They present a challenge, and a call to action.

This must be anchored in a clearer understanding of how our diverse population is reflected across involvement in the economy, our society and our politics.

As of today, there’s simply too much we don’t know.

This is a critical threshold issue to be resolved if we are to fully realise the potential of our multiculturalism.

So I very much hope that the ABS heeds these calls and includes new questions on diversity in the next census.

I also want to send a clear message to everyone here today that: Labor will stand up for multiculturalism and diversity.

Standing up for multiculturalism must also mean making the case for immigration.

As my friend Senator Keneally, herself a great success story, has made clear as Labor’s Shadow Minister for Home Affairs.

This includes restating the economic case. With reactionary populism on the rise, we can’t let this go unsaid.

And the truth is this - all things being equal, countries with higher rates of immigration see faster growth as a result.

Professor Jonathon Portes of Kings College, London, has recently made this point, noting research from the IMF to the effect that a 1% increase in the migrant share of the adult population results in an approximately 2% increase in both GDP per capita and productivity.

And it’s important to recognise that Australians do value our diversity.

Research from Pew shows that 64% of Australians view immigrants as a strength – compared to 31% who say they are a burden.

Australia is second behind only Canada in having a positive view of immigrants.

And when you compare Australia to France where 56% say immigrants are a strength to 39% who say they are a burden.

You quickly realise that Australians do view immigration as a positive thing.

Australians by a large majority also agree that immigrants are no more to blame for crime than other groups. As they should!

67% of Australians say migrants are no more to blame for crime – compared to 29% who say they are more to blame.

Again this compares favourably to other countries.

So we can’t allow the kind of dreadful and divisive scaremongering by people like Jason Wood, who has been appointed as assistant minister for Multiculturalism, over African gang crime to become the new norm.

We have to call it out when we see it.

And Labor will do precisely that.

At the moment we are also calling out the Government on its plan to privatise Australia’s visa processing system.

An announcement is expected later this month from the Government.

Labor is very worried that privatising our visa system could lead to cuts to services, increased worker exploitation and data security risks.

We know that the UK is already some way down the path of privatisation.

We’ve seen accounts of a refugee being forced to pay £780 to have his visa processed because of the creation of two tiered visa system.

We can’t allow this to happen in Australia.

Today you may have seen a report in the Australian Financial Review referring to Labor writing to the ACCC to investigate the market implications of privatising visa processing.

We believe that there is major risk of a monopoly being created and want the anti-competitive impacts for both visa applicants and businesses providing services to visa applicants to be investigated.

It’s fair to say that the Morrison Government has a less than stellar record on multiculturalism.

Cuts to settlement services.

The attempted weakening of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Cuts to migrant pensioners – by cutting the pension supplement to pensioners after more than six weeks overseas.

Scare mongering over boat arrivals.

The cuddling up to Pauline Hanson and One Nation during the election campaign - when we haven’t had a national anti-racism campaign for seven years!

This Liberal Government just doesn’t get modern multicultural Australia.

I’m sure everyone here understands that no matter who you are, or where you were born or the language you first spoke, in Australia you can belong.

But equally, we can’t afford to be complacent.

We can’t afford to assume that this is set in stone or that somehow our society is a finished product.

Of course it’s not.

We need to recognise that there are those who are seeking to undermine or even reject our multiculturalism.

Think of the recent contributions of Alexander Downer and Tony Abbott in Hungary, talking all of us down, inaccurately and offensively.

And think of the lack of a response from anyone in the Morrison government to this.

It’s time to refresh our multicultural policy framework, and to look again at the institutions that support this.

As Labor’s spokesperson I’m excited by this project, and at the prospect of being guided in it by the people at this conference - and through listening to the diversity of voices that are modern Australia.

So let’s see stories told, and heard that reflect the experiences of all Australians.

Let’s ensure that we have the tools to understand who’s counted across roles of significance - and who’s missing out.

So that we can strengthen our society, and our economy.

And build on the shared values that have underpinned our successes to date.

Values like fairness, hard-work and looking after each other, seeing everyone get a go.

We have to celebrate our multiculturalism.

But we can’t afford not to defend multiculturalism.

We can’t afford not to keep working on it.

Multiculturalism is who we are, and who will be.

I look forward to working with you all on the challenges in the years ahead.