The Prime Minister released a new multicultural statement earlier this week, on Harmony Day, which coincided with the partyroom meeting regarding a change in the section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, whereby “insult, offend or humiliate” would be replaced with “harass”.

The latest multicultural statement acknowledges British and Irish settlers as part of the make-up of “multicultural Australia” and further includes ethnic minorities and indigenous people. Australia owes its accomplishments to the contributions of more than 300 different ancestries “from the first Australians to the newest arrivals”, it says specifically.

Furthermore, the new statement emphasises learning English and makes a mention of terrorism.

“Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world. We are as old as our First Australians, the oldest continuing human culture on earth, who have cared for this country for more than 50,000 years. And we are as young as the baby in the arms of her migrant mother who could have come from any nation, any faith, any race in the world. Australia is an immigration nation. Almost half of our current population was either born overseas or has at least one parent born overseas. And we come from every culture, every race, every faith, every nation. We are defined not by race, religion, or culture, but by shared values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and equality of opportunity – a ‘fair go’. 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. And national security – a resolute determination to defend our nation, our people, and our values – is the foundation on which our freedoms have been built and maintained. At a time of
growing global tensions and rising uncertainty, Australia remains a steadfast example of a harmonious, egalitarian, and enterprising nation, embracing its diversity. Multicultural Australia: United, Strong, Successful renews and reaffirms the Government’s commitment to a multicultural Australia, in which racism and discrimination have no place. I commend Multicultural Australia: United, Strong, Successful to all Australians.”

In his Easter Goodwill message, speaking to the Greek community, leader of the Opposition, the Hon Bill Shorten MP, expressed his disappointment
stating that this change will make it easier for people to be insulted, abused, and humiliated on the basis of race.

“Only this government could choose Harmony Day to weaken protections against racism,” he noted, saying that the Prime Minister is happy to water down racist hate speech laws because “he’ll never know what discrimination is like.”

“It’s been six decades, and more, since the marvellous post-war generation of Greeks came in hard times to our country, with nothing in their hands but a few mementoes and the hands of those they loved. Australia has given you a chance – and you have repaid that faith a thousand times over,” Shorten added, praising migrant generations for broadening the nation’s horizons.
“[You] opened our eyes as community heroes, role models, business leaders, educators, and entrepreneurs,” he said.

At the same time, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Finance Robin Scott said that it is beyond ironic that Malcolm Turnbull is moving to water down race hate laws on Harmony Day.

“We strongly condemn any changes which suggest it is okay to be racially insulting or offensive, or even humiliate someone because of their background. Just yesterday, Mr Turnbull promised to nurture Australia’s diversity with the launch of a new multicultural statement.”

Scott said that the statement is rendered meaningless if the Prime Minister is simultaneously clearing a path for bigots and bigotry.

“The Andrews Labor Government fully supports the Racial Discrimination Act – and will continue to do so. We will review Victoria’s Racial and Religious
Tolerance Act 2001 to consider ways to strengthen legislative protections, should the Federal Coalition be successful with their amendments.”

“I remain disappointed with Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s silence on the issue,” Scott stressed.

“When he was the Multicultural Affairs Minister, he said: ‘There should be no changes to the Federal Racial Discrimination Act’,” he recalled, calling on Matthew Guy to stand up for the values he was once proud to support.

“The Victorian Government will stand with people of good will to defend our multicultural communities. Because we are Victorian. And proud of it,” Scott concluded.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) gave a cautious welcome to Malcolm Turnbull’s statement. Joe Caputo, Chairperson of FECCA said: “The Multicultural Statement is another step in our ongoing efforts to maintain and strengthen Australia’s inclusive, prosperous, and harmonious multicultural society.

“The release of this statement is a great opportunity for our politicians to lead and unite all Australians in celebrating the tremendous economic, cultural, and educational benefits which have come from Australia’s longstanding commitment to immigration,” added Caputo.

“We applaud the fact that, over decades, all Australian governments – whatever their political persuasion – have remained committed to a program of immigration and multiculturalism. FECCA urges the government to use this opportunity to show leadership in supporting Australia’s multiculturalism by announcing tangible policy initiatives including a Federal Multicultural Act and the development of a National Language Policy.”

FECCA also welcomed the Prime Minister’s clear statement that racism and discrimination have no place in Australia as a reminder of the importance of legislation including section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that provides protection from racially motivated attacks against Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities. Last but not least, the Greek Community of Victoria also objected to the proposed changes by the Federal Government to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in an official statement.

“The changes appear to be legally unsound, morally wrong, and we trust that the Senate will not support this backward step,” President Bill Papastergiadis

“We trust that the political mechanisms will seek to reflect the broader interests of Australia and not these sectarian obsessions.”