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Australian Aboriginal Ceremony, man hand with green eucalyptus branches and smoke, start a fire for a ritual rite at a community event in Adelaide, South Australia

Over the past few decades, we have witnessed the national narrative about January 26 gather in intensity and evolve from a straightforward day of celebration to a milestone that triggers debate on the duality of our nation’s complex history and experiences.

Personally, January 26 has always had special significance as the day new Australians become full citizens and are able to participate in all aspects of our society. It was also the day that, three years ago, I was made a member of the Order of Australia.

Yet there is a growing awareness and consideration among Australians, like me, of how this date also marks a historic trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people— the arrival of the First Fleet, and the beginning of the loss of Indigenous land, people, and culture.

In the wake of the deeply disappointing failure of the Voice referendum, it is more important than ever that we respectfully take personal accountability to look outside ourselves and listen to First Nations experiences and voices.

Whether you recognise the day as ‘Australia Day’ or ‘Invasion Day’, January 26 is a day of mourning for our land’s traditional custodians. In recognition of this, I will not be celebrating next Friday. Instead, I will be taking the time to reflect on our nation’s Blak history and hold space to listen to the experiences of First Nations artists, storytellers, and leaders.

Many people making this shift personally is beginning to trigger businesses, organisations, and communities to reflect on their response to the day.

In 2022, only four councils across Australia chose not to hold Australia Day citizenship ceremonies. A year later at least 81 councils nationwide announced they would not be holding citizenship ceremonies on January 26.

Retailers are adapting too. Due to a gradual decline in demand, major retailers Woolworths, Aldi, and Kmart have decided not to stock Australia Day merchandise this year, alongside several other major chains.

And many organisations are changing their policies to allow staff to make their own decision on if they want to take part in the public holiday or work and choose another date to have time off.

This year, we are also working towards having flexibility around significant days like January 26 to reflect the values of the organisation and employees and needs of clients and communities.

Listening to First Nations communities and making these options available is important to me personally, and an important part of SSI’s reconciliation journey. As was taking an organisational stance to support The Voice.

SSI took a formal position to support the Voice because it strongly aligned with our mission—to empower individuals and groups to achieve their full potential—and that is what The Voice to Parliament was all about.

The disappointment of the referendum results has not deterred our commitment to reconciliation. SSI and I will continue to work with First Nations peoples to realise ‘Makarrata.’

As the duality of Australia Day becomes more evident, it is imperative that we navigate this complex terrain with empathy, openness, and a commitment to reconciliation.

By celebrating our strengths and acknowledging Australia’s complex history and its ongoing impacts, we can pave the way for a more inclusive, and cohesive national identity and future.

The holiday season is a chance for family to come together. One of the absences I feel at this time of year is the loss of my dad, who passed away in his sleep in 1990 when he was 64 years old.


History is calling. This Saturday, we will face a decision that holds great significance for all of us and the future of our nation – the proposed establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament.


First Nations’ communities are incredible advocates and thought leaders, grounded in an ancient wisdom and deep connection to ancestry, land and sea.


Now a successful business owner, Mohsen’s story has a happy ending, and on World Refugee Day, he joined with SSI, our partners and other people with lived experience to call for the implementation of five barrier-breaking solutions that would ease the way for newcomers like Mohsen can realise their full potential.

At our World Refugee Day Fair on June 20, we hosted parliamentarians, employers and community partners on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra to launch of the Billion Dollar Benefit report: a roadmap for unleashing the economic potential of refugees and migrants.

We were pleased so many friends and partners were present to formally accept the report, which SSI produced in partnership with the Settlement Council of Australia, the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils, and Community Corporate. You can see some of our highlights from this special day here.

The Billion Dollar Benefit report draws on consultation with 50 experts and people with lived experience, which identified five priority solutions to unleash the potential of migrants and refugees. These include:

  1. We must fix the broken skills and qualifications recognition system. Australia’s current system is complex, time-consuming and bureaucratic.
  2. We need to strengthen protections for migrant workers. No single person should control both your passport and your paycheck – it’s a recipe for exploitation.
  3. We must review the right to work for people on temporary visas. Denying work rights can increase reliance on social welfare and leave individuals vulnerable to exploitation.
  4. We need to scale innovative ‘tripartite’ partnerships. Investing in partnerships among the public, private and NGO sectors would provide wrap-around employment solutions for newcomers to Australia.
  5. We must reform English language requirements. English language requirements must be fit for purpose and aligned with the role and industry.

These actions would provide sustainable employment pathways for newcomers to Australia. They would also plug critical skills gaps and add billions to our economy.

After arriving in a new country, gaining work is one of the most effective ways newcomers can rebuild their lives. However, refugees and migrants face significant hurdles to finding meaningful employment and are at greater risk of exploitation.

Breaking down barriers for our newcomers is a responsibility shared by employers, non-government organisations, unions, refugee-led organisations, and all levels of government.

It was heartening to see representation from across these sectors, with a strong appetite for change.

How you can help

You can show your support by endorsing this roadmap by sharing the findings on social media, and other communications channels or having a conversation with people around you.

If your organisation would like to endorse the report, please send your organisation’s logo to Dane Moores, SSI’s Head of Strategic Relations, at

We thank everyone who has supported our efforts so far and we look forward to welcoming more organisations and individuals into this community committed to building better futures for Australia’s refugees and migrants.

Together, we can ensure that newcomers have equal opportunities for meaningful economic participation and the chance to realise their full potential in their new homes.

Reconciliation Australia has compiled a list of practical steps we can all take to create change. Click here for information on how you can be a voice for listening, unity, fairness and more.

At SSI, we’re on a journey of reconciliation to ensure we are doing everything within our power to contribute towards realising makarrata – a Yolngu word that means coming together after a conflict.

SSI’s Reconciliation Action Plan has mechanisms for improving our practices, ways of working and engaging with First Nations staff, clients and communities in which we operate.

These have ranged from building more effective community relationships to implementing practices within programs that incorporate lessons on First Nations history and rituals, to taking a public position acknowledging the dual nature of January 26.

We are almost at the two year mark and will soon prepare for a review with Reconciliation Australia, before developing our next two year RAP. We continue to learn valuable lessons the deeper we dive into our actions.

We have learnt that engaging and building relationships with First Nations people – be it staff or external communities, takes much time and many, many cups of tea. In Queensland, for example, our staff have made considerable efforts the last couple of years to consult with and develop a relationship with community elders in one region, working to listen, understand and immerse themselves into community, before creating a dialogue. These efforts are ongoing and the team learn more and more about the community, through each engagement opportunity.

At SSI, there is a genuine appetite and desire to support the RAP and reconciliation efforts across the business. Staff have come forward to contribute in many different forms.

Just recently, we formed a Voice to Parliament working group that was initiated by two staff members. This initiative has grown legs and will see SSI out in CALD communities, conducting forums aimed at educating and assisting people to make an informed decisions when it comes time to vote at the referendum.

There are many different ways to progress reconciliation. Whatever path you chose, I encourage you to take some time this week to reflect on steps you can take to realise makarrata.

For more information, visit the Reconciliation Week website, or click here to read SSI’s RAP.

By the end of 2023, the Australian government will hold a referendum to ask Australians if there should be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice enshrined in the constitution – a proposal from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to which SSI is a signatory.

Today, as an organisation, SSI is formally announcing its support for the upcoming referendum by publishing a position statement, approved by the board, in which we fully endorse the Voice to Parliament as a historic opportunity to move our country forward.

As a leading settlement organisation, we welcome newcomers to a place where First Nations people have had a continuous connection to the land for more than 65,000 years, having a rich culture, wisdom and care for the land that has not always been acknowledged or respected, including in Australia’s 122-year-old Constitution. We have an opportunity to change this.

We believe the establishment of a Voice to Parliament presents an opportunity for us to walk with First Nations people, side-by-side, and take a step forward on our journey towards achieving makarrata – a Yolngu word that means coming together after a conflict.

Constitutional recognition through a Voice is a simple but powerful proposal whose time has come. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have great strength and wisdom. These are attributes that must be harnessed in order to meaningfully address the inequality they face and work together to achieve a shared vision of a fairer future for all Australians.

The reality is that even with the best intentions, governments and parliamentarians alone cannot provide lasting solutions without working with First Nations community leaders. A Voice to Parliament would simply ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are able to advise politicians about what really works in their communities before decisions are made.

We recognise that a Voice to Parliament does not present an instant fix for the many and varied issues of inequality facing First Nations communities. Much more needs to be done to realise makarrata – but this is an important practical first step.

While modern Australia celebrates multiculturalism, this appreciation of our rich, diverse communities is a recent advent. Up until the 1960s, Australia sought to achieve a homogenous culture through assimilation policies.

This was particularly devastating for First Nations communities, who lost culture, identity and connection to country through forced assimilation. These policies also affected new migrants and refugees – who were forced to abandon their culture in order to try to belong in their new home.

This treatment has had lasting effects on individuals and communities, which we must continue to acknowledge, even while celebrating the progress we have made towards creating a more cohesive, diverse nation.

There is still much work to be done to achieve true inclusion and appreciation for all cultures, but it is with the benefit of hindsight – and in reflecting on our nation’s complex history – that we can understand and appreciate the true value of celebrations like Harmony Week. This is doubly so in light of Harmony Week’s origin as a local celebration aligned with International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

By embracing our diversity and fostering understanding and respect between cultures, we can create a society where everyone feels valued and respected.

At SSI, we work every day to support migrants and refugees in settling into their new lives in Australia. We know firsthand the challenges that newcomers face, and we are committed to helping them integrate into our society and feel a sense of belonging.

But we cannot do this alone. It takes a collective effort to create a society where everyone feels valued and respected, regardless of their background. We must all work together to build a community where diversity is celebrated, and differences are seen as strengths, not weaknesses.

This Harmony Week, I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on the importance of multiculturalism and the role we each play in creating a harmonious and inclusive society. Together, we can commit to working collaboratively to create a future where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

SSI’s brand – our image and visual identity – traces its roots back to where we began in 2000, as a small settlement agency supporting refugees in Sydney. Fast forward to today, we are a national not-for-profit organisation that offers a diverse range of human services and promotes equal opportunities for all.


February marks two anniversaries that highlight the generosity and success of Australia’s approach to refugee resettlement.