I was incredibly heartened to see the thousands of people from diverse ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds who walked together on October 25, to show their support for a multicultural Australia where all people are respected.
The Walk Together event took place in cities and regional centres around the country and in Sydney participants enjoyed a glorious Saturday afternoon together. SSI was a proud partner of Walk Together and its organiser, the Welcome to Australia organisation. The event was based on principles and ideals that are foundations of SSI: that we are all common people, with common dreams, who have the right to live free of prejudice, persecution and harassment because of race, colour or religion.
With so much public attention on refugees and asylum seekers being negative, Walk Together was an opportunity for the public to reject these portrayals and to reiterate humanitarian values. Thousands of people carried signs that read “If we are people, we are equal”, and “you are welcome here”.
In Sydney we saw bipartisan support for the cause at federal level, with Liberal MP for Reid Craig Laundy joined by Labor MP for Greenway Michelle Rowland, Labor MP for Blaxland Jason Clare and Greens Senator and Leader Christine Milne. These politicians marched up front of the demonstration with lawyer and media commentator Mariam Veiszadeh, TV presenter Andrew O’Keefe and Welcome to Australia National Director Brad Chilcott.
SSI is an organisation established to support the needs of refugees, migrants and people seeking asylum, so staff, volunteers and clients were especially heartened to see the explicit support for these groups of often-marginalised people.
Australia is a nation built on immigration and which has had a proud history of providing safe asylum to refugees. In June this year Australia marked the 60th Anniversary of its Liberal Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies signing the nation’s support for the United Nations Refugee Convention. Australia was the sixth country to sign the convention, with six being the quota required to ratify the treaty.
World War II migrants and refugees were the focus of the convention but Australia has continued its support for refugees until today. The nation would barely be recognisable without these arrivals to its shores. Many prominent Australians who have contributed to the nation’s prosperity have done so because Australia welcomed them here as refugees.
While refugees and new migrants have always faced some discrimination in the community, there is growing cause to say negative sentiments have not been so prevalent since the signing of the convention. But Walk Together was evidence that there is a large sector of the community that wants to welcome refugees, migrants and asylum seekers as equals.
Through these visible shows of support, I have no doubt that we can again influence the public discourse to encourage an atmosphere of welcome in Australia.
Everyone at SSI would like to thank those who walked, and especially those other partner organisations - Welcome to Australia, AMES, Diversitat, MDA, Amnesty International Australia, MCCGC, and Cultural Diversity Queensland - that made the day possible.