While racial intolerance has made stark, unsavoury headlines of late, Australia's leaders came together in a rare show of unity on Monday to fight back and reaffirm Australia as "the most successful multicultural society in the world".
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and opposition leader Bill Shorten both took the floor in the House of Representatives on Monday to speak in favour of a formal motion of racial tolerance in the parliament.
Turnbull was slated to begin his speech at 12pm, the exact time the U.S. presidential debate was meant to begin. Whether the timing was coincidental, intentional or just an accident of scheduling, the leaders of Australia's two main political parties spoke of welcoming Muslims and refugees while Donald Trump, the aspiring leader of the free world, backed in his previous comments about "extreme vetting" of Muslims and suspicions about the intentions of refugees from wartorn parts of the world.
The motion, moved by Turnbull, stated that the House of Representatives reaffirmed the commitment to equal rights and respect for all "regardless of race, colour, creed or origin"; to an immigration policy "wholly non-discriminatory" on race or origin; to reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and redressing "profound social and economic disadvantage"; the commitment to Australia as a "culturally diverse, tolerant and open society"; and, perhaps most poignantly in the context of politics both domestic and international, "denounces racial intolerance in any form as incompatible with the kind of society we are and want to be".
The motion stands in contrast to Pauline Hanson's maiden speech last month, where she said Australia was "in danger of being swamped by Muslims who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own".
"First and foremost, I see one of the great defining characteristics of the nation that is Australia — that we are the most successful multicultural society in the world," Turnbull said in introducing the motion.
"Australia is an immigration nation. Today almost half of us have a parent born overseas and more than a quarter of Australians were born overseas themselves. We are much more diverse than the United States, only one of whose 50 U.S. states -- California - has a comparable overseas-born population. "
"Since 1945 more than 7.5 million people have come from all corners of the earth to make their life here. In joining our fold, they have added their own identity to the extraordinary project that is modern Australia."
The Prime Minister injected the speech with a dose of sage words about national security and borders -- " a necessary precondition for harmony is security", he said -- but stuck largely to the benefits of a diverse, multicultural Australia.
"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," Turnbull said.
"Muslim Australians are an integral part of our Australian family... While there are Muslim Australians, including converts, who support the terrorists and seek to do us harm, they are a tiny minority whose madness offends and appalls Australian Muslims, as much as it does the wider Australian community."
While dedicating a section of his speech to Muslims, the PM also reserved a section for Australia's Indigenous people, and outlined his hope for Aboriginal people to be recognised in the constitution.
"We want to ensure our First Australians are not just surviving, but have the opportunity to thrive, to excel, to live the life of their choosing with meaning and purpose in a way that matters to them," he said.
"We recognise that healing takes time. But the commitment our generation has made to improving this relationship is a vitally important one. I look forward to the day that our nation's founding document - our Constitution -- recognises and respects our First Australia and thus reflects Australia as it is now, not how it was imagined over a century ago."
Shorten rose to support the motion, adding his own thoughts to the idea of racial tolerance in Australia.
"In this place we should stand always up for our values -- and our national identity -- in its most generous and fullest sense," he said.
"As leaders, we have a responsibility to unite -- not divide. To reject the falsehood of a strong man or strong woman imposing simple 'us versus them' solutions, which only lead to bleaker outcomes. To reject the false choice between faith or nation, between a person's heritage and their hopes for the future. Instead -- with this motion today we say to all Australians -- no one part of you defines all of you. And it should not define your destiny."
Shorten went further in his words about Indigenous people, saying formal recognition would "strike racism from the pages of our constitution", and spoke strongly of not just tolerating diversity but embracing it.
"The word 'tolerance' doesn't do justice to the society we treasure. We tolerate traffic jams, we tolerate flight delays, we tolerate headaches. We tolerate brussel sprouts -- we embrace diversity," the Labor leader said.
"The Bible does not tell us to 'tolerate' thy neighbour. Diversity is not a minor inconvenience to be endured, it's not a artifice of political correctness, it is the collective power of our nation, of all of us. We know today's immigrants and refugees are tomorrow's community leaders, business leaders, doctors, nurses and teachers. We know inclusion, openness, cohesion are universal values to build upon."
"We know multiculturalism is not a passing fashion – it is at the very heart of our national identity."
Turnbull: "I move that this House:
- Reaffirms its commitment to the right of all Australians to enjoy equal rights and be treated with equal respect regardless of race, colour, creed or origin;
- Reaffirms its commitment to maintaining an immigration policy wholly non‑discriminatory on grounds of race, colour, creed or origin;
- Reaffirms its commitment to the process of reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in the context of redressing their profound social and economic disadvantage;
- Reaffirms its commitment to maintaining Australia as a culturally diverse, tolerant and open society, united by an overriding commitment to our nation, and its democratic institutions and values; and
- Denounces racial intolerance in any form as incompatible with the kind of society we are and want to be."