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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 9557


Photo of Keating, Paul

Keating, Paul

Period of Service: 20/12/1991 to 11/03/1996

More information about Keating, Paul on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 26/04/1995

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 9557

Your excellency, Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, distinguished speakers, ladies
and gentlemen.
It is my pleasure to welcome you to Australia, to Sydney and the 1995
Global Cultural Diversity Conference.
On behalf of Bob Carr, the Premier of New South Wales, and Sir James
Gobbo, Chairman of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, who are cohosting
this conference with the Australian Government we welcome your
participation in discussions of great importance and we hope, in time, of
great consequence.
We are very privileged to have with us so many eminent speakers from all
over the world. I thank you most sincerely for coming.
Mr Secretary General, it is a particular pleasure and an honour to welcome
you on your first visit to Australia, especially in this year in which we are
commemorating the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations.
1995 has also been designated as the International Year for Tolerance and
the first Decade for the World's Indigenous People.
We are also pleased to welcome Dr Federico Mayor, Director-General of
UNESCO, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 1995 as well, and the
Deputy President of South Africa, Mr Thabo Mbeki.
The conference has brought together knowledgeable and concerned
individuals to consider the ways by which we might make cultural diversity
less of an impediment to human progress and more of a means to it. Less
of a source of conflict, and more of a means by which the benefits of
tolerance can be learned or re-learned. Less of a violent and destructive
force, less of a vehicle for xenophobia and prejudice, and more of a means
to creating a more peaceful, creative and secure post-Cold War World.
In short we sen it as a contribution to the effort to make the 21st century a
better one than this.

This conference was conceived as a means of marking all these milestones.
And, I might say, Australia is an appropriate place to mark them.
We are a country looking forward to the next century. We believe we have
a constructive role to play in those issues which concern the United
Nations. We have always believed that we were present and active at its
inception in San Francisco but we have never believed it more than now.
And we are nothing if not culturally diverse: more than 220 nationalities are
represented in our population. Forty two per cent of our people were born
overseas or have one parent born overseas.
Australian society is rich in linguistic, racial, religious and cultural diversity.
We have consciously devised policies to encourage and preserve this
diversity and gain in return benefits to the nation and community.
We count the creation of this rich, pluralistic and peaceful society we think
one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world as one of
our great national achievements.
That is why I say that Sydney is an appropriate environment for this Global
Cultural Diversity Conference.
Not because we presume to think that Australia can be a model for the rest
of the world the world is itself too diverse for that. But we have learned
some useful things about living together, we have a deep interest in these
questions and we think we can make a contribution in a world which
desperately needs answers to them.
Fifty years ago in San Francisco, a group of delegates, including Dr H V
Evatt from Australia, met to design the United Nations. They hoped that the
institution they were creating would ensure that the wars which had already
ravaged the world twice in just thirty years would never be repeated.
They wanted to construct a framework for a world in which international
stability was based on common values of justice, development and peace.
But in 1946 the lessons of the failed League of Nations were still fresh in
everyone's minds and the consequences of that failure appallingly real. So
there was a strong streak of realism as well as idealism in the blueprint the
delegates drew up in San Francisco.
They knew the United Nations needed to take into account the realities of
global power. And they understood the importance of the nation-state.

The role of the nation-state was already cemented at the centre of
international affairs, and its importance was to grow even larger as the great
process of decofonisation got under way.
Not surprisingly, therefore, the framework the architects of the United
Nations developed had at its core the need to settle, or at least contain,
conflicts between nation-states.
In the event, as we know, the post-war reality fell short of the high hopes
of San Francisco. The emergence of the Cold War and a bipolar
international system imposed a very different dynamic on United Nations
operations. Still, despite the complications and set-backs of the following half century,
the United Nations managed to notch up substantial achievements. Not
enough of them, no doubt, but many more than some of its critics allow.
But fifty years on, the Cold War is over and there has never been a better
time to ask ourselves if the United Nations we now bia-u is what we now
need. And what we will need in the 21st century.
Given the scale of change in the world since the organisation was formed, it
would be astonishing if the answer was yes.
Many distinguished figures, not least yourself, Secretary-General, have been
engaged in juJst this task of renewal.
Australia, through Gareth Evans especially, has been playing a role in this
debate, as we did in Sani Francisco half a century ago.
I do not want to explore these important structural questions this morning.
There are many other forums at which that will be done.
But I do want to draw the link between what we are talking about at this
conference and these wider United Nations issues.
Because cultural diversity, which we in Australia value as a source of
strength and pride, has an external dimension, too.
And the manifestations of cultural diversity we see on the television news
more often seem to take the form of tragic and intractable conflicts.
We have been reminded horribly of this by the suffering we have seen just
this week in Rwanda.
I want to pay tribute hero to the role of the Australian peacekeepers in
UNAMIR, who were instrumental in providing medical assistance to the
victims of the terrible massacre at Kibeho.

They have shown the finest traditions of the Australian Defence Force, and
richly deserve the Anzac Peace Prize they have been awarded,
Ironically, the end of the Cold War which was otherwise so welcome
made possible many of these new outbreaks of conflict around the world by
releasing the political iron bonds which had contained them.
So, in the former Yugoslavia, in the former Soviet Union, in Burundi, in
Somalia, we see tragedies unfold large-scale horror and appalling
inhumanity, stemming from ingrained, small-scale hatreds.
Anid these conflicts are shaping the international system, and challenging
the United Nations, just as profoundly as traditional disputes between states
have done.
They are the reflection of a world in which very often the ation and the
state are rio longer the same thing.
The nation-state, as it existed when the United Nations was founded, is
going through a period of profound transition, and the international
community has to respond.
We see this most obviously in the economic area, where the global market
place is already a reality.
The engagement of the developing world in the international economy is one
of the most far-reaching arid beneficial developments of our age but, as
Auistralians know, it is part of a process which challenges our former ideas
of economic sovereignty.
Similarly, responses to the degradation of the environment cannot possibly
come from one country alone, because both the causes and the effects are
Arid the information revolution poses huge problems for laws of national
copyright, and makes the national regulation of what our citizens see and
hear almost impossible.
In short, one of the mantras of modern international relations noninterference
in the internal affairs of other-countries these days has a
greatly modified and much reduced meaning.
In this very different world, how should the international community
respond to the ethnic and communal conflicts which so mar international
peace, and properly disturb ouir consciences?
I dto not mean by this how should we go about the important tasks of
peacekeeping and peacemaking, or the immediate human responses of

providing food, shelter and medicine to those who are suffering? Those,
again, are issues which require separate consideration.
Instead, at a different level, I think that responses lie in some cases in
redefining our idea of the state. In other cases, we need to rethink our view
of the nation.
Sometimes, the best response to intractable tensions may be the old
fashioned remedy of redefining the borders of the state.
That is what happened, peacefully, when the Czech Republic and Slovakia
split, and it is the answer that many of the component parts of the former
Soviet Union found.
Part of the answer may lie in a radical redefinition of what constitutes a
state. In Europe, the very homeland of the nation-state, and the source of much of
the national conflict which has so scarred our century, the European Union
is dramatically changing our ideas about what a state is, and how
sovereignty is distributed.
And after 1997, when Hong Kong reverts to China's control, China will
comprise one state but with two distinct economic systems.
A third response, and one I think that is important, is to build up the role of
regional institutions and identities.
Because the gap between individual states and multilateral organisations like
the United Nations can sometimes be too great for quick and effective
responses to humanitarian or security problems.
And the cultural and historical background necessary to resolve problems
will often lie more readily in the local region.
In addition, an important factor in democracies like Australia is that our
people will often more readily support commitments in our own region
Cambodia, for example than outside it, because they can understand more
easily how events there can affect them.
When the government of Papua New Guinea was searching for a solution to
the problems it faced on the island of Bougainville, for example, it found the
idea of a regional peacekeeping force useful.
Similarly, the United Nations operation in Haiti had a large regional element.
And I think the problem of conflicting claims in the South China Sea a key
security question in Asia is probably more amenable to a regional than an
international settlement.

The greatest contribution of regional organisations, however, has so far
been seen in economic frameworks like the European Union, NAFTA and in
this part of the world APEC.
APEC brings together eighteen very different economies and cultures united
in the common purpose of sustaining prosperity and growth in the Asia
Pacific. It is a practical example of what used to be called North-South
And I have no doubt that here, as in Europe, the act of working together on
practical economic issues will have beneficial political and security
consequences as well.
So regionalism is central to the broader United Nations efforts to promote
peace and prosperity not an alternative, but an addition.
Finally, however, the answer to what we can do about troubling
humanitarian and security problems may lie not so much in rethinking the
state, as in redefining the nation.
The challenge in many cases is how we can create societies rich in cultural,
racial and religious diversity but do so in ways which encourage rather than
compromise a sense of national identity.
It is too glib to say that the answer lies simply in better understanding. The
problems in the Balkans or in central Africa do not stem from a lack of
familiarity with the culture of the antagonists.
This means that the redefinition of the nation is a complex task. It involves
economic and social development, justice, human rights, good governance,
inclusive institution building, tolerance, respect for difference, the
strengthening of civil society.
So it is not an easy job or a quick one. And I do not pretend that the
Australian experience is readily transferable to other parts of the world.
But, as I said, I am certain that some of what we have done here can lead
not only to the development of a culturally rich, diverse, and peaceful
Australian society, but may suggest to others ways of improving harmony
within and between states.
This would be a fitting contribution to the current debate about the future of
the United Nations and its operations, and to the International Year of
Tolerance., It is true that we count what we have done here as a great success.
Nowhere is that truer than in our changing relationship with Asia.

Just a generation ago, the White Australia Policy was still a reality in all but
the technical detail.
Australia came perilously close to marginalising itself in our region and in the
world. Now, half of all our immigrants come from Asia.
They are adding immeasurably to the richness of our society, to our arts, to
our commerce, to the way we live our daily lives,
And their values, like the values of all those who have come here before,
will help shape our culture.
This is a much more tolerant society than that which existed just a
generation ago. Today, no Australian political party can hope to succeed
with an immigration policy which excludes people on racial or ethnic
grounds. Tolerance itself has become one of those words to which we
attach a primary democratic value.
Yet it is important, at this stage of our history, to put our multicultural
successes in perspective.
For instance, I think it would be a mistake for this generation of Australians
to persuade themselves either that the transformation is complete and
completely satisfactory, or, indeed, that all the achievements have occurred
since we first took on the idea the word and the policies of
multicultiralism. Under a different banner that of assimilation migrants from Europe and
the Middle East were welcomed in the decades immediately after World War
II and made a profound contribution to our national life and development.
There are regions of Australia where in the 19th century people from
Germany and Italy were more numerous and their cultures more pervasive
than any from the British Isles.
Today when we talk of the enrichment of our culture by people from all the
countries of the world we sometimes forget that people have been coming
from all over the world to this place for 200 years; that our landscape was
interpreted by painters, scientists and explorers from Germany, Switzerland,
Poland and France as well as Britain and that this artistic and intellectual
tradition was consolidated in the 20th century.
It seems to me we should remember that tolerance of cultural difference is
ultimately a necessary condition for a successful new world country; and
that those traditions of egalitarian democracy which emerged in the last half
of the 19th century had the seeds of multiculturalism in them. If it is true
that earlier generations of Australians traditionally took the view that where
and to what rank people were born should be no measure of their character,

and that in Australia everyone should begin without these handicaps, then
we can see ourselves as building on a tradition.
And we can learn the lesson that the best traditions of a country, and the
best instincts of a people, can be the basis of radical change. I think that is
what we have learnt in Australia in the past couple of decades that
societies can be changed, that an inward looking culture can be made
outward looking, that what seems alien can be revealed as friendly, that
where threats always seemed to lie there are now rewards and
opportunities. And I think we must also always bear in mind that the dominant cultures of
our history those of the British Isles and Ireland far from being hostile to
the growth of a culturally diverse society, provided in democratic institutions
and ideas its essential precondition.
I make these points because it does not hurt to be reminded that our efforts
are part of a much longer story: a story in which progress has been
uneven. We do not know all the answers, and the story is far from over
and we should not assume that the rapid strides we have made in the past
two decades are a guarantee of success in the future.
There is no more profound example of the distance we still have to travel in
Australia than the position of Aboriginal people in our society and their
relationship with non-Aboriginal Australians.
Nor, of course, is there any better example of the fact that since 1788 this
continent has played host to a multicultural society.
This conference is not the place to offer a short history of the
dispossession, brutality and neglect, which accompanied European
settlement and which has continued in this century. Until we succeed in
our ambition to affect a permanent reconciliation with indigenous
Australians, our claims to have achieved a successful multicultural society
will always be compromised.
But we are at last determined on reconciliation a new partnership built on
mutual respect, justice and equity and we have in the last two years put in
place some long overdue foundations.
We have given legislative expression to a decision of the High Court of
Australia that the idea of terra nullius the farcical notion that no one
owned Australia prior to British settlement was indeed a lie. The High
Court established that there was a Native Title to land, rooted in traditional
law and custom itself, within the common law of Australia,
The legislation giving effect to this decision has survived criticism and a
legal challenge. It was confirmed in the High Court just last month. And I
might say what has also been confirmed is that Australians are prepared to

support such a dramatic change in the law that they want to see the
relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians put right.
The establishment of a Native Title will not of itself redress the
consequences of dispossession. In truth, of course, nothing will. But over
the next ten years the Government will allocate some $ 1.5 billion to a
permanent fund so that dispossessed indigenous communities will have the
means to buy land and in so doing regain the potential for spiritual and
cultural regeneration, as well as an economic base to improve their material
The final step will be the implementation of social justice measures. We
now have before us two major reports which draw on extensive
consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and in due
course we will announce the measures calculated to be most likely to
redress the wrongs and raise the living standards and life opportunities of
indigenous Australians.
There is no doubt that we will succeed best in this wherever we are able to
give Aboriginal people the means of solving their own problems. It is
equally true that we will make improvements in the quality of their lives,
including their health, and raise morale and self esteem wherever we can
deliver the means of their retaining contact with traditional culture and
customs. That, after all, is the most fundamental principle of
rulticulturalism. For us, the process of reconciliation is a basic test of our modern
nationhood on it depends our relationship with both our past and our
future. On it also depends a favourable measure of our achievements in the
realm of cultural diversity.
But to put Australia's progress towards a successful multicultural society in
perspective, to make reference to ambitions not yet fulfilled, is certainly not
to discount the scale of our achievements or the pride we take in them.
The Australia I knew as a child and the Australia of today are radically
different places. When we were growing up we did not and could not
imagine the Sydney of 1995. And even if we had been able to visualise the
city as it now is, we could not have conceived of the means by which it has
been brought about. We could not have conceived of the necessary policy
changes. Perhaps most importantly, we could not have conceived of the
necessary changes in ourselves.
That is at the heart of multiculturalism. It describes a response to the
diversity that exists in Australian society. It is a policy for managing the
consequences of that diversity in the interests of all.
This means a policy which guarantees rights and imposes responsibilities.

The rights include those of cultural identity tho right to express and share
individual cultural heritage, including language and religion. The right to
social justice the right of every Australian to equality of treatment and
opportuinity, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, language, gender or place
of birth.
The responsibilities might be summarised as follows: that the first loyalty of
all Australians must be to Australia, to its interests and its future; that all
Australians must accept the basic principles of Australian society, including
the Constitution and the rule of law, parliamentary democracy, freedom of
speech and religion, English as the national language, equality of the sexes
and the right of every Australian to express his or her views and values.
That is the essential balance iin the multicultural equation: the promotion of
individual and collective cultural rights and expression, on the one hand;
and on the other, the promotion of common national interests and values.
Arid Success depends on demonstrating that each side of the equation
serves the othpr.
In practical terms one side can be seen in Government programs to provide
people who have just arrived in AuIstralia with assistance to locate and use
the various welfare services, including health, housing and income support.
Or in, for instance, the Translating and Interpreting Service which, by phone
or in person, assists migrants to break down the language barrier they face
until they become fluent in English.
Or in the Special Broadcasting Service, whose daily television and radio
broadcasts in 67 languages help to maintain the threads which link so many
Australians to their n'ative culture,
These are eminently practical measures calculated to minimise the trauma
which migration has always entailed and make the transition to a new life in
a new Culture that much easier. They do not demand or enforce an
attachment to this country, they encourage it.
We take the same view on citizenship. We do not oblige new settlers to
take out citizenship but we actively encourage them to, and when they do
we ask them to swear an oath which expressly acknowledges the principle
of tolerance on which rMUlticulturalisni depends.
The dividend of cultural diversity is largely paid in the form of a society
which is both more rich and interesting and more harmonious and peaceful,
In more recent times we have discovered a new dividend a productivity
dividend. We have learned that cultural difference means different ways of looking at
the world. In an economic environment which demands of enterprises that

they use every possible advantage to be innovative and flexible this is likely
to be a tangible asset.
We have learned that being among the very few countries whose people
understand all but a few of the world's languages and cultures is a very
considerable competitive advantage.
In addition, we are discovering that our policies have provided us with the
most valuable links to countries where we can do business: personal links
and personal understanding between Australian enterprises and the markets
they wish to enter.
We are taking steps to capitalise on these connections and the great cultural
diversity of the Australian workforce through a Productive Diversity Agenda.
This is perhaps the most concrete example we could adduce to show that
the encouragement of cultural diversity is much more than an act of
benevolence it is an act of national self interest.
I am sure it is the hope of everyone here that over the next three days
persuasive arguments will be put to show that the global interest can be
served by the affirmation of cultural diversity.
We certainly do not say that what has occurred in Australia should be a
blueprint for the world., Cultural diversity, let alone human diversity, makes
the idea of a single template absurd. Nor do we expect this conference to
be a celebration of our achievements.
However, we do feel able to say that this very democratic, very open and
very forward looking country has learned a good deal about the benefits and
the management of cultural diversity. We are a country emerging, I think,
into a great 21st century future. We will not be a nation state in the old
sense of that term: we will be a more purposefully independent country
than before, yet we will be more integrated with the world and with the
Asia-Pacific region in particular than the Australians of 60 years ago, when
the United Nations was created, could ever have imagined.
We like to think that we might have in our modern nationhood at least some
of the elements of a 21st century model diversity, tolerance, openness and
worldliness within the boundaries of national purpose and cohesion. And
perhaps as we pursue those goals we can help the world pursue them.
I have very great pleasure in opening this conference and inviting the
Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr Boutros Boutros-Ghali, to deliver
the keynote address.
Sydney 26 April 1996

Transcript 9557