This article was first published as an Op Ed in The West Australian newspaper, 21 March 2023
I am often asked why we mark Harmony Week. If we are such a successful multicultural State, why then do we still need to promote a week where we encourage everyone to recognise and celebrate cultural and linguistic diversity?
As a State that’s home to people originating from almost every country in the world, speaking around 250 languages and dialects, and following more than 130 religious faiths, do we really still need to be encouraging everyone to recognise the benefits that cultural diversity brings us?
I believe we do. We should all embrace and enjoy this time to celebrate how far we have come.
Harmony Week came about in recognition of the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, observed on March 21.
We live in a country where it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because of their skin colour, descent, national or ethnic origin, or immigrant status. We have Federal and State laws designed to protect everyone from discrimination.
And yet, sadly, some people in our community are still subjected to negative attitudes and treatment as a result of their perceived race or ethnic origin.
This may take the form of aggressive behaviour and name-calling, but it may also manifest itself in excluding or ignoring someone. Not inviting them to an event or not including them in a group conversation.
Of course, this can also happen unintentionally when we are unsure or don’t want to offend, but the result is the same.
As a child, I was sometimes treated as “different”, due to my Italian ancestry. Being subjected to derogatory name-calling and stereotyping is an experience I will never forget.
In March 2021, the Australian Human Rights Commission called for a national anti-racism framework. This was largely in response to calls for action after the increase in racism that occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, the Australian Government acknowledged this need and announced funding for the AHRC to deliver a National Anti-Racism Strategy. This is now in the process of being developed through community consultation, research and data collection. This has been strongly supported by the McGowan Government through the Office of Multicultural Interests which is working closely with the AHRC.
So, Harmony Week presents us with opportunities.
It is an opportunity to recognise the huge number of positives that we all get from living in a culturally and linguistically diverse society. It is a time to celebrate how far we have progressed in combatting racism and to reinforce messages of welcome and belonging.
But it is just as vital that we take the time to acknowledge that we need to keep working together to ensure everyone in our society feels they belong and can contribute fully — whatever their cultural background may be, or what language they may speak at home.
The impact of racism can change the direction of people’s lives. It can affect the services they receive, the teams they can join, and the employment opportunities that are open to them. It can be the difference between achieving a life they can be proud of, and a life where they feel that every door is closed to them.
So, this Harmony Week, make some time to explore the many events and celebrations that are happening across our State, but also take the opportunity to get involved.
Make it a goal to use the week to learn about the many benefits of our cultural diversity.
Also, look at how you can play an active part in challenging attitudes and behaviours that threaten a harmonious multicultural society. This is not always easy (or safe) to do but it is always important to be respectful and make everyone feel included and welcome.
Will Harmony Week 2023 be the one where we all actively embrace cultural diversity and step forward to make everyone know they belong?
Tony Buti is Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Interests.