Australian of the Year David and former Chief of Army, David Morrison, delivered the 2nd annual Kep Enderby Memorial Lecture on 27 October, focussing on the themes of culture, inclusion and the human right to be free from discrimination.
The annual lecture marks the anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act, introduced in 1975 by former federal Attorney-General Kep Enderby QC.
“When you think upon how this wonderful country has changed for the better since 1975, surely it is a legacy of which Kep Enderby and Australia can be very proud,” Mr Morrison said.
On the question of culture, Mr Morrison said a discernible strain of ‘us against them’ runs within our national character.
“This is evident most dramatically in immigration policies from our past that fought to retain the identity of a white Australia while at the same time denying citizenship to the first Australians, despite many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people fighting and dying in the nation’s name during the two World Wars and in Korea.”
Mr Morrison said Australia could be justifiably proud of how Australia has, for the most part, absorbed different cultures and built a solid social foundation of tolerance.
But he cautioned against complacency and warned we are not making the best use of available talent within an ageing population.
“A complete appreciation of diversity and a planned and conscious effort to build inclusive workforces is missing,” Mr Morrison said.
“I think the situation is the long-term result of allowing a comfortable, male-dominated middle class to determine who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’. However, much of that determination is the result of either a status quo induced hubris or, questionably, unconscious bias.
“The rise of nationalist groups in the country, whose mandate is exclusion from society based on race, religion, or any other questionable criterion, is of great concern.”
“The common feature of such groups is an exhortation to look in and protect what is ‘ours’ from those who are undeserving of the benefits ‘we’ have created.
“What concerns me most today is that in the face of some truly epic challenges … be they societal, environmental or ethical, we hear too loudly the voices of unreasoned invective and scorn, channelled through many mediums.
Mr Morrison noted the importance of free speech “in this vibrant, multicultural nation.”
He said “we are rambunctious and we do argue issues with passion and conviction. We are often less about paying superficial respect to each other and more about adding our voice to the debates of the day, and I feel that this is essentially healthy. But… there is a but…
“Legislation like the Racial Discrimination Act is essential if we are to exercise our democratic rights in a manner that adds to our national strength, not tears at its core.”