25 January 2020

If it happens that you’re looking for me or my family members the day before Australia Day, you’ll probably find us in a butcher shop.

We have a couple of kilos of sausages and meat to buy and an Australia Day barbecue to prepare for.

In the great Aussie tradition, my family loves to take the opportunity provided by Australia Day to get together and throw a few snags on the barbie.

Being a family with Italian heritage however, there’s every chance those snags are pork and fennel and they’ll likely be served alongside an antipasto platter. That said, I really enjoy an old-fashioned snag in white bread with tomato sauce.

But that’s the great thing about Australia. Not only do we love snags of any kind, we’re a country of diversity, of multiculturalism, where people of all cultures have the opportunity to make a contribution.

I’m the proud son of migrants; my parents came to Australia 50 years ago and their story is not unique. They came looking for new opportunities and the chance to build a good life for themselves and their children. That means freedom of speech, religion and culture.

They worked hard, were rewarded and made the most of the opportunities Australia offered them. And, like most Australian migrants, January 26 is an important occasion, a day of celebration with family and friends.

We gather to share stories, reflect on who we are and where we’ve come from and to celebrate all that makes us different in this beautiful country. You can see it in the number of multicultural groups that are arranging community events tomorrow: the Thomastown Greek community will gather for Australia Day lunch at the Greek Orthodox Church, a Fiji Islamic group will get together for a community dinner tonight in Dandenong, the Indian and Punjabi communities will hold a joint Australia and India Day celebration in Kew in the coming days and the Veneto Club will host a special Australia Day function for the Melbourne Italian community.

Migrants have an enormous affection for Australia. Research over three years by migrant settlement agency AMES Australia has found an overwhelming majority of migrants believe Australia Day is important for the nation.

The research, first conducted ahead of Australia Day in 2018, asked 150 migrants each year about their attitudes towards Australia and Australia Day.

The surveys have consistently found that about 80 per cent of migrants believe it’s important to mark the day and that most celebrate in one way or another.

Many say Australia Day events help them feel more welcome, showing that the continued national emphasis on taking pride in our multicultural community is having a positive impact on migrant Australians. Importantly, almost all of the migrants surveyed said they wanted to become an Australian citizen.

For new Australians, becoming a citizen is a profound moment.

There are more citizenship ceremonies conducted on Australia Day than at any other time and last year a record 16,212 migrants became citizens on January 26. Tomorrow, another 16,000 will take the oath of citizenship.

The Australia Day Council highlights the high participation of migrants in Australia Day events, saying that it demonstrates “that we share the common belief that there is much to be proud of as Australians”.

Along with our national ideals of a fair go, opportunity, equality and mateship, part of what we ought to be proud of is our success as a multicultural nation. About six million Australians were born overseas and half of us are the children and grandchildren of migrants.

There are now more Australians who were either born overseas or are second generation migrants, born to migrant parents, than the number of Australians who were born here in 1971.

We’re a vibrant, inclusive country, where we celebrate the diverse contribution of all migrants, all Australians. For me, I reckon that’s worth a pork and fennel snag on Australia Day.

Raff Ciccone is a Federal Labor Senator for Victoria with a passion for barbeque. He currently serves as the Secretary of the Federal Labor Multicultural Policy Caucus Committee.

Originally published in The Herald Sun.