I acknowledge the Gadigal people on this important day who are the traditional custodians of the land where we gather today. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present, and members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be present here today.
I am delighted to be here with you as we gather together to celebrate Australia Day. It is a great privilege to share this occasion with you; to witness your pledge of citizenship to our great country. Today will be a particularly special day, for you and your families. Almost 17 900 people, originally hailing from 155 different countries – will today, our national day, become citizens in some 400 ceremonies held across the nation.
Today is also special for another reason, as we mark the 65th anniversary of Australian citizenship. Prior to the 26th of January 1949 and the introduction of the Nationality and Citizenship Act, most people were known as British subjects.
On February 3rd 1949 the first Australian citizenship ceremony took place at Albert Hall in Canberra. Seven men, each representing each state of Australia and the Australian Capital Territory, became citizens at this ceremony. Now, 65 years later, you stand to follow in the footsteps of the more than 4.5 million Australians who have since taken the oath.
Australia is an immigration nation. At its core, immigration is a nation building process. Our immigration history dates back not just to the start of the post war period, but to the time of the arrival of the first fleet, which we acknowledge today. We need to expand our understanding of Australia’s immigration story. A more inclusive historical understanding will help build bridges and points of connections between the successive waves of immigrants and the generations of Australians that followed them. We and those who have preceded us, have all come to this land at one point, and made it, as Sir Henry Parkes described, the land of our adoption.
Whether it be ten generations ago or more recently, all but for the first Australians are here because we or our ancestors chose to seek opportunity and a new life in this land.
Our stories, whether those of our first settlers or most recent migrants, have common themes. These themes involve leaving a familiar place and culture to adopt a new land. As time has passed, we have discarded the baggage and restrictions of our old lands, while preserving and freshly appreciating those things and values that we brought with us, to embrace and create a new nation.
This has been the experience of every wave of migration to this country and appreciated in this light, creates a new point of commonality amongst us, particularly between our pre and post war immigration populations and even more recent arrivals. It is this transformation and the extraordinary achievements that have resulted since the arrival of Captain Arthur Phillip more than 225 years ago, that we celebrate today.
Our act of citizenship seals the commitment of this nation to those who have been invited to come fully into the Australian inheritance. Becoming a citizen is about adopting not just this land, but our shared heritage as Australians, as a well as a shared responsibility to honour that heritage and a shared opportunity to leave this land better than we found it for those who follow.
The ongoing development of our institutions and sense of nationhood does not require us to reject our heritage but to understand and appreciate it – perhaps less with a sense of judgement from a more advantaged age, and more with a sense of empathy for the difficult challenges faced by those who created this country and the inheritance that is now ours to steward and enjoy.
Australia continues to grow as a great nation because of the willingness of those who take citizenship to embrace this inheritance. Here, as you take the pledge we congratulate you as you take this exciting step. In taking that pledge you are making a promise to the Australians who stand beside you, and to those who came before you in a similar manner and our first Australians who have been here since ancient times. By becoming Australian citizens here today, you are pledging to honour, uphold and defend our shared and precious inheritance, and to live a life equal that responsibility.
On behalf of the Australian Government and the Australian people, I congratulate you and thank you for the contribution I am certain you will make to our nation.