Advocates in Profile

 

Who are Australia’s anti-racism champions?

The work of anti-racism is done by many in the community. These profiles highlight just a few of the Australians who have stood up against racism, and spoken up for equality.
 
Here, we recognise their leadership in anti-racism, multiculturalism and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice.
 

 

Amber Roberts

Manager at PwC Indigenous Consulting and Non-Executive Board Member of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

My work to date has been in the areas of Indigenous human rights, land rights, restorative justice, environmental justice, health equality, reconciliation and Indigenous employment.
 
In all these areas, I do my best to communicate that positive progress will only really be made if those who are affected are actively involved and included in the decision-making. Selling empathy (putting one in someone else’s shoes) is hard though and I have found myself feeling burnt out in this work – the struggle is real and continues, as it does for many others.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

I am proud of my own cultural identity and mixed family heritage and have always had a strong sense of social justice and value diversity of opinion, knowledge and cultures – there is so much to learn in this life, so many teachers in all areas of society, yet so many people struggle simply because of things that are out of their control.
 

How has Australia changed over time?

Positive social change comes and goes I think. I think Australia’s true national identity will not be settled until a formal avenue for truth telling about the history of treatment towards Australia’s First Peoples is in place. Progressing the requests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people outlined in the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ is also unfinished business.
 

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

While I was in my last year of high school at the time, I remember feeling proud of the work of the Human Rights Commission (then known as the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) on the ‘Bringing them Home Report’ and the significant actions made on the report recommendations, such as:
 
 
  • funding organisations dedicated for members of the stolen generation ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who had been removed from their family’ to reconnect, and
  • ‘The Apology’, which came a few years later when the Australian government finally acknowledged the harm caused to many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families from forced removal.
 
Generations of fostering on my father’s side meant that I have had to find family and still continue to do so. While this has been a daunting and traumatic experience, I was able to appreciate that my family was not alone in this and support was there.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

There are so many great positive stories to mention… though I was recently inspired by a project which connected young people from the Chumash nation in Los Angeles and young Aboriginal Australians to develop a song about climate change. The song will be launched on 9 August on International Day of World Indigenous Peoples via NITV/SBS.
 

How could Australia do better in fighting racism?

I think education, as early in life as possible, is the primary source to fighting racism. I strongly believe learning from others from various cultural backgrounds, broadens the lens of perspective. The world is big, yet can be so small if one chooses to view others as being less than them.
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration?

Honestly, my inner circle is relatively small. My inspiration is my family, my partner, our beautiful daughters, and our families on both sides. They are my world.
 
I am also a feminist at heart – there are many strong and inspirational women from various backgrounds that I look up to and draw strength from – life would not be the same without them in my life.

Mark Waters

State Manager - Reconciliation SA

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

Over the past five years, I have developed programs for Reconciliation SA in conjunction with ActNow Youth Theatre on combatting racism in schools. We signed up early to the national anti-racism campaign.
 
I have sat upon the roundtables and Taskforce in South Australia progressing conversations about tackling racism and expanding the reach of the national campaign.
 
Currently I am opening up conversations in Universities around Occupational Therapy, Social Work, Nursing and Health Sciences so that teaching staff and students are prepared in cultural responsiveness. These conversations will affect curriculum, engagement and professional learning standards.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

As part of Reconciliation South Australia, my life is constantly focussed upon inclusion and acceptance. This extends to Church involvement where our local congregation has campaigned for bringing children out of detention and supports the running of a local Bari School. In work, which translates to a way of being, we are being provoked to think about ways in which racism can be addressed and greater inclusion can be encouraged.
 

What does multiculturalism mean to you?

The First Peoples of Australia have a very special place as the oldest continuous living culture anywhere in the world. I engage with many people as new arrivals who are more open and interested in understanding Aboriginal culture than people who have been in Australia for generations. There is genuine respect and interest in learning from the Aboriginal culture and stories. People from war torn countries identify with the struggle of the Australian Aboriginal community. It is this cross-cultural exchange that defines multiculturalism for me.
 

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

His Excellency, Hieu Van Le AC becoming the Governor of South Australia having arrived by boat in Australia from Vietnam in 1977.
 
The 1967 Referendum allowing Aboriginal people to be counted in the census for the first time.
 
Gough Whitlam pouring sand into Vincent Lingiari’s hands as he acknowledged the land and its traditional owners.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

Recently I had the privilege of leading a Reconciliation Trek on the Kokoda Track. The openness of young Aboriginal Australians sitting with their Papua New Guinean “brothers” was awe-inspiring. The cross-cultural components of the Trek were profound and surpassed expectation. To see a young 15 year old Aboriginal girl sitting talking with her Buna brother for over an hour exchanging understandings about families and communities and customs was truly heart- warming.
 

How could Australia do better in fighting racism?

We have got the message out there about Zero Tolerance to racism. The National Campaign Racism. It Stops with Me has supported this zero tolerance agenda. However, casual or covert racism which can be seen as the constant insidious ‘drip, drip, drip’ of the undercurrent of racism does not and will not respond to an anti-racism message. This leads to the conclusion that we need a new, parallel, resourced campaign of inclusion to address the unintended consequences of jokes, judgement and exclusion.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

When delivering the Reconciliation SA/ActNow schools program, a young 13 year old summarised the program by saying, “today I learned to be an up- stander, not a bystander!” I find this advice to be perceptive and wise and I’d like to give my 13 year old self the courage to take the same stance.

Maha Krayem Abdo

CEO - Muslim Women’s Association

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

I look at race and multiculturalism from the lens of cultural diversity which aims to continuously focus on the positive contributions of those involved. While calling out racism, my personal approach is to highlight the positive that exists in the majority of Australians that are very inclusive of diversity. So rather than focusing on those with negative attitudes, I prefer to give voice to those that celebrate, engage, and acknowledge multiculturalism and cultural diversity.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

It enriches who I am and gives me a strong foundation to embrace people that are different to myself. This allows me to create relationships that are based on sincere intentions.
 
Cultural diversity helps me to acknowledge my own heritage, as well as my faith, enabling me to not only be a mentor to others, but to also walk side by side with all people. Those who are similar to me, as well as those who are different, acknowledging that we are all Australians, and that we are all equal.
 

What does multiculturalism mean to you?

I think multiculturalism is more than just a word. It is an active process of knowing who I am, and is made up of many parts to create a whole. It is more than people just sharing meals, attending cultural festivals, and dressing a certain way. It is actually being able to sit at Cronulla beach where every Australian can feel safe, secure, and able to have fun regardless of whether they are wearing a burkini or a bikini.
 
Multiculturalism to me is where people can really feel comfortable enough to enquire about another person’s culture without being fearful of offending. In a nutshell multiculturalism is about being honest and sincere in a trusted safe environment as Australians.
 

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

In 1992 when the High Court delivered the Mabo decision to acknowledge that the land of Australia was not terra nullius. This made me feel proud to be an Australian, and to have belong to a country that acknowledged the heritage of the land.
 
In 2001 when Marie Bashir became Governor of NSW. As a woman of Lebanese background, that gave hope to many young women who come from diverse backgrounds.
 
In 2008 when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation. Again, this was a moment in history that I had been waiting for since I had learnt about the Stolen Generation as a young girl. I could not fathom why it had taken to so long to apologise, and I felt proud when we as a country, finally did.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

In 2011, we hosted an international Muslim scholar in Sydney and one of the highlights of the tour was a guided visit to the Blue Mountains in NSW by Aboriginal elders. We organised a group of Muslims, men and women, accompanying the Muslim scholar to visit the Aboriginal community in the Blue Mountains.
 
We spent the whole day from sunrise to sunset together. We prayed together. We ate together. We sat quietly and we had deep conversations.
 
The Muslim International Scholar spoke no English, but he communicated fluently in an unspoken language with the group. A lot of tears shared, a lot of laughter. At the beginning we had interpreters but within the first half hour or so, the leaders were communicating with no interpreter whatsoever. They showed us sacred sights and learnt about each other’s connection to sacred spaces around the world. It was an experience that has resulted in everlasting friendships with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

Believe in your ability to be the best that you can be. Continue to dream, for dreams eventually do come true. It is ok to make mistakes, but it is more important to learn for those mistakes, and to see them as challenges that you will overcome. Being different is a good thing, you don’t have to conform to what other people want you to be. Be proud of your heritage and your faith. Sit with elders and learn from them. And finally, be proud of who you are.

Ming Long

Non-Executive Director and Cultural Diversity Advocate

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

I am an advocate for greater gender and cultural diversity in leadership. Just as we know that greater gender diversity in leadership brings better performance, so does cultural diversity. A McKinsey report in January 2018 shows again that greater gender diversity leads to a 21% outperformance on profitability whilst companies in the top-quartile for ethnic/cultural diversity on executive teams were 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability.
 
As a Director of Diversity Council of Australia, I am able to support an organisation working to expand the utilisation of talent of all forms of diversity in Australia’s leadership.
 
The fact that we are not fully utilising the talent and capability of all Australians means we are inherently limiting our prospects for growth over the long term.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

As a culturally diverse woman who has lived in Australia almost her entire life, I have an appreciation of my ethnic heritage and its complexities as well as an understanding and love of the Australian culture. I find the integration of both enables me to help others understand and build bridges between the two.
 

What does multiculturalism mean to you?

Multiculturalism is not an assimilation of other cultures. It’s a respect and understanding of differences and valuing those differences to create a greater whole. Fundamentally, we are all human beings and often it is easy to see difference and not know what to say or behave. I understand that it can be daunting meeting someone who looks completely different and have different cultural practices. However, many times I find that there are more elements we have in common than we see as difference. Love, family, security, hope, dreams, belonging are common regardless of ethnicity – elements that make us part of the human race.
 
The issue around cultural diversity normally focuses on needing people of different ethnicities to assimilate into the status quo. Except with any relationship, it needs both sides to reach out to be inclusive of the other. Just as we have Male Champions of Change for gender diversity because they sit in positions of power to make a difference, we need people of Anglo-Saxon background to champion cultural diversity because they sit in positions of power to make a difference.
 

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be?

Right now, we need all people but particularly people with power and influence to just care about the issue.
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration?

I would like to leave the world a better place. When looking for inspiration, I often look at people who have taken risks, fallen and gotten back up again because they inspire me.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

You are enough.

Mariam Veiszadeh

Lawyer, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant and social commentator

Mariam Veiszadeh

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

I truly wish we lived in a world in which our differences didn’t define us or divide us, but the reality is that they do, so my advocacy has always been about normalising difference, or rather normality. I am passionate about helping to create a level playing field so that each Australian, irrespective of their ‘difference’ can access an equitable opportunity to reach their full potential.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

Growing up with a hyphenated identity meant that I was very conscious of my place in the world. If I am very honest, I loathed my differences. I so desperately wanted to fit in but no matter how much I tried, my skin was still a darker shade than most of my fellow students and my name was not Jane. Now as I reflect on my past, I am appalled that I felt such a sense of shame about my identity and I want to fight tooth and nail to make sure no other young migrant child feels like that again.
 

What does multiculturalism mean to you?

If you think about it, each of us has multiple cultural identities and we ultimately draw our heritage from various parts of the world – so really we are all multicultural. It’s unfortunate that in recent times, multiculturalism has become something of a dirty word.
 
Given that none of us had a choice in the circumstances surrounding our birth, ethnicity, gender and social status, these attributes should therefore not determine our destiny and yet sadly, decades of research very clearly highlight that they do.
 
Mariam Veiszadeh

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be?

It’s easy to stigmatise and demonise a group of unknown people. Imagine the sick feeling you would get upon realising that a member of your own family is being demonised in some way. Now extend that feeling to the rest of humanity – if prejudice and discrimination is not something you would tolerate when it comes to our own family, then it shouldn’t acceptable for others.
 
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept, so use your respective levels of privilege to speak up for those who are less privileged.
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration?

My mother – she's compassionate, resilient and an extremely determined woman. It’s only in my adulthood years that I came to realise what an extraordinary influence she has had on my life. She often reminds my siblings and I to make the most of the opportunities that we have before us, opportunities that she could only dare dream of, back home.
 
She's made countless sacrifices for my siblings and I and in difficult times, I ultimately draw strength from her.

Ramdas Sankaran

CEO – Multicultural Services Centre of Western Australia

Ramdas Sankaran

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

I have just completed four decades of work in developing and implementing policies and a range of culturally and linguistically appropriate services/programs to achieve desired objectives in relation to the above within commonwealth and state agencies and the community services sector. My advocacy work has involved promoting legislative safeguards with regard to anti-racism, holding political leaders and media personalities to account, and vigorously questioning mindless mainstreaming.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

In many different ways. My wife is from Malaysia and of Tamil background and I from India of Malayalee background and we speak each other’s languages and others. The partners of our Australian born sons are a sixth generation Smith and a second generation part Lebanese and part Egyptian Australian. We have three grandchildren whose cultural heritage is more diverse than their parents and us. As the CEO of the Multicultural Services Centre of WA I have the pleasure and privilege of working with 130 staff, all but three born in Australia and all but three being bi/multilingual and between them speaking 68 different languages. This has enabled MSCWA to provide culturally appropriate services in the preferred language of the consumer.
 

What does multiculturalism mean to you?

A society that practises fairness, is committed to eliminating discrimination in all its forms; and one in which regardless of one’s place of birth, one has equitable opportunities to achieve their full potential.
 
Ramdas Sankaran

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

The historic moments after I migrated to Australia in 1978, including Malcolm Fraser’s adoption of and implementation of the Galbally Report; the establishment of Medicare; the High Court’s Mabo Decision; Reconciliation Walk across Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, which I was privileged to participate in; National Apology to the Stolen Generations by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd; Julia Gillard becoming the first female Australian prime minister and her famous Misogyny speech; and the Marriage Equality Act.
 

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be?

Never be a bystander. Always speak out regardless of the consequences, real or imagined.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

After 40 years in Australia, I am still often asked where I am from when I meet someone for the first time. My response of ‘Dianella’ evokes a stunned look and words to the effect of ‘I meant before that’, to which I would respond, ‘if you have enough time I can tell you about the other 10 suburbs I have lived in’.
 

How could Australia do better in fighting racism?

Australia can better fight racism by adopting a national charter or bill of rights, and a national multiculturalism act and providing necessary resources and infrastructure to effectively implement them.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

Make the most of your teenage years and retain the carefree and adventurous spirit for the rest of your life. Nothing is beyond you if you pursue it the best you can.

Celia Tran

Project officer and Vietnamese Community in Australia (Victoria) executive

 
Celia

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

Advocating for and giving voices to people of colour to be heard, empowering individuals - in particular young people - to embrace who they really are and to navigate their unique heritage and dual identities. Supporting young people to obtain the skills needed for leadership roles and building on their advocacy skills.
 
 
Celia

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

I am a proud person of dual heritage. My parents sacrificed their lives to cross the seas to create a new life for their children. As a result, I live in between two cultures one being Vietnamese and one being Australian. Growing up and being educated in the multicultural suburb of Footscray, Victoria has shaped who I am also. I am actively involved in the multicultural sector for work. I live, breathe and thrive on diversity!
 

Why is it important to stand up against racism and bigotry?

Racism and bigotry hurts us all, whether or not you are the victim. Every single one of us other than first nations peoples, are migrants to this country. Every single one of us deserves a chance and opportunity to live life free from discrimination. When you target one group or individual, you target us all.
 
Celia

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be?

Every conversation matters – we all play a role in making Australia a safe and welcoming place for all.
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration?

My mother who taught me about empathy and kindness. And to all the women in my life who have mentored, supported and cheered for me. The sisterhood continues to inspire me to do what I do.

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

Love yourself, despite what society tells you. Worry less and know your self-worth!
 

Kot Monoah

Former Chairperson of South Sudanese Community Association in Victoria Inc.

 
Celia

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

I advocated for 3 years from April 2015 to March 2018 on behalf of the South Sudanese Community in Victoria on issues to do with workplace discrimination, schools, residential tenancies, sports discrimination, and exclusion from services etc.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

I approach my work and life with a double lens perspective as a result of my experiences in life. I always give the benefit of the doubt and a second chance to challenges or things generally in life.
 

How has Australia changed over time?

There has been slow progress with multiculturalism and acceptance of the other race groups as part and parcel of our society.
 

Why is it important to stand up against racism and bigotry?

Evil flourishes when good people keep quiet, so it is important to stand up.
 

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be?

Include people of diverse backgrounds in key government institutions to address social diversity gaps on governance and executive boards or roles.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

Peace Meals is a great program in the Fitzroy area where people pay for a dinner and many come together to eat and interact over dinner to know one another. Kate Shelton runs this with the support of the law firm Lander and Rogers.
 

How could Australia do better in fighting racism?

There has to be public acknowledgement that racism exits. Without this, society will continue to be in denial.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

Human beings are one and our differences are by accidents of birth and not our choices. Learn to embrace every human being like your kind.

Professor Juanita Sherwood

Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Indigenous Strategy and Services, at The University of Sydney

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

I have been working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and education over thirty years.
 
Working in this space has demonstrated that there are many levels of racism from personal to systemic and organisational that target Indigenous Australians and other minority peoples which impact on their opportunities for equitable outcomes in health, education and greater social justice rights.
 
As an Aboriginal health worker and patient I have experienced racism first hand in dealing with the health system and health professionals.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

Like many Indigenous Australians I live and work in two worlds. One that acknowledges my culture, aspirations, knowledge building and responsibilities. The other world is one that has colonised our land and people, and still does not quite appreciate the gifts, knowledges and strengths of Indigenous Australians.
 
This is the world I provide a two-way education in, building the knowledge of many Australians to acknowledge and respond effectively to the inequitable circumstances of Indigenous Australians.
 
The other way is ensuring safe and supported passage for our person accessing health and education which is a basic right for all.
 

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

Australia has a black history. Indigenous Australians are the oldest living cultures in the world. Recent evidence found in Victoria at least 85,000 years of Aboriginal custodianship.
 
We have the knowledges and practices to maintain and sustain a healthy planet, and so much more.
 

Why is it important to stand up against racism and bigotry?

Because racism kills people.
 

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be?

Continue to pursue equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; in the health system, the juvenile justice system, corrections and beyond.
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration?

Linda Burney, Aunty Beryl Carmichael, Mum, Aunty Isobel Coe.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

You can do anything you want to do, make sure you get an education.

Thaarramali Pearson

Indigenous Advancement Advocate

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

I see my advocacy as part of my identity as a Bama Bagarrmuguwarra. My experiences as a witness and a victim of racial vilification have taught me to engage with the wider community and to use these experiences to create conversation with those who may be misguided, ignorant or racially prejudiced.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

I am wholly driven by my culture throughout every facet of my life.
 
Although I have received racially motivated abuse and vilification it is through immersion in my culture that I have learned to hold my head up high and be proud of who I am as a young Indigenous man.
 
My culture has provided me with strength, knowledge and compassion and has taught me that I must always consider and respect those around me.
 

How has Australia changed over time?

While I have only witnessed small amounts of change in my lifetime, I have seen through my family that Australia’s racial prejudice has decreased significantly over the past 100 years.
 
Unfortunately, there appears to have been a notable swing back to the radical over the last decade. There is a national narrative that unfortunately shows that we may be moving towards a more noticeable state of xenophobia despite an increasing majority of Australians who embrace their multicultural and diverse society.
 

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

The mornings at Dawn on April 25th, side by side with returned servicemen, family and friends, remembering our Diggers, Indigenous and non- Indigenous, makes me feel proud to be Australian.
 
However, the first time that I witnessed the true meaning of the Australian spirit was back in 2010-11 when floods devastated South-East Queensland. I remember 60,000 volunteers trudging down the streets of Brisbane and donation tins going around school. I remember the spirit of our country coming alive as Australians chipped in with no regard for religion, race or background.
 
This moment showed me that when push comes to shove, Australians will be there to help. It makes me truly proud that this Australian spirit exists and continues today.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

One of the most impactful experiences I have had of sharing my culture with others has come from my family. Despite themselves not having Indigenous ancestry, my Auntie and cousins display profound respect for my culture through their desire to learn together as a family. Few things make me smile more than hearing my cousins call me “Yaba”, the Guugu Yimithirr word for elder Brother.
 

How could Australia do better in fighting racism?

Our nation needs to be constantly reminded of its unique history.
 
We have an Indigenous history, a white Australian history, a migrant history and a combined history through which we have become the multicultural society we are today.
 
To better fight racism and prejudice we need to educate, demonstrate and reflect on our shared history and work together to create a national story we can be proud of.
 
We must strengthen our culture and identity by embracing diversity. A strong Australia is a diverse Australia.
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration?

When I get asked this, I always stop and think about why I do what I do. I do this to remind myself of what has inspired me to be vocal, to stand up and to try to succeed.
 
I want to do the best I can because of those who have gone before me.
 
I never want to forget the opportunities, chances, experiences, love and help I have received from my community and my family. Looking back at those in my family and communities, seeing all that they have fought for and accomplished, shows me why I need to dedicate my work to those who came before me.


 
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

Everything you do is leading to something; it’s okay if it’s not what you thought it would be.
 
It’s okay to make mistakes, you can only continue to learn and grow by making them.
 
Always keep your community and those around you close to heart.

Madeline Wells

Aboriginal Advocate

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

As a proud Aboriginal woman, I have always promoted anti-racism and discrimination in school, and also when working. Encouraging education on these topics, as well as celebrating diversity is so important, especially in Australia where we have so many different cultures and communities. We have so much to learn from each other, but we need to also learn to be respectful of each other’s beliefs, values, and cultures. Especially in school environments - children should be able to learn and feel included, and not spend all their time defending the colour of their skin, accent, religion, cultural differences, or what they wear.
 

How has Australia changed over time?

I think there is more support across Australia for multiculturalism, in a non-tokenistic way, but we still have a very long way to go.
 

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

As a First Nations person, I have been so proud of our people in the arts, advocacy work, and political work. We all have our strengths, and ways of sharing the true history of Australia, raising awareness on injustices and issues happening in different communities, but also bringing people together. I'm so proud to march alongside my elders and community, or having time on country to practice our culture freely. We wouldn't have these celebrations, events, or role models without those before them that did the same. The people before me made sure I had a future that was happier, where I was able to learn language, practice traditions, and hear our dreaming. We have so many influential people to look up to when it comes to making real change, and making our communities a better place to be.
 

Why is it important to stand up against racism and bigotry?

Because no-one should have to face racism and bigotry. People have the right to stand up for themselves but also to have some sort of legal backing to hold others accountable. Racism can come in different forms, and it impacts all people mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and sometimes physically.
 
When it comes to racism, discrimination, sexism, homophobia etc., we must continue to call people out. Our young people deserve better leaders and role models.
 

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be?

Educate yourself, those around you, and support groups who are minorities and feel not welcome. Don't speak for them, but use your power of privilege to better life for those coming to Australia for safety, our First Nations people, migrant communities, and especially our young people. If you have money, donate it to communities to help, or programs to assist those communities. If you have time, volunteer with groups, or even deliver cultural awareness. Ask your employer what they are doing to make it a supportive and inclusive workplace.
 
We can all create change, one action at a time.
 

How could Australia do better in fighting racism?

Having stronger legislation and policies around racism. Having more funding to roll out resources and tool kits for workplaces and schools - like Racism. It Stops With Me.
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration?

My family and the staunch women in my life in particular. I have so much to learn everyday from them, and we give each other support, love and strength, especially in hard times, but also in times of celebration.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

Never lower your voice, make time to do things that are important, make mistakes, but most importantly love yourself and let others share that energy.

Nareen Young

Professor, Indigenous Policy (Indigenous Workplace Diversity), Jumbunna Institute, UTS

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

Largely about workplaces. I’m an employment practitioner, and I’m very committed to policies and procedures, and most importantly, creating workplace cultures that mean that everyone can flourish at work.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

On one side, our family has been here for more than a century, but we still think of ourselves as culturally diverise, I think in part because we suffered racism in the early days of being here. We had a non-Anglo last name then, and that has very much influenced how we view ourselves in the Australian context.

On the other side, I have mixed and Indigenous background, so I see myself as very much a product of the last couple of hundred years of how this modern Australia has developed. It means that in our family we were raised to love cultural diversity, to want more of it, and to promote it. My partner and I have raised our kids the same way. It’s at the heart of our family life.
 

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

The Mabo decision. The principle of prior ownership of this land is very important to me. It said that we had a High Court that could do the right thing, and this vital principle was established in the law. It could have been the beginning of significant and meaningful reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
 

Why is it important to stand up against racism and bigotry?

Because it is wrong, it’s hateful and it’s just plain nasty. I was raised to believe that nobody is better than anybody, and racism and bigotry go to the idea that someone’s ways are better than others’. It’s simply not the case. And I also think that they are extremely tedious – I think life should be about being open to new things, people and experiences and most importantly, what we can learn from others’ ways.
 

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be?

Always speak up, or act if possible.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

I am constantly amazed at what non-Indigenous Australians learn when they start to learn about the brilliance, resilience, generosity, diversity and humour of Indigenous people and all of the stereotypes and biases they held are challenged.

Sometimes this can take a while as confronting those sterotypes is difficult, but when the penny drops, it’s very interesting to see. For non- Indigenous Australians, learning that Blackfellas are not a second-class form of white culture, but a different and separate one, can also be confronting, but always worth it in the end.
 

How could Australia do better in fighting racism?

Leadership that rejects it and embraces the fullness of Australia’s cultural diversity, based in Indigenous culture and presence, every day, in every way, in everything it does.

Sometimes this can take a while as confronting those sterotypes is difficult, but when the penny drops, it’s very interesting to see. For non- Indigenous Australians, learning that Blackfellas are not a second-class form of white culture, but a different and separate one, can also be confronting, but always worth it in the end.
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration?

My boss, Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt. She is dogged and tireless at promoting justice for Indigenous people, and unfailingly generous. Generosity is my favourite trait. Mick Gooda is another person of enormous generosity, and consistency. Consistency is my second favourite trait.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

You’re not weird. Some of your attributes are normal for people of your cultural background, and your mix of cultural background also isn’t weird. It’s totally normal.

Ali Kadri

Spokesperson – Islamic Council of Queensland

CEO – Kadri Training Pty Ltd

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

Two words summarise my work in this area: listening and understanding.
 
Most of the racism and hate stems from fear which is caused by lack of understanding and fear of the unknown. While calling racism out is important, it is equally important to listen to and understand valid or invalid concerns of those who may seem racist or prejudicial.
 

How has Australia changed over time?

During my time in Australia and especially in more recent times, I have seen an erosion of values and positive attitudes of tolerance, giving a fair go and empathy. While we have come a long way from the legalised racism of the “White Australia policy”, it has become commonplace to use racist and prejudicial language when describing migrants and refugees. The most worrying thing for me is that such language is sometimes expressed by politicians, both populist and mainstream. However, I still believe we are much better than most nations when it comes to ensuring equality under the law.
 

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be? 

Create more and more opportunities at the grassroots community level for people from different cultures to come together and get to know each other. While it is important for community and political leaders to keep doing activities which promote cultural diversity and counter prejudice, it will not be effective till everyday people are taken on that journey as well.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

In 2016, I was part of the team which organised Eid Down Under festival in Brisbane, our flagship Eid celebration program. The event was attended by over 15,000 people from all backgrounds.
 
At the end of a long day at the festival, I heard a gentleman – who was from a European background – call my name in distance. I waited for him to get to me and he introduced himself. His name was familiar because he had, in the past, had a few exchanges with me on social media, and his messages were rather Islamophobic. 
He said to me, “I came to your festival to open my mind and I am happy I came out of my comfort zone to experience your culture”. That statement felt like best reward for all the sacrifices I have to make to volunteer my time in community service. 
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration? 

As a Muslim Australian I draw strength and inspiration from my faith. Also, I was born in Gujarat, the western Indian state where Mahatma Ghandhi was born. His way of defeating injustice through non-violence is something which I truly admire and aspire to. I think I am especially privileged to be close to his great grandson, Mr Tushar Ghandhi who has given me advice and inspiration from time to time.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

To get out of my comfort zone and reach out to those I didn’t understand or held prejudice against.

Eugenia Tsoulis

CEO – Australian Migrant Resource Centre

 

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

I have been privileged to work for over 40 years in the arts, education, the employment industry and human services, and through all these sectors my work has helped to build the language and imagery to inform and foster our cultural diversity. 
 
Multiculturalism is now indisputably our country’s cultural reality. Throughout my lifetime this reality has not always been the case. Neither should it be taken for granted. 
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

Cultural diversity is my life! I lead an organisation where over 50 staff, hundreds of volunteers and thousands of clients - all from small new and establishing migrant and refugee communities - work together and with the broader South Australian community in metropolitan Adelaide and small regional towns in South Australia, to showcase multiculturalism through practice. 
 

Why is it important to stand up against racism and bigotry? 

We all have a responsibility to protect, affirm and promote the values, institutions and practices that underpin our Australian multicultural society. And we all have the need and right to belong, thus strengthening Australia in its diversity.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

My son grew up in a bicultural privileged environment. He asked my partner, his father, an established 4th generation Australian, why I, his mother had to keep returning to Greece, her homeland, for every annual holiday? My partner instinctively understood and related that I, as so many other young children, had no choice whatsoever in making the journey to Australia as migrants and refugees. In supporting others to tell their stories, I had forgotten to relate and help my own children understand their own heritage. 
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration? 

I find my greatest inspiration amongst the people that are my client groups; people from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Europe; and people who volunteer to help new arrivals, who themselves arrived as migrants at one point in time in Australia’s modern history. And I am always awed by the strength and courage of my Aboriginal colleagues and friends in their ongoing struggle for recognition.
 

How could Australia do better in fighting racism?

The Australian people need to become more active in promoting and practicing democracy rather than being reliant on their civic, economic and political leadership. We need to become sophisticated in our political activism to ensure the diversity of Australians can be seen in our councils, our parliaments, in our flagship institutions.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

Don’t be a workaholic! No one can change the world alone! Change requires collective effort.  

Gulnara Abbasova

Executive Officer – Migrant and Refugee Women’s Health Partnership

 

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

My professional experience is incredibly varied but has always revolved around the promotion of recognition and respect for diversity. From grassroots and international advocacy on Indigenous Peoples’ rights starting in my late teens, to now developing national collaborative approaches to improve health access and experience for migrant and refugee women—my contributions have been driven and shaped by my passion for equity, equality, and social justice. On a personal level, my work has been deeply enriching and rewarding.
 

Why is it important to stand up against racism and bigotry?

As an indigenous person and growing up as part of a recognisable minority, I know that racism, discrimination and bigotry can have a damaging effect on individuals and communities. And anyone at some point in their life can become a target. Racism causes great damage to a society as a whole—history teaches us that its consequences can be devastating, ultimately for all, and healing and reconciliation take generations. Standing up to racism is a part of responsible citizenship.
 

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be? 

There’s a lot that should and can be done, but I think an important part of it is self reflection. Developing awareness and appreciation of who we are as individuals, our identity, our personal history, our beliefs, and challenging our own assumptions is fundamentally important to recognising and appreciating diversity around us.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

My favourite stories would be those involving learning about one’s own culture. Due to tragic historic events, I didn’t become fully aware about my own—Crimean Tatar—culture until I was about 12 years old. We were forcibly detached from our land, and our ability to fully connect to our language, our traditions, our family histories. And I know that this late realisation and awareness of one’s cultural identity, and the ability to live it, is a reality for all too many Indigenous youth around the globe, including in Australia. The cultural reconnection to one’s self identify is an incredibly empowering experience.
 

What, or whom, do you look to for inspiration?

I’m fortunate to have known a number of outstanding women—talented, driven, and impactful—and their legacy inspires me to reach that little bit further every day. I grew up with three of them. My grandma was truly a matriarch who lived through incredibly tough times, including post-revolutionary repression, war, deportation, and as a result the loss of many of her loved ones and her homeland. Looking back at her story, sadly very similar to the stories of so many women of her generation in the community, I often fail to understand how she survived. Yet she was a self-starter, lived a meaningful life, brought up two amazing daughters (my mum and my aunt), and never stopped being optimistic. Everything I know about resilience and inner strength is from them. It is also through growing up in such an environment that I developed passion for gender equality and women’s empowerment, without even realising it to begin with. 
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

Looking back, I would remind myself that it would take time to develop my inner voice—my instinct, my intuition—but it’s important to start finding it early and, once found, always trust it.

Mary Karras

CEO – Ethnic Communities Council of NSW

 

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

I feel privileged to be working at the Ethnic Communities Council of NSW as it is the ideal platform for me to work across a range of areas including government departments, non-government agencies, service providers, individuals and   communities. It provides opportunities for me to be give voice and to represent the needs of our communities.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

As a child growing up in Fairfield, a predominately Anglo-Celtic suburb in south-western Sydney, I faced many challenges in my attempt to “fit in”. 
 
My parents had migrated from Greece just after WWII, and set up a small business, (like so many did in those days) with little English language competency and cultural understanding of the country they were building their future life in.
 
Although there were many supportive and well-meaning friends and neighbours   I experienced my share of racism when I started Kindergarten and could not speak a word of English. I spoke to everyone in Greek assuming that it was the language that everyone used!
 
As a child in a school where very few children were from migrant homes I caught on very quickly that to “fit in” I had to adjust. I began ordering jam sandwiches and pies from the tuckshop at lunchtime. I had worked out that to be liked I needed to be able to communicate in English. With the absence of special English classes at school during that time I read books day and night to practice my English skills and to improve my proficiency.
 
As years progressed and multiculturalism became the norm I chose to pursue a career path that reinforced the significance of multiculturalism in Australia in whatever context or work place I found myself in.
 

How has Australia changed over time?

It is so heart-warming to see the changing face of Australia and the culinary delights we can share with one another so openly. Fairfield, the place where I grew up, is an example of how diversity can immensely enrich Australia. 
 
It is true to say that we have made mistakes, and no doubt we will continue to do so. However, it is in our own charter to ensure that those who undermine multicultural Australia with hatred and vilification do not rise to threaten the social fabric of our society.
 

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

I was moved when the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, apologised for The Stolen Generations, and where as a country we made a stand for something we acknowledged was an injustice. This was an historical apology and a bitter sweet moment for me.
 

How could Australia do better in fighting racism?

Australians today are experiencing racism and I believe that we are all called to a civic responsibility to stand up to those who encourage xenophobia and racism. 
 
The public awareness campaign by the Australian Human Rights Commission known as “Racism. It Stops with Me” has been a hugely positive campaign in fighting racism.  We need education in both our schools and workplaces, and a much larger stage for sharing stories. It is the human element of sharing our experiences and challenges that can break down prejudices and bring about cohesion. 
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

My advice would be to remain proud of my family, the cultural traditions and the language of my heritage. I would tell myself to not hold back or be ashamed of who I am and where my parents and family have come from…… and….. to embrace all the opportunities that Australia and the world has to offer.
 
This is the advice I give to so many young people and young adults who I engage with in my work in the hope that they can grow to become human rights ambassadors in their everyday lives!  
 

Dr Sev Ozdowski

Director, Equity and Diversity at Western Sydney University and Hon. Professor at Sydney University. Sev is also immediate past Chair, Australian Multicultural Council and President of the Australian Council for Human Rights Education.

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

One of the reasons why I have chosen to migrate to Australia were Australia’s multicultural policies and commitment to “fair go”. Australian cultural diversity has enriched my and my family’s life and formed our attitudes and knowledge.
 

How has Australia changed over time?

Since I arrived in 1975 Australia has become more interesting, vibrant and tolerant of difference. Also the governments’ multicultural policies and programs became more accepted by the vast majority of Australians over the time.
 

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

Obtaining Australian citizenship, winning the America’s Cup, successes in the Olympic games, a range of government policies aiming on fair go and plenty of little but important things of everyday life in this beautiful country.
 

Why is it important to stand up against racism and bigotry? 

Racism is like cancer that would destroy the fair go character of Australian society if not effectively controlled. Racism and bigotry deny equality to some of us. For any society to be successful it must have equality between its citizens as a foundation stone.
 

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be? 

Just talk with your neighbours, enjoy the benefits and fun of diversity and be fair in your dealings with other.
 

How could Australia do better in fighting racism?

Australia does it reasonably well now. But a focus on removal of any remaining access barriers to social and economic opportunities is the key.
 

What advice would you give to your 13-year-old self?

Difficult to say. But certainly, that racism in any form is bad for all of us. It denies dignity and hinders economy.

Tasneem Chopra

Author, Consultant and Activist

 

How would you describe your work or advocacy on anti-racism, multiculturalism and cultural diversity?

Much of my work in this space tends to be reactive. I find myself constantly in a state of having to respond, debunk and disprove assumptions about race, faith and gender in the context of social, political and occupational environments. This can take the form of presentations, keynote addresses, workshops, panels or media appearances. I am a strong advocate for demanding a platform for inclusion when experiences of diversity in gender and culture are being tabled - and am quick to call out the hypocrisy of 'diversity forums'  which when held, somehow exclude the expertise of the very communities they claim to be advocating for.  My mantra has always been to own your narrative before someone else owns it for you.
 

How does cultural diversity shape your life (personal, work and otherwise)?

I see cultural diversity increasingly as the norm in the way a globalised world evolves. I believe it can be harnessed as an asset when considering the breadth of skills, views and learnings that enrich traditional learning behaviours in the mainstream - which require systems and people to be adaptive in order to stay competitive, and relevant. Parochial thinking in a progressive world, causes regression.
 

What does multiculturalism mean to you?

It means acceptance of culturally diverse backgrounds and perspectives without exception or qualification.
 

What moments in history have made you feel proud as an Australian?

The 2008 National Apology from PM Rudd, in the moment that it was made. 
When in 1968 at the Mexico Olympics, Australian sprinter, Peter Norman, wore his Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) badge for an organisation set up to oppose racism in sport. His actions were pioneering in a climate that challenged prejudice and so controversial they ended his career and sanctioned him from further competition, despite being a silver medallist. He remains an unsung hero of fighting racism in this country and deserves to be nationally acknowledged

Why is it important to stand up against racism and bigotry? 

Because the protections against these actions are fundamental to human rights. 
 

If there is one thing anyone can do to support diversity or counter prejudice, what would it be? 

Speak out against even micro-racial aggressions. Ignoring them makes you complicit in a racist discourse, which feed racist attitudes, which elicit racist behaviours, which inform racist policy. From little racisms, big ones grow.
 

Do you have a favourite story about people learning about other cultures?

That time I was welcomed to Australia, though I’ve been here for over forty years. Or after a giving a presentation, being commended on my 'grasp of the English language', by complete strangers, to which I've quipped: 'Yours isn't too bad. Keep it up'.