Compassion for our neighbours is in our DNA as Australians

This week I will attend ceremonies to welcome new Australian citizens to join their stories to the Australian story.

It is a privilege to attend new citizen ceremonies. The pride and excitement at becoming a fully-fledged Aussie is something to see.

It makes me think about how lucky that I just happened to be born in Australia.

We have world-class health care and education and know that if we fall on hard times, we will have the support of a decent social security system.

We do not live in fear of war like so many others around the world. We are not oppressed by an authoritarian regime.

We are lucky.

And I, for one, am immensely grateful. My ancestors chose to come to Australia (except my convict forebears who didn't have any say in the matter).

I understand why immigrants choose Australia to make their home. And grateful that they bring their family values, hard work and an enthusiasm to contribute.

Grateful their decision does not mean they forget their place of birth but rather build a bridge between their country of origin and their new home and forge even greater bilateral friendships for Australia.

I have been thinking of the idea of “mutuality”. That the person choosing to take Australian citizenship is not the only Australian with a responsibility for making our multicultural society a success - a place of opportunity that lives up to the ideal of the fair go.

I am reminded that every Aussie - and be they Aussies by birth or Aussies by choice - may not have physically put our signature to it, but we fulfil our responsibility by adhering to the rules we have set to protect each other's ability to live the life we choose. 

And I see Australians upholding the social contract all year - not just on one designated day.

I saw it writ large when I visited communities in Cairns, Mossman and Cooktown in the wake of cyclone Jasper last month.

We hear the stories in every disaster of those Aussies who have lost everything but decline offers of help until “others who need it more” are looked after. 

That is a nod to the social contract.

I saw Services Australia staff fulfil their side of the contract in those communities. 

I met those who were working tirelessly in recovery centres to get government support and emergency payments for those who had lost their houses and livelihoods.

The importance of respecting the social contract was also a significant factor in the creation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme 10 years ago, and it remains crucial to its future.

The disability community, Labor governments that have stewarded the scheme in the past and again today, and the Australian people are in agreement the NDIS is necessary and is here to stay. 

It is in Australia's DNA to support the vulnerable when and if they need it, just as we fiercely defend Medicare. 

We are willing to pay our taxes towards it, because we never know when we, or one of our loved ones, will need it. 

But more importantly, it sits well with our sense of compassion for our neighbour.

And I finish by acknowledging there are strongly held, differing views within our community about Australia Day. 

But I am reminded of the words of Adam Lindsay Gordon: “Life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand like stone. Kindness in another's trouble, courage in your own”.

This opinion piece was first published in The West Australian on Friday 26 January 2024.