On Tolerance

It feels like we are heading into a different sort of time.

Many who share my world view believe that the long arc of history bends – inevitably – toward an increasingly better future. Due to progress made possible by our values, society will continue to get better and will continue to move in a positive direction.

The reality we are seeing play out overseas highlights that there are no guarantees. Our world view forgets that it’s just as easy for society to fall backwards as move forward. There is no agreed blueprint on Australia’s open and inclusive society that says it has to be as it is.

Our country is lucky both in natural wealth and human wealth because our population is largely made up of migrants from other countries – sometimes from countries whose system has not allowed for an open and inclusive society. We have looked at the faults of these countries to make our own better society. In my own short lifetime, we have moved from a society tolerant of migrants, to one that largely sees migration as a source of national strength. We are proud that migrants to this country don’t have to give up their culture to be a true Australian.

Anecdotes from constituents and public commentators tell me that globalisation and unbalanced economic outcomes (i.e. not being able to afford a house in Sydney, for instance) are reasons that many people feel not only powerless, but also that the rules they used to live by have changed. Those feeling the most powerless by changing technology and a changing economy, point the figure at migration as the source of Australia’s evil.

This growing intolerance of change, if left unchecked, creates the risk of a shift toward a polarised society: separate cultures, separate Australian identities, and divided communities. We will fracture into groups that on one hand will feel like they earnt their winnings and defend it to the hilt, and the rest who will feel like they have lost without having any say.

Our country is lucky both in natural wealth and human wealth because our population is largely made up of migrants from other countries.

My hope is this: we never stop championing the positives of a multicultural society in a globalised world. We recognise and celebrate the Australian experience of embracing different waves of migration, not just tolerating them.  We recognise that our system brings migrants with skills and experiences that make our whole society stronger. We are a top 15 global economy not by accident, but by choice. We have achieved that because of our ability to embrace different ideas and different values – not because of our ability to reject them.

As an Iranian immigrant – part of one of those waves of migration back in the 1980s – I feel I am able to connect with so many generations of Australians who have migrated here, regardless of whether it was from Europe, Asia or elsewhere. We have a connecting, unifying story along with so many Australians who have a grandparent or relative from another part of the world.

We have all benefited from being part of an open and diverse society. I am fortunate to be a NSW senator in the federal parliament and, in my own small way, I get to place my hands on that long arc of history and keep it bending the right way. I never take the trajectory of this arc for granted, and recognise that it takes all of us – together – to advance Australia fair.