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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 383


Senator BILYK (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (20:30): I rise tonight to speak about a day when we celebrate our nation, and I am speaking of course about our national day, Australia Day. My local office is based in the suburb of Kingston, and this puts me close to Tasmania's largest Australia Day celebration, an annual event called A Day on the Beach, which has been running for eight years now.

I am very proud to have been invited to serve as patron of this event for the past five years. My office serves as a kind of base for the Kingston Beach Regatta Association, the organisation that hosts and runs A Day on the Beach, and their annual general meetings and regular planning meetings leading up to the event are held in the office meeting room.

A Day on the Beach has become incredibly successful as it has built up over the years, and it now regularly attracts crowds of 10,000 or more. This year, A Day on the Beach featured a six-metre-high inflatable slide, a race with giant inflatable thong-shaped li-los, beach volleyball, a tug-of-war, a sand sculpture competition, an ocean swim and a multitude of other events and activities.

The thing I like most of all about A Day on the Beach, and the main reason why I am such a huge supporter of the event, is that it is accessible to people from all walks of life, because all the activities are free. The regatta association achieves this by raising money through sponsorship, donations, stallholder fees and the proceeds of a big barbecue at the event to cover the running costs. They also reduce costs by partnering with various local not-for-profit community organisations, which organise many of the activities.

I support this event so strongly because I think it typifies what being Australian is all about. It celebrates the freedoms we hold dear, and, by involving and showcasing so many community organisations, it embraces and celebrates that great Australian spirit of volunteering and supporting the community. As long as I am in this place, and, hopefully, even after, I intend to support this fantastic event to ensure it continues well into the future.

Australia Day is a day for celebrating our achievements as a nation, but also for celebrating the contributions of many amazing individuals who make our nation great. All around Australia, our local councils hold ceremonies to recognise and reward people who have made significant contributions to the community, and to swear in and welcome new citizens. On Australia Day this year, Australian citizenship was conferred on almost 16,000 people from 152 countries. They were sworn in at more than 300 ceremonies across Australia, including 16 in my home state of Tasmania. In Tasmania, 332 new citizens were welcomed to Australia.

Australian citizenship is an important step for those making an ongoing commitment to our country and what it stands for. It also comes with a number of important privileges and responsibilities. Australian citizens have the right and the responsibility to vote in federal and state or territory elections and in referendums. Other privileges include the right to apply for work with the Australian Public Service or the Australian Defence Force, to seek election to parliament, to re-enter Australia freely with an Australian passport, and to receive consular help while overseas. The children of Australian citizens born overseas can be registered as Australians by descent. As well as voting in elections, the responsibilities of Australian citizens are to serve on a jury if called to do so, and to defend Australia should the need arise.

As well as welcoming many new Australians, Australia Day is a day to celebrate the extraordinary achievements and contributions of our citizens. For those who have made the most extraordinary contributions, we bestow various awards through the Order of Australia and other honours such as the Public Service Medal and the Australian Police Medal, the Australian Fire Service Medal, the Ambulance Service Medal and the Emergency Service Medal.

While there are many distinguished Australians among those inducted into the Order of Australia this year, I would like make special mention of a couple in particular. Geoff Butler of St Helens is a personal friend of mine who I have known through the Australian Labor Party for many years. Geoff was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia, or AM, for his distinguished service to the community, particularly to a variety of organisations in St Helens and the Break O'Day municipality. As well as serving a term as president of the Tasmanian Branch of the ALP, Mr Butler has served his local community on boards and committees covering health, aged care, business, local government and tourism. He is an absolute icon of the Break O'Day community, particularly in St Helens.

Another inductee, Dr Cathy Kezelman, was also awarded an AM for her advocacy on behalf of adult survivors of child abuse. I have worked with Dr Kezelman in my role as co-convenor of the parliamentary friendship group Parliamentarians Against Child Abuse and Neglect, a role I share with Mr Ken Wyatt, and previously shared with Senator Helen Kroger. Dr Kezelman was acknowledged for her work in a number of roles, but particularly as the president and chairman of Adults Surviving Child Abuse, or ASCA, a national organisation which provides support and resources to adults who have suffered trauma and abuse in childhood, and to their partners, families and friends.

The hundreds of other Australians receiving awards and honours in the Order of Australia and various service medals have made incredible contributions to Australia at a local and, in some cases, a national level. On Australia Day, councils across the country also bestow their own citizenship awards for contributions to local communities.

In the municipality of Kingborough, where my local office is located, Gloria Lonergan received the Citizen of the Year Award for her work with the South Channel Ratepayers and Residents Association. The association organises the annual Middleton Country Fair, one of the main cultural events in the D'Entrecasteaux Channel. I am a regular participant in the Middleton Country Fair, volunteering each year for the barbecue stall organised by the Rotary Club of D'Entrecasteaux Channel. This year's fair was held just one week ago, and, although the day was wet, the fair was still attended very well, despite the bad weather.

As chair and secretary of the ratepayers and residents association, Mrs Lonergan has been a key driving force in the organisation of the fair. Although the fair is a signature event, Mrs Lonergan and the other hardworking volunteers in the association are responsible for organising many social functions and establishing a variety of community facilities throughout the channel, in particular the townships of Middleton, Flowerpot and Gordon.

Kingborough's Young Citizen of the Year, Jessica Lucas, is a regular helper for Kingborough Helping Hands, a charity which provides food and other household items to families in need. I support Kingborough Helping Hands through an annual Christmas food and gift drive and volunteer on their food van when I can. Having worked alongside Miss Lucas, who is only just starting university this year, I am pleased to see someone so young dedicated to helping her local community.

Just south of Kingborough, in the Huon Valley, the Cultural and Community Builders Award went to Jimmy Bell, who has worked hard to establish and maintain the Huon Police and Community Youth Club, or PCYC. A multi-million dollar development, the Huon PCYC is an incredible hub of sporting, recreational and other activities in Huonville, and if not for Mr Bell's incredibly hard work and tireless advocacy it would not have been established.

Finally, I would like to conclude by recognising that there is a debate going on about the appropriateness of the date of Australia Day. This is a debate that will be continuing for some time, and it is a debate we should have as a nation. It is a debate we must have with some compassion for the descendants of Australia's first peoples. It is also a debate we should conduct with maturity and mutual respect for different points of view. I do not intend to enter into the debate in this contribution. For Indigenous Australians, 26 January 1788 represented the beginning of a period in which their ancestors were dispossessed of their land and forced assimilation took place which robbed them of their cultural identity. However, while Australia Day remains on 26 January, I believe we can still celebrate the great progress our nation has achieved while also acknowledging the wrongs of the past.

I believe there are some universal values, some common beliefs among most Australians, that make our country great. They are our belief in democracy and in the rule of law, our egalitarianism and the principle of mateship—pull together in times of need and give a helping hand to those less fortunate. We can take pride in our scientific achievement, our economic progress and our standard of living, but these shared values and beliefs are the true strength of our nation. We promote and defend these values by celebrating them, by having pride in them. This is what our national day helps us to achieve.