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Australia Day 1997 address by Sir William Deane.

The 11 months since I became Governor-General have been marked by occasions of both pride and sadness for our nation. Sadness at the terrible events at Port Arthur in April, the Black Hawk tragedy near Townsville in June, and the deaths on the beach near Margaret River in September. The occasions of pride, however, have been many, not least the success of our athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Atlanta.

My wife, Helen, and I have made a number of visits to each of the States and Territories. There, too, we've experienced both sadness and pride. On the one hand, the visits have done much to heighten our awareness of the very large numbers of Australians who are facing great difficulties simply surviving on a day to day basis. We've seen the practical consequences of unemployment. Lack of jobs for young people, in particular, is an overwhelming social problem. It's destroying their self confidence and self-esteem.

On the other hand, those visits have increased our pride in some of the many wonderful things about our country, including the selfless dedication and plain goodness of the thousands of ordinary Australians who work tirelessly to help those in need.

Today, I want to speak to you briefly about two things. The first is of deep concern. The second is uplifting. They should both be in the forefront of our minds on this Australia day.

The matter which must deeply concern us all is the appalling state of Aboriginal health - a tragic story of sickness, suffering, dying and death of fellow Australians.

Let me take the example of a new-born Aboriginal baby girl and give you some plain facts about her future, if things don't change. On average, she can expect to live almost 20 years less than other Australians. She is three times more likely not to survive infancy. If she does survive until she is 15, she will be three-and-a-half times more likely to die before she reaches 25. If she reaches 25, she will be six times more likely to die before the age of 34. Her prospects are even worse if we look at particular illnesses. For example, if she does become a woman, her chances of dying from a diabetes-related illness are 17 times greater than those of a non-Aboriginal woman.

Both sides of our national Parliament have accepted the importance of genuine reconciliation between the Aboriginal peoples and Australians as a whole. We must achieve it by the year 2001. Otherwise we'll enter the second century of our nation as a diminished people. We won't achieve it until we reach the stage of basic justice and decency where the life expectancy of an Aboriginal baby is at least comparable to that of a non-Aboriginal one.

The second and, I'm happy to say, uplifting thing is our multiculturalism.

Apart from the Aborigines, we Australians are all immigrants or descended from immigrants. Our strength lies in our mutual tolerance. While we have our origins in all the regions and races of the world, we are united as a single nation. The ethos which underlies that strength and that unity is multiculturalism.

The essence of that multiculturalism is mutual respect and tolerance for all our different cultural, ethnic, national and religious backgrounds and lawful practices. We must be vigilant to defend it.

And that's not so much because we're concerned about what others may expect or think of us. It's because our multiculturalism is decent, just and right.

It's not only our Australian way. It's what we are.

May I suggest that, on this Australia Day, we reaffirm and celebrate our identity as a multicultural nation. I would also ask that we each, as Australians, resolve to address the two outstanding problems which face us, namely, unemployment particularly among our young people and the plight of our Aboriginal fellow citizens.

May God bless you all