Australian Human Rights Commission Australian of the Year event

(5.30pm, Sydney Town Hall)

Thank you, Annabel, [Crabb] and good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Town Hall.

I would also like to offer a very warm welcome to

  • Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission
  • The Hon Susan Ryan, the Commission's Age and Disability Discrimination Commissioner
  • Commissioners and members of the Australian Human Rights Council
  • And board members of the National Australia Day Council

And of course, I welcome especially the four remarkable Australians who are here with us. At a time when human rights - and human decency - are under attack in our country as never before, I think we will all value the opportunity to hear and be inspired by them.

Over the last eleven years, the City of Sydney has striven to create a city which is not just welcoming, prosperous and beautiful for some of its people, but welcoming, prosperous and beautiful for all.

In a country like Australia, which has always prided itself on its egalitarian spirit, we have become dangerously complacent. While we proclaim ourselves as welcoming and egalitarian, the reality is that we turn away refugees, imprison them, without hope, offshore or in remote parts of the country.

And even as the increasing prosperity of our cities makes them lively and attractive for many, there are others who are marginalised, priced out of the city, or excluded because the city does not cater for their needs, or simply not made welcome because of perceived "difference".

It is part of the job of strong local government to redress these imbalances and to work towards a truly inclusive environment.

The City has a range of active programs to promote diversity and harmony, whether through cultural events such as Chinese New Year or through our International Student Leadership and Ambassador program.

Some of our most important work is around the Eora Journey, using art and culture to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders' continuing contribution to Sydney and developing our Reconciliation Action Plan.

We support older people through specially designed programs at our community centres and libraries, through services ranging from podiatry to Meals on Wheels to a home library service for residents who, for one reason or another, find it difficult to get to their local library.

Our Inclusion (Disability) Advisory Panel ensures that people with disability are actively involved in shaping the City - as reflected in our Action Plan which sets out the many practical ways in which we can make the City more inclusive and accessible for people with a disability.

We support White Ribbon Day and efforts by NSW Police on domestic violence reporting, as well as supporting the first Court Support program in Australia specifically designed for gay and lesbian couples.

We have made access to child-care a priority, fast-tracking the development of six new centres to meet increasing demand. We also recognise the economic loss that the lack of women in business leadership - especially in high-growth start-ups - represents and so we support Springboard Enterprises which is working to maximise opportunities for women entrepreneurs.

There is much still to do but we will continue to work towards our vision of a genuinely inclusive and welcoming city, a place where the fundamental human rights of all to a safe environment, with opportunities for education, satisfying work and participation in all aspects of city life are possible.

We will also continue to support the work of the Human Rights Commission, and to welcome outstanding women such as this evening's speakers to Town Hall.