Last night I had the pleasure of welcoming our four Australians of the Year to Town Hall for their discussion, 2015 Australians of the Year: Inspiring Change in Human Rights, organised by the Australian Human Rights Commission.For the first time ever, all our Australians of the Year are women. ABC presenter Annabel Crabb led Rosie Batty, Jackie French, Drisana Levitzke-Gray and Juliette Wright in conversation about their stories and the human rights issues that drive them.
Read more about the Australians of the Year here.
At a time when human rights - and human decency - are under attack in our country as never before, it was a valuable opportunity to hear and be inspired by these women.Australia has always prided itself on its egalitarian spirit, but we have perhaps become dangerously complacent. While we still 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. 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. 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.If you missed their inspiring talk, you can watch it here: http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/australians-of-the-year-in-conversation/NS1564H001S00