MYAN National Multicultural Youth Conference 2023

27 November 2023


I pay my respects to the custodians of the lands on which we meet. I pay my respects to their Elders past and present. I acknowledge their ongoing cultural and educational practices and I pay my respects to any First Nations people joining here with us today.

Can I also take a moment to acknowledge my colleague, the amazing Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Interests. Wonderful to see you, Andrew. Carmel Guerra, the CEO for the Centre for Multicultural Youth and the chair of MYAN; Rana Ebrahimi who is the national manager of MYAN; the MYAN Youth Ambassadors; Carla Wilshire, the CEO of the Social Policy Group; Ms Christine Castley, the CEO of Multicultural Australia; my friend, Hass Dellal, I don't know if he's in the room, a long-time friend of mine, Hass Dellal, the Executive Director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, and the chair of the Australian Multicultural Council; Ms Nyadol Nyuon OAM, the Chair of the Harmony Alliance, Migrant Refugee Women for Change and the Director of the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre, community advocate and writer; and, of course, a huge acknowledgment of all our diverse attendees from right across the country.

Can I just start by saying it's wonderful to see so many young people embracing your traditional cultural dress and wearing your cultural dress here this evening. I've got my cultural dress on my shoes.

A little bit about my story. I am a migrant. My parents came to Australia when I was 2 years old and we landed in Albury-Wodonga at the Bonegilla Migrant Training Camp where we spent our first four weeks or so, perhaps more than four weeks, about six to eight weeks the first time we ever came to Australia. And, you know, we came at a time where Australia was still grappling with the last vestiges of a White Australia Policy, but also a fairly enduring vision of a white Australia body that had been clearly well embedded into the social fabric of this nation. And so for those who came across the seas, while there were boundless plains to share, there were many times that for my parents it didn't feel quite as so.

After leaving the Bonegilla Migrant Training Camp, we established ourselves in Western Sydney and I grew up first in Marrickville and the areas around there. We moved to Queensland for a bit and then we came back to Sydney and Western Sydney, and I spent my formative years growing up in Lakemba and Belmore - go Western Sydney - and later out Liverpool way before moving to Western Australia. So I'm well and truly West Australian now but always a Sydney girl in my heart.

For me growing up as a young woman from a migrant ethnic background, and from a fairly traditional Muslim family as well, those years trying to grapple with my identity and who I was, was I Australian? Was I Egyptian? What was my culture, what was my identity, how was I to forge my way? To me I felt very Australian, but many times it felt that others didn't see me as Australian.

For my family, my father was an engineer in Egypt when they migrated here to Australia, but as the migrant story goes, he ended up driving buses for a living and one of the things that I find a very difficult pill to swallow is that 50 years on that still seems to be the migrant story. People with degrees in their own countries who come to Australia end up in insecure work and so, you know, Mohammed, the neuroscientist who is driving the Uber has come to Australia and still presents a threat of taking someone else's job. But I think that in that migrant story there is also richness and there is also a really positive threat that we take away from that.

My parents always used to say to me "We came to this country for you. We came to this country for our children." And I can see a lot of the young people in the room nodding. You've probably heard that a million times from your parents and probably, like me, there were times when you just cringed and said, "Well I never asked you to bring me here", right? Who has said that? Hands up if you've said that to your parents. But I think, you know, I think about the little brown-eyed second girl child who came to Australia at the age of 2 and I know I see her out there, and growing up with nobody who looked like me in politics, nobody who looked like me on television, nobody who looked like me in positions of power. And I hope that we live in a country now where that's changed, where we can have positions of power, institutions, pop culture, even, that represent and reflect the true multicultural nature of our country and that the benefits of that are passed on to the next generation, and the generation and the generation after that.

Now, my father, my Bāba passed away 2015, about six months before I was asked to run for parliament and about a year to the day that I was elected as the member for Canberra. So he was not alive to see his daughter, the one who was the cheeky, naughty one, who always got detention in school, become a Member of Parliament and then a minister in government. But I know that for him, watching what his children were able to achieve would have been a justification for everything that my parents left behind and everything that they lost in coming to a country so far, far, so far away from their family and their friends and the places that they called home.

So I want a different migrant story. I want a different migrant story for generations who are yet to come here, for generations who are here. I want young people from cultural and linguistically backgrounds, I want young ethnically diverse people to have a sense of place and belonging and to not question their identity, to not question their Australianness, and not have their Australianness questioned by others and scrutinised by others. I think we can do that, and I think we can do that in several ways.

And the first way, I think, is through the role that MYAN plays in advocating for young ethnically diverse and intersectional because there are other diversities represented here as well, and I acknowledge, I acknowledge young ethnic people with disability, I acknowledge young ethnic people who are also gender diverse and have diverse sexualities as well, and other forms of diversity.

We have a role to play for advocating for young people. When I took on the role and I became the Minister for Youth, one of the first things I said to my office and my department was that we were not to treat youth as a homogeneous monolith, to recognise the diversity of young people, the diversity of their aspirations, the diversity of their needs, and, importantly, the diversity of their lived experiences, number one. Number two, to value, value that diversity, and value that lived experience as something that can provide us with knowledge and guidance in the policies that we make and the laws that we enact, so that those policies and that those laws that we enact impact on young people - recognise the diverse ways in which they impact on young people, and the diversity of the experiences that young people have with those policies and the laws that we enact.

So one of the primary things that I wanted the Office for Youth to be was not a nice facing office that sat in the dudgeon of a department somewhere and only did nice facing stuff, but the primary role of that office was to engage young people and young people in all their diversities. And so to do that, we established a 15-person steering committee, and from this 15-person steering committee, five youth advisory groups in five areas that young people told us were important to them.

Now, if you think, and you read a lot of the literature and the surveys, tells me that young people are disengaged from politics and from policy and from government. But when we put out the call for expressions of interest for young people to join our 15-person steering committee, we got 1,500 applications from right across Australia. Now what that tells me is that young people have something to say, and young people want to be involved in processes and in decision making and in the policies that impact on them.

So this year we had our 15-person young steering committee, we had our five youth advisory groups, and we undertook consultations with over 2,000 young people and the principle that I charged the Office for Youth with is do not create a consultation and expect young people to come to you, go to where young people are. So we held consultations at youth centres, at sporting clubs, at university O days, at music festivals. And we also had an online survey as well and had people respond to that.

Now what we want to do with all of this, with this engagement model, is to develop and grow it right across government because the youth portfolio should not be the only portfolio concerned with the issues that impact young people. It should be right across government. So we're doing this to lay the foundations for a better future for young people, by involving young people in the matters that affect them, the things that they tell us are important and, importantly, to get your advice on the ways in which it affects you because the way it affects you is going to be different to the way that it affects you, different to the way that it affects you. And we want to hear all of those ways and we want to hear all of that feedback from you, and we want to demonstrate to you that we value that, we value your feedback, we value your engagement, and we value your lived experience.

So my commitment to you is to work with you. I'm not here to be your voice. I'm here to raise your voice, and as long as you want to have your voice raised, and as long as you have something to say, and as long as you have a lived experience, my promise to you is that that will be valued, that will be lifted, and my door will be open to you so that we can walk together, work together, and create a better future for the next generation and the generation after that and the generation after that. Thank you.