Opinion | Harmony Day: our region has a place for everyone

IT'S OUR HOME: The Hunter proudly boasts an incredibly diverse multicultural and multi-faith community.

IT'S OUR HOME: The Hunter proudly boasts an incredibly diverse multicultural and multi-faith community.

Do you feel like you belong in the Hunter? Do we as a community embrace the cultural, racial and religious diversity in our community as much as we should?

Harmony Day is a great time to be reflecting on how we as a local community are collectively encouraging a sense of belonging to our neighbours and community, no matter their culture, race, religion, abilities or lifestyle. At Samaritans, we celebrate diversity in everything that we do- from our service provision and among our staff. We see Harmony Day as an opportunity to drive awareness in the wider community and to recognise the value and benefit that diversity and inclusive practice brings to all.

Harmony Day coincides with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. A purposeful and necessary coincidence, given the ongoing debate in our country about proposed changes to 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to offend, insult or humiliate someone because of their race.

Conservative members of our country’s parliament have highlighted ‘freedom of speech’ as the basis to a change of the act.  However, freedom of speech should never mean the freedom to abuse on the basis of race and for this reason, Samaritans strongly opposes changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. Changes to the Act will only weaken the protection of minority groups against racial abuse which is not a beneficial change for anyone in our community.

Everyone Belongs is a fitting motto set for Harmony Day and something I am constantly reminded of by those in this community. Samaritans is in the fortunate and privileged position to support many people who are disadvantaged through the provision of over 100 services in the Hunter region- from disability care, to youth homelessness, emergency relief services and more. Diversity is a common thread throughout all of our support services and deserves recognition and celebration.

I’m reminded of the importance of such celebration when I see workplaces and communities gathering for A Taste of Harmony to share traditional dishes and learn from one another. I’m reminded when I see interfaith leadership and support from local churches and mosques. I’m reminded when I see the passionate advocates on Hunter Street waving their banners of support every week for refugees.

The Hunter proudly boasts an incredibly diverse multicultural and multi-faith community. Having had a leading presence in the region for 33 years, Samaritans is proud to have supported and worked alongside hundreds of thousands of locals in that period.

But who is local? With communities becoming increasingly diverse, what then does local really mean? Are you a local if you moved here to retire? Are you a local if you settled here from overseas? Or are you only considered to be a local if you were born and bred here?

The answer to all of these questions is, yes. Yes, we are all locals. We are all proud to call this region our home. We are proud to share values of inclusion, respect, tolerance, multiculturalism and mateship.

Everyone in our community has the basic human desire to be happy and we must all share in a responsibility to welcome and embrace those who may feel as though they don’t belong. Happy communities are inclusive and more productive communities. So this week, it’s two simple words that we need to remember each day: Everyone Belongs.

Peter Gardiner is CEO, Samaritans Foundation

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