Some years ago, I attended an Australian Davos Connection Future Summit where a collection of top thinkers discussed the global shifting sands and the implications for the way we live and work.
These conferences sought to find consensus on innovative approaches and new ideas that might propel us to a better place as a society.
At that particular summit, one of the strongly supported concepts was the notion that Australia should aspire to be “the world’s best democracy”.
This simple idea has stuck with me over the years, and I was reminded of it again as I read the first tranche of results from the 2021 Census over the past couple of weeks.
Over many years, Australian has quietly become a highly multi-cultural society where nearly 28 per cent of our population was born overseas and nearly 50 per cent have at least one overseas-born parent.
There is something quite captivating about walking around our major cities at night and seeing the eclectic mix of people from around the world who have become “Aussies” and embraced our island continent down under.
So much of our economic energy is driven by this potpourri of experiences, and the willingness of skilled and entrepreneurial people from around the world to venture across the oceans and make their home here.
Despite this, it feels like we are still falling short in fully embracing and accepting the highly global community we have become and forging a view of ourselves that matches the evidence of the Census.
Many people who migrate here still find high cultural barriers to breaking into the workforce and having overseas qualifications and skills recognised.
Over the years I have been astounded by the extraordinary number of very highly qualified professional people I have met driving taxis or taking roles well below their skill levels. I once had an application for a junior administration role from a man who had been a surgeon in Asia.
In several roles over the past few years, I have had meetings with overseas students who desperately wanted to work in Australia. Some were in tears as they described earning degree after degree but never getting into final job shortlists.
Others lamented that the rules and visa restrictions could make it almost impossible to live in Australia’s high-cost economy and earn enough to survive a qualifications and language makeover.
Despite the multiculturalism of our population, and our desperate need for skills and labour to power our economy, we still see a backlash against overseas migrants taking “our jobs”.
Hopefully Covid-19 and closed borders have provided an abject lesson about our need to be part of a global skills community.
Of course, there are plenty of good news stories too. Lord mayors in Brisbane, including the incumbent Councillor Adrian Schrinner, host a Welcome to Brisbane ceremony for overseas students that is genuine and powerful, and attracts media attention all over the world.
Emerging generations of young Australians are genuine citizens of the world and tend to see the globe as part of their community rather than “overseas” being a place they travel to.
Universities have long worked at forming strong alumni relationships with former international students who become a powerful network of business and organisational leaders. These leaders open doors for Australia, even at times when diplomatic relations at government level might be strained.
As we grasp the reality of a truly global Australia, it is a good time to reopen the conversation about what the world’s best democracy should look like.
It is not hard to see an undertone in recent election results around the desire for Australia to be a kinder, more tolerant country where we are formidable but free, ethical, sustainable, fair, and friendly to all.
It is not enough to just be a functioning democracy. The world’s best democracy would have to set the standard on how we treat all people and how the whole can be more powerful than our 25,422,788 highly diverse parts.
Shane Rodgers is a business executive, writer, strategist and marketer with a deep interest in what makes people tick and the secret languages of the workplace.
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