Today marks 509 days since Australia's borders closed on 20 March 2020 – 509 days. This situation has posed such challenges and caused such heartbreak for so many in our community as well as their families and friends overseas. As of today, more than 38,000 Australians are still stranded overseas and want to return home. There are many thousands more living here who are separated from loved ones abroad. I am one of them. For us, there is no time line on when we might see our families again. There is just waiting and waiting and waiting. It is intolerable.
Last night was census night. The key part of the census is mapping the changing cultural landscape of this country. People are asked about their ancestry, their languages and where their families are from. The story the census has told us over the years is one of a multicultural country. Aside from First Nations people, every person who lives here is either a migrant or descended from immigrants. The overseas-born population now sits at about 30 per cent, and a further 20 per cent have at least one parent born overseas. This is huge by international comparisons, but you wouldn't know it from the way this country, throughout the pandemic, has relied so heavily on border closures as its primary way of dealing with the pandemic. A quick fix has become a long-term solution, and it has done enormous harm to millions of migrants. The vaccine rollout was deprioritised due to the reliance on closed borders.
When the PM said, 'It's not a race,' we heard, 'We are in no rush to reopen.' This mindset has to be challenged. It is a race—for public health but also for the future of this multicultural country.