Australian Values Panel Discussion

What are the Australian values and what does it mean to be Australian? We’ve partnered with Academy Alive to find out. 

Watch host Nadia Saeed and our panellists Ali Kadri, Ree Ali, Ansary Muhammed and Beny Aterdit Bol OMA discuss the importance of community and our shared values.


[Nadia Saeed]: What does it mean to be Australian to you, and what are the values that speak to you the most?

[Beny Bol]: I think that’s a very good question. For me, being Australian is more about inclusion, social inclusion, democratic values, the importance of respect, and those are some of the values that resonate with me very strongly.

[Ali Kadri]: I think for me, being an Australian means being part of a community in a country which respects, accepts and celebrates diversity. And I think that is a key factor, which is not very much often found around the countries in the world.

[Ree Ali]: What I love about this country is the freedom of religion. I love the way that everyone’s able to practice their faith, and the other value that I really enjoy is the mateship one. I have noticed that Australia is so good at coming to someone’s aid when things go wrong. The way everyone just comes together and helps each other is incredible. I haven’t seen that anywhere else.

[Ansary Muhammed]: Being Australian is just, diversity, helping the community, just holding the hands and walking together as one family.

[Ali Kadri]: There are very few countries where you could truly say that you’re free as a citizen, as an individual, and I think Australia is one of those countries where you can say you’re free. You can say what you want to say. You can do whatever you want to do, as long as it doesn’t harm anyone else.

[Beny Bol]: Absolutely, yeah. And I think that brings us to the importance of institutions that have been created for a very long time. And when you look at the environment those institutions actually create for all of us, and we come together and do everything that we do regardless of our religious, ethnic, and political views, where all these people from religious, racial, and ethnic background come together, celebrating and actually acknowledging each other. And when you look at other countries, other nations, they can’t do the same thing. And that brings you to the importance of the system and the institutions that actually treat everyone equally, regardless of your position in the society.

[Beny Bol]: So these are the things that we must be very proud of as Australians because there are not many societies or nations that enjoy those kind of privileges and that’s one of the things I like about this country.

[Nadia Saeed]: Can you please tell us a little bit about what inspires you to do the work in the community?

[Ali Kadri]: I think for me, in particular, I believe that I’m privileged by the virtue of being in this country. And that comes with certain responsibilities, and that is to maintain the values of Australia and what Australia means, and give some, and leave some legacy, and contribute to making this country better for the future. Because look, it’s up to all of us who are here, lucky enough to be here, to contribute in not just ensuring it remains so, but becomes better.

[Beny Bol]: I came to Australia in 2007 on a humanitarian visa, and I came with nothing. And I realised that a few years later, I was being celebrated everywhere, and that’s because I have been empowered. I’ve been empowered by the people in this country. I’ve been empowered by the system, and they have seen something in me. And that means that if we empower people and give them the opportunity, you can never tell what people are bringing with them, you know?

[Beny Bol]: When I came, nobody knew what I got, my ability and all of that. I came with nothing, I went to university here, got two master’s degrees, and I would have not actually been able to realise the potential somewhere else if it wasn’t in Australia. And I thought this is something you need to do to other people as well, to empower everyone, to make sure that they realise their dreams and potential and the importance of living that life of purpose.

So how do you want to be remembered as a person? Because you’re not going to live forever and you don’t know when you’re going to leave this life, so you’ve got to do something, empower people and to be remembered for what you’ve done.

[Nadia Saeed]: Do you have any advice on how we can encourage all Australians to show solidarity and respect for one another and acceptance of all people?

[Ree Ali]: Now, my aim has always been to break down the barriers and the perceptions that people have of people of different faiths. Regardless of what religion you come from, you still have a bias. Most of us have a bias because of the cultural upbringings we’ve had in our own relevant countries. And when we come to Australia, we realise that we’re actually living, working, commuting with those people that perhaps we’ve been told not to mix with.

So what’s the best way to get to understand them is by bringing them together. If you bring people together over very casual conversations, over a cup of tea, a biscuit, a coffee. Build those friendships first, and then you can state, “Oh, by the way, I’m from.” And what I would love to see is more youth groups from different religious places of worship come together.

[Ansary Muhammed]: So for me, when we started the homeless run eight years ago, and we were just with another organisation called Rosies, they’re a Christian organisation, completely different to our faith. And that’s a beauty about Islam is that we invite everyone. It shouldn’t be just one religion helping on the street. Firstly, we are all human beings. So it’s amazing, you know, just being Australian, being diverse, working with a group, regardless of religion or race, where you come from, and just having that opportunity to represent yourself.

[Ali Kadri]: I think that is worth protecting. That is what being an Australian is all about. Being divisive is not being an Australian. I think being uniting is what being Australian is all about.

[Nadia Saeed]: Can you tell us a little bit about the challenges that are faced by multicultural communities in Australia and how we can overcome some of those challenges?

[Ali Kadri]: A lot of multicultural communities feel conflicted about their identities, you know, whether it’s a religious identity. And that is sometimes because of some rhetoric which they see on social media. I talk to a lot of young people in my school and although they’ve been born and brought up in Australia, sometimes they feel that they’re not Australians, they’re not accepted. And that’s a challenge, you know, a huge challenge, an identity crisis if you like, which a lot of young people go through, young Australians go through.

[Beny Bol]: Yeah, I definitely agree with Ali. I think it’s very important to see people growing into leadership roles in different sectors. And that will also inspire the younger people to see themselves that they have the opportunity here, they can make it at any level.

[Nadia Saeed]: Can you tell me a little bit about what has continued your passion to work with young people from your community?

[Beny Bol]: Well, just a few things. It’s my family values around hard work and the importance of compassion. And also knowing that we are the best solution to our problems and the challenges, the young people face. It’s the young people themselves, the youth, who are the best solution to those problems.

[Beny Bol]: There’s a trend now happening in a number of CALD communities where relatively younger people are stepping up into the leadership role. And you can see a lot of positive change and energy everywhere, and a lot of elders actually standing behind them and supporting them. And that’s what we need to encourage.

[Nadia Saeed]: What does religious freedom mean to you and why is religious freedom important in Australia, including the freedom of no religion?

[Ali Kadri]: Look, I think religious freedom is important because, while the Australian state has no religion, all religions, which are being practiced in Australia, are Australian religions. You know, so Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, or whatever you call it, whatever religion you follow are Australian religions. You know, they’re not foreign to Australia. And then the people who choose not to follow religion are also equally Australian, but what binds us together is our nationality, and we have to respect our freedoms, whether it’s freedom to follow a religion or freedom to not follow religion. And once we come to that understanding, we will not be so judgemental on each other.

[Beny Bol]: I like to learn from history. And when you look at the history of the world and if you look at the peace, stability and prosperity that’s being experienced by different nations, it’s because of those values grounded under freedom of religion, freedom of speech. And that’s very important.

[Ansary Muhammed]: And the beauty about the culture in Australia is that you can go down the mosque and pray, or you can go to the church. It’s all open doors, and you can go anywhere, it doesn’t matter what religion or where you’re from.

[Nadia Saeed]: All migrants bring quite a rich history and culture to Australia. Why is this so important?

[Ree Ali]: Migrants do bring a rich, a very rich history and culture to Australia. And I think it’s a brilliant opportunity for mainstream Australians to learn about it, because at the end of the day, we need to know the world is smaller. Don’t you think? The world is the smallest it’s ever been now, and getting to know people from different cultures and faiths is so much easier now than it ever was before. It’s so important to teach our children and feel proud that their ancestors built this country.

[Nadia Saeed]: What are some of the most memorable or rewarding moments that you’ve experienced while working in communities?

[Beny Bol]: Between 2018 – 2019, when there were incidents involving our young people and these stories about African youth crime and I was doing a lot of interviews every day. And every single day that I appear on media, the overwhelming messages that were coming were not from the African community. They’re from all different people, political leaders and community leaders and different community members who were concerned about me as a person first. And they would send me a message. Are you okay? Take it easy. We are with you and all of that. And that gave me like a sense of relief and happiness and appreciation of Australia as a country.

[Nadia Saeed]: That’s incredible, showing that the strength and your relationships and mutual respect. So thank you, Beny.

[Ali Kadri]: And I think one more thing I’ll add very quickly on this one, you remember the Christchurch attack? Straight after the Christchurch attack, we did a community event at the Islamic College of Brisbane, and more than 4,000 people showed up. But, you know, while that tragedy occurred, it brought a lot more people together and there was so much sense of solidarity. And as a Muslim myself, I felt while the pain was there, it was a little bit lessened and there was hope for the future. And I think that incident became a catalyst for unity, and that credit goes to values we have as Australians.

[Nadia Saeed]: That Christchurch event is what really continued my passion in community to break down barriers, and not just come together when something negative happens, but, you know, celebrating together and just enjoying that we are in such a beautiful country. We have freedom. We have mutual respect. There’s a fair go for everyone. But my question to you is, what are the things that we can celebrate?

[Ansary Muhammed]: Last year, two of our youngsters, our homeless volunteers, they actually got P licence. I got my wife to make a cake in a P-shape with a red “P.” And they came along, and the first thing we did was cutting the cake for both of them. After that they came in and gave me a big hug and said, “Thank you uncle for doing it.” And it’s just celebrating the little wins and encouraging them too.

[Nadia Saeed]: Wonderful. I’m expecting a cake now too.

[Ansary Muhammed]: Have you got your Ps?

[Nadia Saeed]: I’ve got my full licence now, and I’ve still managed to keep it so we’re celebrating that.

[Ali Kadri]: You need a much bigger cake for a full license, not just the “P”.

[Nadia Saeed]: Who would like to go next?

[Beny Bol]: And this is something we need to know as a community, you know, to highlight and to celebrate. There’s so many people out there in the community and hidden talent that the public doesn’t know. And it is our responsibility collectively to identify those people and highlight them, make sure that the public knows about them.

[Nadia Saeed]: What are the key values that you think shine through within our community?

[Ree Ali]: So the key values, I think, that shine through in our community is integrity, generosity, compassion, and non-judgmental. I’m confident that all our communities are all of those things. And I think we should celebrate that.

[Beny Bol]: If I were to point out a couple of things, I would talk about tolerance. Very important. And all of the things that we are doing is because we tolerate our differences in terms of opinions and everything. So tolerance is so critical, and also compassion here in Australia and respect. You know, even though you don’t agree with someone, you still respect their opinions and everything. So this is some of the values that have actually binded us together. And that’s why we are so harmonious compared to other societies.

[Ali Kadri]: And I think the value of respecting the rule of law. It’s amazing to see that even at midnight, people stop at red lights here. You know, and that’s people respecting the law.

[Ree Ali]: Sure, Ali.

[Nadia Saeed]: Yeah, I was gonna say.

[Ali Kadri]: Full 12 points on my license. So, you know, it’s good to see that. I think it’s good, it creates for a better society.

[Nadia Saeed]: Ansary, as the founder of Merciful Servants, a key focus of yours is organising homeless runs, delivering food packs during COVID, and most recently in the floods in February, and in any natural disaster, always taking the lead on organising volunteers and really giving back to our community. I guess my question to you is, what really ignited your passion to give back to the community and do so much work?

[Ansary Muhammed]: For me, giving back is, we came from a very poor family. I mean, my father passed away when I was 10 and mum raised us. And I always see, you know, we struggled, and there’s a lot of people that struggle. If I see someone struggling, it doesn’t matter who they are or where they’re from, I’ll always have to reach my hands out there to help them, because I know what it feels like to be in that situation. And recently, I came across this family, Afghani family, and I’ve been helping them for the last four months. Try to help them up. Getting vouchers, helping them, putting them towards, like, linking them to NZF – a Muslim charitable foundation where they can get assistance. And it’s just amazing, you know – encouraging them a little bit and talking to them, and I’m going to make a difference to their life.

[Nadia Saeed]: So you all do an absolutely incredible job in our communities. So my question to you would be, what could you say to others to be inspired to work within communities the way that you might have?

[Ali Kadri]: Look, if I may start, it’s not always sunshine. You know, sometimes it’s very difficult. I think what keeps me going is when I come across people, overwhelmingly, the majority of the people who work in the community sector are kind-hearted and good people. And when you engage with them, you draw inspiration and positive energy out of them. And I think that would be the message I’d give, not just to everyone, but myself as well, that, you know, there are a lot of people who are doing this for good reasons. You just need to go, seek out, learn to forget, forgive people and yourself.

[Ree Ali]: It’s so giving, it’s so giving. You give so much of your time, don’t you, and you get so much back and, but it’s so fulfilling, you feel so good. And the fact that you’ve helped someone makes you feel good, far more than any monetary value.

[Beny Bol]: I just want people to be outcome-driven, you know. Like focusing on what you want to achieve and then surround yourself with like-minded people, people who actually think the same way rather than like those who are very negative. You know? So the thing that I do, I usually focus on those who are like-minded and those who are outcome-driven. They’re not focusing on what’s being said out there, but what is it that we need to do? And the outcome will speak for itself. That’s very important.

[Ansary Muhammed]: And for me, success is always looking at, you know, you humble yourself, you focus yourself to reach somewhere. Like for me, I volunteer myself a lot. I work full-time as an Electrical Wholesale Manager, and then after hours I go out and do my homeless run and activity with the youth.

[Ree Ali]: I’d like to touch on that as well. I think people who work in community…you know, I’m married, I have three children, but we take time out of our family life. And because we are so committed and we so believe in what we are doing, that we do take time out of our family life to try and achieve a better society. And we’re doing it for our children too.

[Nadia Saeed]: What advice would you give to our youth?

[Ali Kadri]: Look, I think the advice I would give is the future is yours. Keep being positive and keep going.

[Beny Bol]: For me, it will be to say, it’s important that every day you wake up and make a decision, a choice. Those choices determine your future, and your future is determined when you are still very young. That’s very important. So you’re not going to determine the kind of future you’re going to live when you get older. So when you are young is when you need to make the choice, the right choices every single day, and they will determine your future.

[Ree Ali]: The advice I would give the youth of today is to not be judgemental. Try your hardest not to judge anyone, get to know them first before you make decisions on anyone.

[Nadia Saeed]: I love that one. That could go very far.

[Ansary Muhammed]: And I’ll agree with Beny as well. When you wake up in the morning, you need to have that ‘can do’ attitude.

[Nadia Saeed]: Wonderful. Thank you. I think as a youth leader myself, it’s really inspiring to listen to all of your stories and seeing what our elders have accomplished and what we can hopefully be able to do as well. And I agree that it can get hard, there’s times where you kind of second-guess yourself or it’s a bit too much, but it is so rewarding. It’s addictive, and I think that’s one of the best parts of working in communities. And I’d like to say thank you to everyone. Thank you for all the work that you do, and I’m keen to see everything that you can all accomplish. Thank you.

[Ali Kadri]: Thank you.

[Beny Bol]: Thank you very much, Nadia. You’ve been amazing.

[Ali Kadri]: Thanks, Nadia. Thank you so much. Well done.

Nadia Saeed and Ali Kadri credit the freedoms, mutual respect and fair go we have as Australians to our Australian values.

Learn about the Australian values.

This post is also available in: 简体中文 (Chinese Simplified) 繁體中文 (Chinese Traditional) Tiếng Việt (Vietnamese) العربية (Arabic)

On Thursday 29 February 2024 the Australian Values Program and its online engagement channels will be closed. We would like to thank everyone who shared their stories or engaged with the Australian Values Program in its three years of operation through the website, X, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook.

The values will continue to hold their place in our diverse and inclusive community through other initiatives, as well as playing an integral part of the visa application process and Australian Citizenship test. For more info visit the Australian Values page.