What are ‘Australian’ values?

With Australia Day behind us, the debate on which day our national celebration should be held will ease up for another year. But the day-to-day notion of being ‘Australian’ is one that sticks with us – or should, anyway.

Australia Day is the day the nation comes together. Some will celebrate our great nation with a simple barbecue and a gathering of friends and family. Others will also gather, but to protest what the day means to our First Nation people. Many will be sworn in as new Australians and some will simply ignore the day and enjoy the public holiday that comes with it.

And that is the beauty of our country: the freedom to do whatever we like on a day that reveres what it means to be Australian. It’s a value we hold dear, but one that can sometimes be taken for granted. That freedom highlights the fact that we are truly the lucky country.

Debates about when to hold citizenship ceremonies – with some councils preferring to hold them on dates other than 26 January out of respect for indigenous Australians – were a hot topic this year as in years past.

During the ceremony, applicants for permanent citizenship or permanent visas are asked to swear themselves in with this statement of Australian values:

I confirm that I have read, or had explained to me, information provided by the Australian Government on Australian society and values.

I understand that:

  • Australian society values respect for the freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion, commitment to the rule of law, Parliamentary democracy, equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good
  • Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background
  • the English language, as the national language, is an important unifying element of Australian society

I undertake to respect these values of Australian society during my stay in Australia and to obey the laws of Australia.

I understand that if I should seek to become an Australian citizen:

  • Australian citizenship is a shared identity, a common bond which unites all Australians while respecting their diversity
  • Australian citizenship involves reciprocal rights and responsibilities. The responsibilities of Australian Citizenship include obeying Australian laws, including those relating to voting at elections and serving on a jury.


If I meet the legal qualifications for becoming an Australian citizen and my application is approved, I understand that I would have to pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people.


The statement offers some interesting points about what it should mean to be Australian. As an example, consider this: “equality of men and women and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion for those in need and pursuit of the public good”.

Do we really follow this statement to its end? Is respect of women reflected in wages and workplace conditions? Does the word ‘egalitarianism’ truly describe how we treat women, indigenous people and people born outside of Australia? And do we truly show compassion to refugees and for all people in need?

In many cases, sure, but shouldn’t ‘egalitarianism’ in the true sense of the word apply to all circumstances?

Consider also “Australian society values equality of opportunity for individuals, regardless of their race, religion or ethnic background”.

It’s funny. I was at the Australia Day festival in Melbourne on Saturday and I heard a (white) man in his twenties say “See, not a single Aussie in sight”. The reality is, he was surrounded by Australians celebrating Australia Day. Seemed he just couldn’t see past race. Is this a failing of our teachers, politicians, preachers or parents? Or is this attitude just ingrained in some people?

While we may not uphold all that is included in this statement of values all the time, the intention of this statement is something we should all strive to enforce. If the intention is there, action should follow.

In the pursuit of discovering what Australians aged 55 and over believe are ‘Australian values’, we went straight to the source, asking them to define the values that make our country and its people so great.

We asked them to list the three most important Australian values, and today, we’ll release the top five.

The most popular responses were ‘belief in a fair go for everyone’ (18 per cent), followed by ‘a fair go for those having a go’ (10 per cent).

So a fair go is important, but for some it is conditional, which to this author, seems fair.

‘Family’ and ‘mateship’ came in equal third, both with nine per cent. In equal fourth came ‘equality’ and ‘upholding the law’, both at seven per cent.

In equal fifth, came ‘strong work ethic’, ‘embrace multiculturalism’ and ‘freedom to do what you want’, all with six per cent of the vote.

Some other great responses included:

  • rallying in times of crisis
  • upholding and defending Australian culture
  • helping others
  • honesty
  • able to laugh at themselves
  • open-minded and ‘liberal’


So, between our national Australian values statement and the values listed above, we all have some good material to work with in 2019 and beyond.

Have you ever read the statement of Australian values? Do you feel that we follow it to a ‘T’? Is there room for improvement? Do you agree with the top five values listed by Australians who are over 55?

Related articles:
Poll: Define ‘Australian’ values
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Date must be changed: Kennett

Written by Leon Della Bosca

Publisher of YourLifeChoices – Australia's most-trusted and longest-running retirement website. A trusted voice on Australia's retirement landscape, including retirement income and planning, government entitlements, lifestyle and news and information relevant to Australians over 50. Leon has worked in publishing for more than 25 years and is also a travel writer and editor, graphic designer and photographer.

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