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New Citizens Celebrate Australia Day as Cultural Debate Continues

  • Phil Mercer

Australia has been celebrating its national day, with parties, concerts and special events across the nation. For some people, the day is doubly special: 14,000 immigrants from more than 100 countries were sworn in Saturday as Australian citizens - a situation not without its critics. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Thousands of new citizens pledged allegiance to their new country Saturday at naturalization ceremonies up and down the country.

Adding their voices to the celebrations in Sydney were Mugoni Katsande from Zimbabwe, and Taikang Chen, who arrived in Australia a decade ago as a student from China.

Q: "What does it mean to become a new citizen today?"

A: "Oh, great - fantastic. Oh, feel like a new person, you know."

"Very excited, very excited, yes. I'm looking for a job at the moment and certainly Australian citizenship will help me in my career," said Chen.

A quarter of Australians were born overseas. Critics of multiculturalism believe this massive influx has eroded the country's traditional way of life, and generated racial and religious tension.

That is not the view of Anthony Albanese, a minister in the new Labor government. He says Australia has shown an extraordinary ability to weave so many different people together.

"Australia attracts a broad range of migration," he said. "Some people are very skilled, people who've come here indeed as business migrants from a wealthy background. Others of course come here with literally the clothes on their back and nothing else."

Australia Day festivities on a fine summer's day included the annual harbor ferry race in Sydney, and fireworks in Melbourne.

There are also events commemorating Australia's Aborigines, indigenous peoples whose history stretches back at least 40,000 years before European settlers began arriving in 1788.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, elected last November, has promised to apologize to Aborigines for past injustices, reversing an 11-year policy under the previous conservative government.