When David Morrison saw a group of Muslims flying the Australian flag and having their picture taken at a citizenship ceremony in Canberra yesterday, he walked straight over to them and asked if he could join in.
Wearing the Australia Day blue cap and T-shirts declaring “love for all, hatred for none”, the men and children from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association Australia were handing out pamphlets expressing their loyalty for the country.
“They were all standing with their flags and the posters and I just asked if I could join them and it was perfect, wasn’t it?” the newly crowned Australian of the Year said.
“They are Australians, they want a multicultural society to work and the Islamic community is going through a tough time and they’re very complex issues here and everyone’s got a view.
“I’m not going to share mine overly except to say that we’ve got to respect people, we’ve got to understand where they’ve come from because we’re all going in the same direction together.”
On his first full day in the new role, the ex-army chief was forthright in promoting a number of big topics: defending Muslim Australians, a republic and legalising gay marriage “sooner rather than later. I do believe in same-sex marriage but I respect the fact that there are many Australians who still are yet to be moved in that regard,” he said.
“I don’t know how long (legalising) it will take, it is clearly a matter for government and if there was to be some form of national decision either through referendum or plebiscite, that would be up to the nation. I would hope it happens sooner rather than later.”
Well known for his 2013 YouTube address in which he told his soldiers to respect women or “get out”, Mr Morrison said he had some experience “moving culture and it can be moved quickly”.
Mr Morrison said he had not intended to “pick a fight with anybody” after he announced he would use his profile in part to lend his voice to the republican movement, saying it was simply “time for a conversation” about an Australian head of state.
Having kicked off the day in Canberra at 5am and ending it in Adelaide, the 59-year-old said there had been little time for the significance of his award to sink in.
Asked how his family responded, Mr Morrison said: “Oh dear. No, I spoke to my three boys last night, they’re all in Brisbane, they were just so full of pride as I am in them. Gayle (his wife), who’s been the great support in my life, just couldn’t believe it.”