Kerrin Benson AM
When asked about her appointment as a Member to the Order of Australia, Ms Kerrin Benson AM replies “I don’t have any idea why I was recognised!”. However, in learning more about the work that Kerrin says she has been blessed to do for the last 20 years, it is clear that she has had a significant impact on many. She has served in countless refugee settlement advisory roles, founded the Brisbane Multicultural Centre, and most notably, was former Chief Executive Officer of Multicultural Australia (formerly Multicultural Development Australia) from 2004 to 2020.
Ms Benson AM was recognised for her significant service to the multicultural community, and to refugee settlement, in the Australia Day 2021 Honours List.
From welcoming and settling migrants into the community, to informing Australian sectors about the value of multiculturalism, Multicultural Australia seeks to create a more prosperous society with multicultural diversity at its core. Kerrin describes a highlight of her time with Multicultural Australia as a partnership with a theatre company to share the stories of newcomers to Australia.
Another highlight has been organising and attending the Luminous Lantern Parade. She speaks with passion and excitement as she describes the event, once fifty people walking down South Bank with a few candles, and now an annual parade of 35,000 participants and numerous sponsors to celebrate multiculturalism and show migrants: “you’re welcome.”
Kerrin always knew she was interested in working with people and social justice issues. After graduating with a degree in social work, she worked in the housing sector before working in refugee housing in the United Kingdom. It was through this work, and her marriage to a British man of African Caribbean heritage, that provided her with a new perspective to the challenges of multicultural and refugee communities. Kerrin recounts some of the experiences of her late-husband with racism, with people staring as though “the circus is in town”.
Kerrin’s appointment as a Member of the Order of Australia has been doubly special; her late-father was also a Member of the Order of Australia. Tearfully, Kerrin describes sharing the news with her father one day before he passed, saying that he was “really chuffed”.
While pleased to see that Australia is recognising work in the multicultural settlement space, Kerrin hopes to see more migrants recognised in the Order of Australia. “Those who migrated here, even second-generation migrants, they don’t always feel a sense of belonging. Receiving one of these awards as recognition for their contribution to Australia is an extraordinary way for Australia to say that ‘we’re really grateful for you.’”
Kerrin also hopes that her award can be seen as a celebration of the collective effort of all those she has worked with, and encourages the community to nominate those who may be overlooked. “We all know people who are incredibly selfless in their contributions to the community and often quite un-sung. Some people don’t have titles or positional authority, but are absolutely tireless in their work to build an Australia that is inclusive. I would encourage people to think about nominating these people."