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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 6162


Mr TIM FISCHER (Deputy Prime Minister)(3.41 p.m.) —There are critical times when it is necessary for the Parliament of Australia to address motions of this kind. I am privileged to support this joint motion put to the House by the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) and supported by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Beazley). I am delighted to see in the gallery the presence of Senator Bill O'Chee, and I note the certain absence of others. Senator Bill O'Chee is of Chinese- Irish descent. I commend to members of the House the words he uttered to the Senate this day when he represented to the Senate in clear-cut terms what it has meant to be an Australian, what it means to be an Australian and the difficulties he endured in growing up in Australia. He is a proud Australian. I know that he would want me to indicate his support for this motion.

There is no room in this parliament for racism. There is no room in this parliament, in the government or in the opposition for racism. The National Party abhors racism and its ugly effects. It was Jack McEwen, I remind the House, who in 1957, against considerable opposition, some of it racially motivated, drove through and gave leadership to the negotiation of the then Australia-Japan Trade Treaty signed off by the coalition government at the time. He faced resolutions of no confidence from the RSL of the day and from other elements of the society of the day. But it was clear-cut leadership at the time. It was correct leadership at the time. It is, in a sense, leadership replicated in the motion before the House today.

For too long in this country the ignorant and the marginalised have been looking for scapegoats. Sadly, immigrants and Australians of Aboriginal heritage are the easiest scapegoats, for various reasons. These attitudes are unacceptable. These agendas are destructive. They are destructive of job creation and job sustainability, quite apart from the moral dimensions, as the Leader of the Opposition has pointed out. I make it very clear that we are absolutely opposed to the attitudes and agendas being pushed by certain elements at this time and previously.

All Australians must enjoy equal rights, as stated by the motion. This country must have and does have a wholly non-discriminatory immigration policy. This country must deal with the profound social issues facing Australians of Aboriginal heritage, but do it sensibly. These issues come about as a result of both economic circumstances and geographic isolation. They are issues that can only be dealt with through a process of reconciliation rather than the profound dishonesty which comes from bigotry, discrimination and scapegoating. But the programs associated with providing the solutions must be practical, must be sensible and must help add to the cohesion of Australia.

We are a culturally diverse, tolerant and open society. I find that that makes for a more exciting and invigorating Australia than might otherwise be the case. Does anyone seriously assert that Australia is not a better place for the input of various people from various parts of the world, be it from the Mediterranean, be it from the Middle East, be it from Asia, be it from Latin America or be it from elsewhere? There is hardly a town in Australia nowadays which does not have an Italian or a Chinese restaurant—in many cases for many decades—or a Lebanese or a Thai restaurant. There is hardly a town in Australia without a substantial proportion of residents from overseas. This is positive.

Australians, by and large, welcome the diversity. Australians are not ugly, as is so often depicted, but rather an extraordinarily tolerant, easygoing people who have welcomed the diversity and challenges that come from a non-discriminatory immigration policy. In judging Australia on these matters, I would submit that our benchmarks with regard to our non-discriminatory immigration policy, our benchmarks with regard to the general modus operandi of what it means to be Australian and go about our lives here in Australia, can be judged well and we can walk tall and proudly when compared to many other countries in this regard.

I commend the motion that has been formulated by the Leader of the House and Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Reith) and by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr Gareth Evans). It is a motion which I will put forward on a forthcoming brief visit through Thailand to India for the launch of the government's New Horizons program—not with any sense of feeling defensive about the matter, but as a proud Australian, determined to promote a proud Australia, a capable Australia, a cohesive Australia that will build, through mutual respect, the sort of expanded links of the trade, investment, tourism and cultural kind that we would want with our part of the world.

I have done that for many, many years before it became fashionable to do so. During the many years I spent in opposition, I sent frequent cables and requests for help through DFAT, at the time when my colleague opposite, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, was Minister for Foreign Affairs, because I made working visits to 19 different Asian countries before March this year, when I had the privilege to become Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade.

I say in conclusion: firstly, governments set trade and foreign affairs policy priorities. The Australian coalition government has decided that Asia is our top trade and foreign affairs policy priority. No individuals will be allowed to derail that. Secondly, on the export front, which was referred to by the Leader of the Opposition, our exports to that region of the world totalled $46 billion last year and our imports from that region totalled $28 billion, a net surplus of $18 billion. We choose our non-discriminatory immigration policies and our approach embodied in this motion for moral reasons. But it is instructive to think also of the practical circumstances.  Thirdly, let me say one other thing: Australians have the right to decide who comes to live in Australia. We should exercise that right. We should make no apology for doing so. After all, every other country seeks to do just that.

We will continue to build our relations with the region based on mutual respect. I commend this motion to the House and to the nation, to all Australians, as being a fairly constructed and carefully worded motion which is correct at this time, as it would be correct at other times, in one sense in the relatively short history of Australia by some European standards, but in a proud history of Australia and the achievements that Australia has brought about in this part of the world. We can walk tall in relation to it. I support the motion.