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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2307

Mr GEORGANAS (9:45 PM) —Australia is a diverse country filled with many people from every part of the world of different traditions and faiths who have made their home here in Australia. This is a highly significant element of Australia and what it means to be Australian. This is why Australia is known as the multicultural country.

The term multiculturalism means ‘numerous cultures’. It promotes a way of thinking that accepts and embraces everyone, the many Australians who have come from different parts of the world. This includes respecting people’s choices and practices regarding their religion and their social customs, as long as they are within the law. It means that all cultures are respected and no one is more important than another.

Multiculturalism also emphasises that, while we accept and recognise cultural diversity, all citizens identify one common law, democratic government and nation as our own, and that is Australia. Australia has had many waves of migrants over the last couple of hundred years. From the very first settlers and convicts who were brought here, through to the gold rush and then after the Second World War, Australia started receiving a large number of immigrants from countries all over the world. Australia’s population continued to gain complexity and our society developed further depth, contrast and interest. Each wave of migrants made significant contributions to society and upheld Australian laws as they built their lives in this wonderful land of ours. Many migrants and their families, particularly those who did not speak English, struggled to gain access to basic services critically important to the development of their lives in Australia—education and health care.

The introduction of the term ‘multiculturalism’ led to migrant associations and advisory boards looking more specifically and more closely at the issues of Australians of different cultures and backgrounds, and particularly those who spoke different languages. Tremendous work was done. Not only was there acceptance that the maintenance of difference was evidently possible but it could also be desirable. It was a showcase and continues to be so around the world.

We have had a divergence from this path. Over a number of years in the past decade or more, we have witnessed a partial withdrawal from the embrace of multiculturalism. Firstly, we had the sentiment raised and promoted over a number of years that was typified by the speech made in this place with the infamous reference to ghettos. That was a fearful, narrow view. We then had the sentiment raised and promoted that was typified by events of 2001—disaster perpetrated by some people against others, and the subsequent promotion of fear within the Australian community through the smearing of, at that time, women and children from a far-off land.

Difference was tolerated but certainly not embraced and not even really accepted. We just had to put up with people who were not like us. Multiculturalism as an approach to life in Australia suffered tremendously, and the Australian population was starting to tear. Intolerance was even becoming patriotic—and we saw the Cronulla riots. This I would like never to see again. It is an approach and a mindset that is separatist, spurns synergy, is inward looking, consuming and self-defeating. We have been so much more. The need to educate our citizens to celebrate, not fear, cultural and linguistic differences is now stronger than ever before. The need to support newly arrived and established communities to grow and succeed and become part of this wonderful nation of Australia has never been greater.

Having represented the federal seat of Hindmarsh I have seen first-hand how the families of more than 41 different cultural groups in my electorate have directly contributed to the community and benefited from the opportunities brought to them through our multicultural society. It has assisted to make them part of our community. What we are talking about here is simply a fair go, a fair go without the imprisonment of linguistic isolation or the loss of your own sense of self in a confusing and vastly different land.

Difficulties remain. There is a willingness of some members of our community to think that they are most hard done by—that their pension, recently increased, is only a fraction of what new arrivals receive. Most members would have seen the dreadful emails we have all been receiving referring to Centrelink payments of close to $60,000 per year. Regrettably, statements of fact do not change some people’s opinions or beliefs. (Time expired)