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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1522

Mrs MARKUS (10:35 AM) —I wish to join with the Chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration, the member for Calwell, in making a statement with regard to the inquiry into the economic, social and cultural contribution of migration to Australian society. We are a nation of diversity that celebrates and values the contribution that each individual makes. We are a strong, resilient nation, built by the skills, energy and goodwill of generations of migrants, of Australian born citizens and of Indigenous communities working together. The measure of our maturity as a nation is that Australia remains a free and open society where people of all backgrounds, race and creed, are able to make a valuable contribution. We are a compassionate nation, with opportunities for all Australians.

The coalition have always supported, and will continue to support, a non-discriminatory migration and refugee policy. From Robert Menzies’ time, through successive Liberal-National coalition governments, we have initiated and supported services for migrants and humanitarian refugees to help them build their lives and become part of this great nation—programs such as the Humanitarian Settlement Services; the Settlement Grants Program; the Adult Migrant English Program, where each person is able to access up to 510 hours of English lessons; the Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors program; and financial support for the National Translators Accreditation Authority. All of these programs contribute under outcome 5 and make up the excellent settlement services programs Australia currently provides. The coalition place great emphasis on employment as a way of lifting people towards a better life, and this strategy has been successful—but, of course, there is always room for improvement.

A Department of Immigration and Citizenship study shows that migrants entering through the skills stream are more likely to have higher work participation rates. The record also shows a remarkable success rate for participants in the New Enterprise Initiative Scheme, where incentives support entrepreneurial activities. It is important to foster and encourage that spirit of entrepreneurship to create employment opportunities for all. When we build on the talent and ingenuity of our new arrivals, we are a better nation for it.

At the same time, the coalition is mindful that people need to be supported at the beginning, during and after their journey to citizenship. Australia is a compassionate country and our record of accepting annually a significant number of humanitarian refugees per capita has been acknowledged as world class. Under a coalition government, humanitarian refugees are selected on need and eligibility for protection, in an organised and orderly way. Support is given through settlement programs that address the challenges of social isolation, language, education, discrimination and eventual employment.

Australia is great country and will become greater. It is important that we take heed of the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council’s statement that ‘Australia is an international role model when it comes to settling new migrants.’ That is not to say we cannot do better, and this inquiry is an opportunity for us to identify ways where we can improve.

There are many contemporary issues that challenge us today and government has a responsibility to identify the issues and develop an appropriate response. We welcome and value the input from the Australian community as this inquiry looks at issues such as social inclusion, the effectiveness of settlement programs, how to maximise the skills of migrants and what incentives can be developed to encourage small business development. Working together we can overcome the challenges.

Australia needs and wants migrants to come; to bring their skills, their families and their ambition for a better life. Our population of approximately 22.27 million people identifies with around 250 diverse ethnicities, and around 200 other languages are spoken. In the 2006 census, 45 per cent of the resident population were people who were born overseas or had a parent born overseas.

The Australian model of multiculturalism has served many purposes in the 30 years since its inception. It is both a concept of cultural diversity and a framework for a series of programs designed to support, serve and deliver nation building and social cohesion. It is built on a common set of values and a shared responsibility to abide by Australia’s Constitution, its laws, freedom of speech and religion, language and equality.

I join with the chair in commending this inquiry to the House and I encourage all members to urge members from their community and ethnic leaders from all walks of life and backgrounds to submit submissions.