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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2305

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (12:04): On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration I present the committee's report, incorporating a dissenting report, on the inquiry into migration and multiculturalism in Australia, and I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Ms VAMVAKINOU: In Australian politics the topics of migration and multiculturalism can often inspire heated controversy. In fact, our political narrative over the years has weathered many debates that too often have sought to raise alarm about people or groups of people coming to Australia, the circumstances under which they come here and the possible impact they may have on the cohesion of the Australian community.

So today I am especially pleased to present this report, which is the result of two years of work.

I want to begin by thanking the deputy chair and all our colleagues on the Joint Standing Committee on Migration for their collaboration, dedication and commitment to this inquiry.

The terms of reference were broad, and the inquiry has covered a lot of ground. We have received over 500 submissions, held 27 hearings in city and regional areas and have made 32 recommendations, which essentially, broadly speaking, have bipartisan support. The committee worked in a collaborative manner, and we have produced a report that responds to the evidence that was put before us.

The history of Australia is a story that begins with the ancient custodians of our land, our Indigenous people, and continues through from early white settlement to today. So, from ancient beginnings to settlement and ultimately to modern nation building, the building of modern Australia is also a migrant story.

Our challenge as a nation has always been the continued struggle to reconcile our Indigenous identity with that of our modern identity.

Australia is one of the most diverse nations on earth. We are, as I said, a country with an ancient Indigenous inheritance and a contemporary multicultural society. Unlike in Europe, immigration into Australia has always been a nation building exercise. We also live in a changing world. Like every society, we are open to the influences of globalisation, wars and economic crises.

Migration and people movement is a characteristic of the world that we live in.

History tells us that forced assimilation does not work, and respect for differences within a unifying system of government, based on democracy and human rights, is a far better model.

Within that framework multiculturalism is a policy that values and respects diversity and promotes inclusiveness within the framework of Australian laws.

It was on this basis that, in the seventies, we saw the official adoption of multiculturalism as a bipartisan public policy. I am pleased this committee has wholeheartedly endorsed multiculturalism as the framework through which to respond to the diversity of our community.

I want to spend some time highlighting a few of the major findings and recommendations in this report, and I understand that the deputy chair will also be making some comments on this report today.

Achieving settlement, integration and participation is a long-term and, in some cases, intergenerational process that requires a whole-of-government approach. Better coordination across all three tiers of government, including local government, would ensure better outcomes.

Rebuilding research capacity in immigration and multiculturalism is a priority to ensure policy and programming is well informed, tailored and effective. I am referring here to qualitative and not just quantitative research and the importance of growing a new generation of researchers with expertise in this field. I feel this will stand us in good stead, as we add our voice and our experience to the emerging global narrative around multiculturalism, as a way of promoting peace and democracy.

At the practical level we have recommended greater flexibility in the provision of English language training, and support for micro enterprises, especially for women, to enable them to realise their full potential. There is ample evidence that migrants, including refugees, are entrepreneurial and, with a small amount of support, there is huge potential to change people's lives. Flexibility is the key, especially for refugees, young people and women caring for children, or men who are also trying to work.

The committee received evidence that the job services network is not catering as well as it could to people of diverse backgrounds. This is an important publically funded front-line service and we believe this issue warrants further investigation.

The skilled migrant program is very important, but the recognition of overseas qualifications and work experience remains an issue. There are also many highly educated and skilled people who come through the humanitarian program. No-one should be left behind, and Australia can ill afford to waste such expertise.

On a more positive note, there were several examples of diaspora communities facilitating international trade, and local collaborations to create new social enterprises and work placement initiatives. The committee was impressed by the enthusiasm and success of initiatives that included cross-cultural awareness and mentoring, and led to permanent employment or the start of a new business.

Australia is a positive and forward-looking country that benefits from the hope, aspirations and skills of migrants, including refugees. We have much to be proud of but we cannot afford to be complacent and need to continue to foster integration and social cohesion.

There are many challenges along the way. Some of the more recent challenges include the heightened concern about terrorism, which has impacted, often adversely, on Australians of Islamic faith.

The intense focus on boat arrivals, many of whom are, in recent times, fleeing conflict in the broader Middle East and Sri Lanka, has become a matter of public concern and debate. The migration program has changed, and temporary skilled labour and international students are also a large part of the overall mix.

The picture is complex, but Australian society is resilient and can meet the challenge and retain its record as an open, stable, cohesive society.

This has been a very rewarding inquiry. While there will be debate about the migration program, wise political leadership is vital to this debate, because we all recognise that migration has enriched our country.

It is our responsibility to enable all Australians, including new migrants and refugees, to enjoy equal opportunity.

I present a document to this parliament, which members of the committee and I are very proud of, more so because it is a document that has reached consensus, notwithstanding the concerns that will be noted in the clarifying statement. It is a document that will stand as an important source of reference and, hopefully, guidance as to how we can continue to shape the success and cohesion of Australian society and, indeed, the global community.

On a personal note, September this year marks 50 years since my father and late mother brought my sister and I to Australia. We are one family amongst millions of others who were called Arthur Calwell's 'New Australians'.

I want to pay tribute to Arthur Calwell, Australia's first immigration minister, and I thank his daughter Mary Elizabeth Calwell, my friend, who has helped me understand better the bold and visionary thinking that drove Australia's biggest migration program yet—the post World War II migration program.

I want to thank the secretariat staff for their professionalism and hard work. Their competency has brought this work together into the document before the House today. Committee members and I share their jubilation that, yes, we have finally finished.

And finally, I want to thank the honourable Chris Bowen, the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, for referring this topic for inquiry, and commend the recommendations to the government and to the parliament.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.