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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2307

Mrs MARKUS (Macquarie) (12:13): by leave—I rise to speak on the inquiry into multiculturalism in Australia, and I join with the chair in commending this report to the House. I acknowledge all members who attended the inquiry and the hearings and who also laboured over the deliberations that brought about the final report. I thank them all. I also want to acknowledge the secretariat for their hard work, patience and diligence in bringing this report to its final conclusion.

As the member for Calwell has already acknowledged, this has been a lengthy inquiry indeed. The terms of reference were first accepted by the committee from the minister on 9 February 2011. Since then, we have received 513 submissions and 22 supplementary submissions and conducted 27 public hearings around the nation, not just in capital cities but also in regional Australia. The views presented in response to the terms of reference were vast and varied, often strongly felt and often presented with passion and debate.

This inquiry focused on the economic, social and cultural impacts of migration in Australia. The committee aimed to ensure wherever possible that recommendations maximised the positive impacts of migration. The first and second terms of reference addressed the issue of multiculturalism. It is a term that is often misunderstood and misinterpreted. It has been known to contribute to division and hearty debate. But it is important to highlight that while we are indeed a migrant nation, apart from the first Australians, our focus ought to be on what communities share in common as Australians, on what our future direction ought to be, on how our nation benefits and on the ways in which it is unique within a global context. As in the famous song, we are one yet we are many. This was reflected in the personal stances and histories of the committee members. Many of us either married or were born into a family with a migrant heritage or were migrants.

The second and third terms of reference dealt with settlement and participation. The questions were about challenges that require solutions, what is working and where the gaps are for our new migrants—including refugees—that should be filled to facilitate and enable them to participate and integrate into all aspects of society. The fifth, sixth and seventh terms of reference told the story of how migration has helped to build this great nation, particularly in the area of long-term productivity and our capacity to improve productivity in the decades ahead. Other terms of reference also examined the profile of skilled migration in this nation and how the entrepreneurial and business acumen of migrants have enhanced Australia and will continue to be significant. Coming to an agreement on the 32 recommendations required much discussion and debate among those of us who attended not just the hearings but also the final drafting. The report is largely collaborative.

For all but our first Australians, current and past generations of migrants have chosen to come to this land and to call this land their home. While undoubtedly our ethnic background is important, our choice to call Australia home determines our future direction and where our responsibilities and our loyalties lie. Scott Morrison, in a speech, delivered to the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at Kings College in London described our successful and uniquely Australian story. I will quote from his speech:

You all know the story I'm sure—more than 770,000 refugees have been resettled since the Second World War and we have welcomed more than 7.2 million migrants from around the globe.

Each generation has their own unique story; from those who came from old England to seek a better life in the colony; or from Asia to seek their fortune on the goldfields to those who came from Europe and New Zealand to fight alongside us, shedding their blood in defence of their Australia and to those who came from a war-wounded world to build the Snowy Mountain Hydro Scheme and modern Australia.

That tradition continues to this day; one in four Australians were born overseas.

However, this success story is no accident. It is the result of a carefully planned, merits based, non-discriminatory and orderly immigration program that has, by and large, received the overwhelming support of the Australian community.

Supporting that migration program has been a settlement policy that is supposed to be about enabling people to adopt their new society by embracing our values, learning English, getting a job and getting involved in Australian life.

For the past four decades multiculturalism has dominated the policy orthodoxy on social cohesion in Australia. The primary focus of multiculturalism has been to build an appreciation of ethnic and cultural diversity to combat intolerance and discrimination that was denying Australians the opportunity to fully participate in Australian life. It has had success in this regard.

The Howard Government's policy statement, A New Agenda for Multicultural Australia, sought to shift this emphasis of multicultural policy and adopted the term 'Australian multiculturalism' to bring a greater focus on what communities had in common as Australians.

The policy deliberately set out to explicitly recognize the supremacy of Australian values, the primacy of the English language, respect for existing institutions and adherence to the rule of law.

Further on in his speech, Mr Morrison says:

We should acknowledge in the debate, as I do, that a consensus has emerged on the existence and benefits of ethnic, racial and religious diversity in our society. Having affirmed this consensus we must then ask what practical policies are needed to remove the new barriers that are emerging.

That is certainly the question we endeavoured to answer throughout the inquiry.

While the concept of multiculturalism has been subject to debate and review over time, a commitment to multiculturalism to manage the diversity within the framework of Australian values and law has had the broad support of Australian governments for over 30 years. Chapter 2 of the report provides a brief history of Australia's multiculturalism and migration trends. It is important to note that in 2011-12 the total number of people who took out Australian citizenship was 95,776, up from 85,916 in 2010-11. Australia now has one of the highest take-up rates of citizenship among OECD countries, with nearly 80 per cent of the Australian population being citizens. This reminds us of, and is a reason for, our success. The more than 200 pages of the report and the 32 recommendations show the breadth and complexity of the issues that we endeavoured to address throughout the inquiry.

There is not enough time to talk to all of the issues or the recommendations in the chamber today. I would like to focus briefly on the clarifying statement that the coalition members made. The current fiscal environment is of great concern to coalition members and senators. We therefore felt that there was a need to qualify under what conditions some of the recommendations could be implemented.

I would like to highlight and make some comments on some of the issues and recommendations. Firstly, the lack of research was very evident throughout the inquiry. Many of the questions that we asked could not answered because of the lack of data that was available. It is vital as we move forward and develop policy into the future that it is based on evidence.

The question of Islam was raised throughout the report and, of course, in a number of our public hearings. As the report notes, the government and the coalition have consistently stated that the implementation of Sharia law is not being contemplated. While religious diversity is to be respected, the final arbiter is compliance with the Australian law. Recommendation 6 highlights this, where the committee has agreed not to support legal pluralism.

The committee noted that in order to integrate and secure employment in Australia it is beneficial for migrants to have a command of the English language. Chapter 9, on settlement and participation, investigates particularly the issues of English language training and cultural competency. A number of submissions identified the need for greater flexibility in the delivery of English programs, particularly for new migrants. Recommendations 18 and 19 deal with this.

I would finally like to comment particularly on the fact that migrants have high-profile business success in Australia. In 2011, three out of the top 10 of Australia's richest people were migrants. Their determination, hard work and commitment to overcome barriers and challenges has not only ensured their own success but also has created jobs for other Australians and built wealth in this nation. The NEIS, as has been noted in the report, could further promote and develop growth, particularly for new migrants and businesses.

I would like to acknowledge, again, the member for Calwell's contribution in leading this inquiry. Her willingness to accommodate all views on the committee to come to a collaborative report has been appreciated by all members of the committee. Again, I acknowledge the work of the secretariat. Their commitment, dedication and diligence to encapsulate all the views of all members' of the committee, all submissions and evidence that was provided and the various views of the Australian people is well reflected in the report. I again thank them. I commend the report to the House.