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Wednesday, 24 August 1983
Page: 221


Mr COLEMAN(9.25) —I join briefly in this debate to make my protest against the confusion that it seems to me is evident in this debate, as it is in so many discussions about immigration policy and about our multicultural ideals. In particular on this occasion, the confusion is between the wish, that we all share, to abolish discrimination amongst various immigrants-whether they be called aliens or immigrants in the ordinary sense-and our concern for the future society that we want to build in this country. It is simply not enough to say that we are against discrimination, as most speakers on the Government side have said, and to put aside all consideration of the sort of society we are trying to build.

Plainly, I am committing myself to agreeing with the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West) and the Government that we should abolish the distinction between those who are simply called aliens and those who are simply called immigrants. I will not go into the refinements of the definitions of those two terms. The main distinction in the past was that aliens were always liable to deportation whereas immigrants could not be deported after five years from entry. The abolition of that distinction is a good thing. I support it entirely, as I support most of the measures, rhetoric apart, that have been involved in the establishment of our multicultural society.

The Bill seeks to equalise those who were once called aliens and those who were once called immigrants and provides that deportation may take place only for offences committed within 10 years of permanent residence and after crimes involving 12 months of imprisonment, apart from the so-called very serious crimes of sedition, treason and treachery. I feel that that particular equalisation or that particular abolition of discrimination overlooks the consideration about which I am concerned of the sort of society with which we are concerned. I do not think we need spend much time on this question of sedition, treason and treachery because the Minister has not given us any examples within memory that are worth consideration. I think the honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender) said the last one he could find occurred a couple of hundred years ago and involved Governor Bligh. There may be some others that the Minister is agitated about but I have not come across them.

The significant equalisation that we are concerned with is that the deportation of any non-citizen is only to be for offences committed within 10 years of permanent residence and those offences involving 12 months imprisonment. As I said, I agree with eliminating the distinction but I do not agree with the new test that is to be applied when eliminating the distinction. The point I want to make is that Australia is not just a multicultural society. It is that, but it is a certain sort of multicultural society. There are many multicultural societies in the world which are not models for us, which are not democratic societies or liberal societies and which in fact are often repugnant societies. I should say that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is a multicultural society. It is certainly not a model for us but it certainly is a multicultural society. There are many others of that kind.

I wish to use this occasion to make my protest against a good deal of the rhetoric that we get, unhappily, in discussions about multiculturalism. We take it for granted increasingly-that is a good thing-that we are a multicultural society but we sometimes assume that the mere mention of the word 'multicultural ' is enough to end the argument and to forget the question of what sort of society we are building. There is a great deal of talk about the transformation of our society. The honourable member for Lowe (Mr Maher) referred with great excitement to the changes that have taken place in Australia as if change for its own sake were a wonderful thing. Obviously it is not. There are many countries in which great changes have taken place but they were changes for the worse. We should not get too excited about change. I think it is more important to be a little excited and proud about the continuity in our country. It is the great institutions of democracy which distinguish our country from most countries.

Despite the changes and the emergence and development of a multicultural society the fundamental institutions have not changed. One could say that this Parliament has been enriched by multicultural influences but it has not been fundamentally transformed any more than any of the other parliaments in Australia. The commercial, religious and legal institutions of the country have not been changed fundamentally. They have not been transformed. Despite all the rhetoric there is a great deal of cant in the rhetoric. The country has been enriched and it has changed in certain respects but it has not been transformed; it has not been changed. It is a matter for gratification to observe that our basic institutions remain the same. We are fundamentally still a liberal and democratic society, as we have been for several generations, along with the development and emergence of a multicultural society.

I think it is important to concentrate on the continuity and not only on the change. That continuity involves a continuous commitment to democracy which involves a continuous commitment to respect for the law. The respect for law is fundamental. I feel that the Minister's Bill cheapens the respect for law. It allows for the continuous residence in this country of people who have shown no respect for law or democracy and no respect whatsoever for or interest in the traditions of our country. When I say that I exclude of course, the vast majority of non-citizens. I exclude the vast majority of aliens and immigrants who have come to Australia for the very reason that Australia is a democratic society. That is the very reason why they have a respect for the democratic traditions of this country. But the Minister's amendment weakens that commitment of the Government to democracy and the respect of law.

That is one reason why I look forward to the debate on the amendment of the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) in which he argues against the protection the Minister wants to give to people who have been convicted of trafficking in dangerous drugs. I would think that people concerned with trafficking in dangerous drugs, even if it is after 10 years of permanent residence and does not involve sedition, treason or treachery, are nevertheless engaged in an activity which shows contempt for our democratic institutions and lack of respect for law on which those institutions depend. I congratulate the Minister on his abolition of the distinction between aliens and immigrants and welcome that. But I ask him to reconsider the new test that he will apply to the handling of these non-citizens, in relation to whom a distinction should now be drawn, in the interests of Australian traditions, democracy and respect for law.