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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17269


Mr MOSSFIELD (9:10 PM) —In the hurly-burly of political debate, where the emphasis is on point scoring, the really important issues in our community are often overlooked. I think we on both sides of the parliament would benefit from listening to people who are one step removed from the political process, who may critically analyse our performance and the practical outcomes of the decisions we take. Often expressing an opinion, particularly one critical of government, can be a minefield where the person is told, essentially, to butt out and that they have no right to speak publicly on issues. Thankfully, though, some people go on speaking anyway.

We have had one such person venturing into this minefield in the past few weeks. I speak of former Governor-General Sir William Deane. In his address to those graduating at the University of Queensland, Sir William raised a number of human rights issues that have impacted on the political landscape of this country. He said:

Who of us will easily forget the untruths about children overboard or the abuse of basic rights of innocent children by incarceration behind Woomera's razor wire.

Sir William also spoke of the two Australians, forgotten by this government, who are being held without charge or legal rights at Guantanamo Bay jail. He said the challenge is:

... to advance truth and human dignity rather than to seek advantage by inflaming ugly prejudice and intolerance.

Those of us out in the electorate have experienced the powerful impact that statements made by our political leaders have on public opinion, particularly in relation to new arrivals to this country. `We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come' is possibly the most effective political slogan ever spoken by an Australian Prime Minister and may well ring in the ears of the Australian public for generations to come. Unfortunately it did nothing to advance truth and human dignity but instead simply fanned the flames of prejudice and intolerance.

I believe Sir William Deane was emphasising in his speech the impact that such treatment and statements have on struggling Australian families and on the Australian society in general. Sir William in his position as Governor-General emphasised Australia's multiculturalism and Aboriginal reconciliation. He said in his speech:

For multiculturalism means inclusiveness not division. It's enabled us to blend the many into a pretty harmonious whole without bringing to this new land old hatreds, old prejudices and old conflicts.

It's our multiculturalism in that sense which inspires and sustains our modern Australia.

I believe Sir William is right when he makes these statements, and I believe we must continue to work on welcoming migrants into Australian society.

I would like to acknowledge the great work being done by our migrant resource centres and, in particular, I would like to mention the Blacktown Migrant Resource Centre. I compliment the director, Irene Ross, and her dedicated staff and board of directors. I know this present government sees the Blacktown Migrant Resource Centre as a model to be followed by other centres, and on this I am in full agreement. When I see African families shopping in our local centre and schoolchildren of obviously different ethnic backgrounds going arm in arm about their activities, I know that we are doing something right. Sir William also spoke to the graduating students of:

... the challenge to face up to the completely unacceptable yet growing gap between the haves and the have-nots in this, the land of the so-called fair-go for all.

In conclusion, basic human rights and human dignity, a fair go for all Australians—whether newly arrived or not—equality and egalitarianism are the issues that are important. These are the issues at the very heart and soul of our society. I believe Sir William Deane is right in continuing to speak out on these issues. He is pursuing them now as he actively pursued them when he served our nation so very well as Governor-General.