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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9306


Ms BURKE (Chisholm) (17:02): I also rise to speak on the motion, acknowledging the 20th anniversary of the Australian government's recognition of Australian-born South Sea islanders as a distinct ethnic group in Australia. I commend the member for Dawson for bringing the motion before the House. I also recognise the member for Hinkler and the constituents from his electorate who have made the long journey to Canberra—we hope you survive the cold weather while you are here. South Sea islanders came to Australia in 1863, not as immigrants seeking a new life; instead, enticed onto ships and in some cases kidnapped, in what was often classified as blackbirding, to work on sugarcane fields in Queensland. Indeed, as many speakers have said, they were not enticed to work; it was slavery.

I too express deep regret at the treatment in bringing the islanders to Australia and the subsequent discriminatory acts that followed. In 1901, the Pacific Island Labourers Act ordered the recruitment of Pacific islanders to cease up to 1903. In 1906, after enduring decades of hardship and discrimination, the Pacific island labourers were forcibly deported back to their place of origin, leaving behind a life they had built and a country they now called home. At this time, roughly 10,000 who identify as South Sea Islanders remain in Australia. From 1909 until 1942, the remaining South Sea islanders living in Australia experienced considerable hardship. Legislation prohibited their employment in the sugar industry, unions registered their employment elsewhere and they could not obtain financial assistance from banks. An example of the discrimination acts that South Sea islander women had to ensure was being relegated to the black ward at Rockhampton base hospital which was separated from the from the main maternity section and overlooked the morgue. What a terrible way to treat women giving birth to children.

After decades of discrimination, in 1991 the Congress of the Australian Council of Trade Unions committed itself to assisting South Sea islanders to be recognised as a group in their own right and we are continuing that journey today. The Australian government, in response to The call for recognition report, official recognises the South Sea islander community as a distinct ethnic group in Australia with its own history and culture. But we still have not managed to get it on the census, in recognition and acknowledgement by the Australian government of the injustice of the indentured labour system and the severe disadvantage suffered by the South Sea Islanders and their descendants, as well as their contribution to the culture, history and economy of Australia. Australia is a migrant nation, and this is another great subset of that migrant identity. It should be celebrated for what it is. The response included a number of initiatives especially designed for the Australian South Sea Islander community, including several projects to strengthen community membership awareness and pride in their culture. We acknowledge the 20th anniversary of this recognition that the economic and cultural contribution made by the first Australian South Sea Islanders and their descendants should not be forgotten.

I know it is slightly different, but I have visited the communities on Christmas Island and on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands, and it is a very similar story. They were taken from their homelands. On Christmas Island it was the Malays who were taken to work there and now their descendants who are there. And of course on Cocos (Keeling) they were taken by Clunies-Ross to literally work as slaves in the coconut plantations. There are incredible cultures that we need to nurture, and we need to recognise that that is what makes Australia the great place it is today.

I have also had the distinct honour of working with the parliaments of Australia and the Pacific island nations in our parliament partnership program, trying to encourage more women into parliaments around the Pacific. This initiative is taking female parliamentarians from Australia and various Pacific nations. I have just returned from a visit to Tonga where I met some amazing women throughout the South Pacific who are attempting to get into parliament. One of my friends whom I met there is attempting to stand and be elected in the upcoming Fiji election. This woman was amazing. Another woman I met, who was from Samoa, is also seeking election. I took her out doorknocking in Melbourne before the last election. When I complained about the rain, she told me about taking her canoe down crocodile-infested waters. I applaud these amazing cultures, these amazing natures, and what they strive for.

We have a phenomenal relationship with those from the South Sea islands who have called Australia home since 1901 and should be recognised. I deeply regret the cruelty and I endorse the motions moved in this to ensure that the census is updated so this additional question can give recognition to this specific group.

Debate adjourned.