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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2507


Mr GEORGANAS (HindmarshSecond Deputy Speaker) (16:53): At the outset of this, can I thank you, Deputy Speaker, for assisting me in taking the chair so I can have the opportunity to speak on this report from the inquiry into migration and multiculturalism in Australia. Australian multiculturalism is a success story. There is no doubt about that and it was a common theme throughout the inquiry. I have to say it is here to stay with great benefit to our nation. That is the resounding conclusion of this report. I am very glad that we have completed the report and that the report has been tabled. It was a mammoth effort with 32 recommendations, 513 submissions, and 27 public hearings all over the country—regional areas and major cities. It included my own city of Adelaide and a visit in my electorate to the Thebarton Senior College, which assists many migrants to settle into the country. The college assists them through education, training, certificate courses, et cetera. The inquiry was chaired by my colleague, the member for Calwell and the deputy chair was the member for Brisbane, whom we have just heard. I would like to congratulate both of them and the committee for their hard work—and my South Australian colleagues. This committee had a bit of a South Australian edge to it because we formed the majority on the committee. I would like to recognise the member for Grey, who contributed greatly to the report. He is here in the Federation Chamber with us. I also recognise Senator Gallacher, and the member for Makin. It is important to make that point because in South Australia many years ago under Premier Don Dunstan multiculturalism was an area that was recognised well before it was recognised in other parts of Australia. It was good to see so many South Australians on this committee, working on this report.

The report is unique in that it has bipartisan support, as we have heard today from the member for Brisbane and from other members on the government side. That is something worth celebrating. Today this report highlights the great degree to which we, as Australians, share the values and the same vision for the future. We agree that multiculturalism in Australia is a very good thing. We agree that migrants and refugees and new arrivals need support in and from our community and we agree that migration enriches our society. We agree that diversity is not something just to be accepted but to be celebrated. We agree that not only is there a role for every Australian in helping to create a welcoming country but that every Australian stands to benefit greatly from doing so. We have seen that throughout the history of Australia with its waves of migrants. It is very encouraging to be here today knowing that whilst there are often heated debates in this Federation Chamber and in the main chamber downstairs, there are also times when we unite to support a common set of principles.

Getting to this point has been no easy path. When the inquiry was announced we had hundreds of submissions pouring in from all over Australia, with many, many different views with different solutions and different plans. We all saw that. It was good and that is what diversity is all about—getting all those different views in and listening to all those people have their say. It was the task of this committee to carefully consider every submission in order to craft this report. Having been a committee chair myself, as have many others, I know how important it is to ensure that no stone is left unturned. That is what is so powerful about this report. It is bigger and more comprehensive that any report taken in this area. It will provide a way forward for all of us to consider and to refer to when we are discussing issues of multiculturalism. There are key recommendations, and I was pleased to see that many of them took special care to recognise the uniqueness of multiculturalism as a long-term cultural orientation.

The chair of the committee said earlier today, and she said it quite well, 'Settlement is a long-term and intergenerational process. Successful multiculturalism can't and won't happen overnight and Rome wasn't built in a day.' That is so important. Multiculturalism does not happen by accident. It is only through deliberate and constant effort that we have done so well in this country in this area. Successful multiculturalism requires the support of millions of people across our nation: neighbours, for example, extending the hand of friendship over the backyard fence, as has been the case here in Australia for many years; NGOs getting new arrivals set up and settled into their new homes; schoolchildren who welcome people from other lands into their classrooms; government services providing orientation sessions to new migrants; and community groups helping people to navigate confusing landscapes, transport, services, housing, social security and a range of other things. Multilingual media sources keep people informed of important developments in a language that they can understand so they can fit into the community and be able to access services and be part of the community.

We see the many sides of multiculturalism—the restaurant owners bringing the taste of their homelands to our kitchen tables, introducing us to new tastes and textures; and musicians playing their songs at festivals and concerts and sharing exotic new sounds with us. As the member of a seat in which well over 100 different languages are spoken and which has many ethnicities, I regularly attend different functions on weekends, and I know that you do as well, Deputy Speaker Symon. There are many different ethnic groups in my electorate. All of this is to be celebrated. So many people are contributing to the fabric, the tapestry, that makes Australia a successful nation.

I would like to make a very quick mention of an organisation in my electorate which exemplifies this commitment, and that is Thebarton Senior College. The committee visited the college to speak to people there and to see the things that they do. Thebarton Senior College is like a little global village, with students from all over the world attending it. They are well supported while they learn English and do other courses, including certificate courses, so that they can fit into the community, gain employment and live productive, successful lives and contribute to our nation. It is a magnificent college which does a lot of work in the community. I congratulate Kim Hebenstreit, who is a magnificent principal and so committed to assisting new arrivals to get the services that they require, the training that they require and the certificates that they require in English et cetera so that they can become productive within our society and live, as I said, good lives and contribute to this wonderful nation.

Many organisations gave evidence to the committee, and we visited many of them as well. All of them try their hardest to do all that they can to support new arrivals—people with language difficulties and certainly people who, perhaps without these organisations, without these services, would find it very difficult to cope and fit in—and to ensure that they do get employment and access to the services which we spoke about. So I congratulate all of those people who gave evidence to our inquiry.

In looking forward together on these issues, it is quite nice to reflect on how far we have come on the issue of multiculturalism. The difference between where we have come from and where we are today was quite stark during the inquiry. Just as a quick example: in my case, my parents came over in the early fifties. They left Greece to seek a better life in Australia. They had very few English skills. They worked in the lowest-paid jobs that were on offer. In those days, Australia was a very different place from what it is now. I remember quite clearly, as a young child, when they took out their citizenships at the Thebarton council—I still live in the immediate area—and how important that day was. I still have that memory. Certainly, it is something that will stay with me forever and a day. Australia was a very different place in those days, when I think of the period when my parents received their citizenship. Australia still had the white Australia policy. The majority of people who were there that night receiving their citizenship would have been predominantly from Europe, Greece and Italy—not the UK, because they did not need to obtain citizenship in those days. So it was a very different place. We have moved on from those days for the better.

We know that one in four Australians were born overseas. As I said, there are people from more than 150 countries, and there are more than 200 languages spoken in my electorate alone. It was so important that this report looked at all the issues that affect our migrants, because at the end of the day what affects them affects us as well. We have to do all we can to ensure that we provide the services that are required for those people to lead those productive lives. I know that Australia's strength lies, as I said earlier, in its diversity. In other parts of the world, people are fighting over ancient differences. Our nation grows stronger and stronger every day through its people working harmoniously together. For these reasons, Australia's multiculturalism is an absolute role model for others around the world, and we can all be rightly proud of it.

I hope all migrants and refugees feel welcome when they are here and welcome to add their own stories, experiences, energies and talents to our nation and to make the very best contribution that they can. The report that was tabled today in this parliament will do that, and I congratulate all the committee on its tabling today.