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Thursday, 13 September 2018
Page: 74


Dr ALY (Cowan) (16:50): We're often told that Australia is a successful multicultural nation. Over the past few years, I've been thinking about what that actually means. What does it actually mean to say that Australia is a successful multicultural nation? I say this not just as somebody who has a personal interest in this because of its significance to me and my personal history, but also because of its significance to my electorate and to many electorates around Australia. I am also somebody who worked in multicultural policy and who, many years ago, had a strong involvement in writing Western Australia's Charter of Multiculturalism. That developed a framework of participatory citizenship in order to progress policy on multiculturalism.

I would also like to refer to a recent report by the Human Rights Commission, which looked at the percentage of Australians from non-European and non-Anglo backgrounds. It estimated that to be about 21 per cent of the population, based on census figures. It then looked at that cultural diversity and representation in some of the upper echelons of decision-making in our country. The report says:

… the cohort of chief executives and equivalents broadly tracks that of the total group of 2490 senior leaders in this study. The level of non-European background representation, however, is substantially lower (2.7 per cent compared to 4.7 per cent). There is a combined total of 11 chief executives who have a non-European or Indigenous background—or 3.0 per cent of the total 372 chief executives.

They say that this:

… challenges Australia's egalitarian self-image. It also challenges Australia as a nation whose prosperity relies upon international trade, capital inflows and mobility of people.

This study also found that within this parliament people from a non-European, non-Anglo background represent just four per cent of the people in parliament. I am one of those four per cent.

Yesterday in question time, the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs spoke about multiculturalism and spoke about this notion of Australia as a successful multicultural society. In fact, the question noted that Australia was the most successful multicultural society around the world. I think that the findings of the Human Rights Commission report give us pause for thought on what we actually mean about being a successful multicultural nation, particularly if the level of cultural diversity that we see in our Australian population isn't reflected in decision-making and particularly if it isn't reflected here in this parliament.

Putting aside the fact that multicultural affairs and citizenship is currently in the Department of Home Affairs and some of the issues I have with that, I would like to say that yesterday the minister rightly pointed out the contribution of successive waves of immigrants to Australia. But I would like to add that valuing cultural diversity is not about the economic contributions of individuals. Rather, it's about recognising the overall benefits and strengths of Australia's multiculturalism and the cultural diversity that that brings. There have been numerous studies on the economic and productivity benefits for companies that have cultural diversity, particularly on their boards and particularly at the senior levels, and also on the economic benefits that multiculturalism and diversity bring to Australia as a nation.

Another point that I want to make is: who are we talking about when we are talking about multiculturalism? We're not talking about those menacing brown people who are coming here; we're actually talking about everybody, because multiculturalism in a modern Australia is about everybody. It's as much about somebody coming off a plane from Vietnam, from Syria or from China as it is about a third-generation Australian whose parents arrived after the Second World War. It's about all of us, and I'd like to see us move towards a recognition of that. On a final point: yesterday the minister made a point of saying that we have immigration success in every football club and every church and also in every temple, every mosque and every synagogue.