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Wednesday, 15 May 2013
Page: 3427


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (18:30): I welcome the opportunity to speak on the report of the inquiry into migration and multiculturalism in Australia. At a time when the movement of people around the world has never been greater, when religious differences are causing conflict in so many places, when global refugee numbers continue to rise, when population sustainability is a topic on the national agenda, the report's findings are timely.

For Australia, the intake of people from new countries has always been, and continues to be, a cause of anxiety. Not surprisingly, submissions to the committee very much reflected the cross-section of views that I believe today exist throughout Australian communities. It is important, however, that perceptions and opinions are based on facts and not misinformation. By most measures, Australia has managed its migration program and cultural diversity issues well. Resettlement of new migrants has not, however, been without problems. Nor should we assume that today's migration is the same as the post-war World War II migration when some three million people came to Australia between 1945 and 1975. Australia today is a much different place than it was in the years immediately after World War II, when the Australian population was only 7.5 million and Australia was embarking on a major growth phase. It was a different era.

Being part of the post-World War II migration, I can speak with personal experience about the post-World War II migration and how that migration has contributed to shaping Australia today. Whilst heavily influenced by its British heritage, Australian culture uniquely reflects the collective characteristics of the new settlers who have come to Australia since 1788 and their adoption to the physical and climatic conditions of the Australian landscape.

It was during the post-World War II years that Australia changed most, both in population and in physical construction. These were the years that transformed Australia and this is the period I will focus my remarks on. In doing so, I acknowledge the Australians who were already living here and who had, through their own toil and hardships, opened the way for the people who followed. They were the pioneers whose place in our history will never be diminished.

It is often said that citizenship is a common bond which unites all Australians. For the people who came to Australia after World War II, it was much more than citizenship which united them. They had a common dream and a common interest in seeing Australia prosper. Not only had they mainly left war-torn Europe and were seeking a better life for their families but also their personal future was dependent on Australia's future. They shared a common desire to make Australia a better country. Regardless of where they originated, people saw each other as equals and the emerging national identity was equally owned by all of them. They came at the invitation of those already here and were grateful for the opportunity to do so. Their future was very much dependent on their right attitude and their commitment to Australia's national interest. They clearly understood that. They came with nothing, they asked for nothing and, having left the poverty and devastation of World War II, they were thankful for the opportunity to work and to live in peace.

For them, there was a light on the hill. They embraced their new homeland and the spirit enshrined in recommendation 1 of the committee's report, which reinforced Galbally's vision of multiculturalism as 'an inclusive policy which respects diversity and fosters engagement within Australian values, identity and citizenship within the framework of Australian laws'. I particularly emphasise the phrase 'within the framework of Australian laws'. That is a point that I will come back to later if time permits.

People chose to come to Australia and in doing so were appreciative of the rights and protections Australian law afforded them. They were people mainly from the European region with significant numbers coming from the UK, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Poland, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Malta and the Netherlands. In Australia, their hard work, their skills and their resourcefulness were welcomed by the broad Australian community. They did any work that was available and quietly and respectfully made their contribution to Australia's productivity. When at times they were confronted by racism they turned the other cheek. Over time, the people who came to Australia earned the respect of the Australians who preceded them.

It was this wave of migration that made Australia a multicultural success story, that was first acknowledged by the Whitlam government with the abolition of the White Australia Policy in 1973 and, subsequently, the enactment of the Racial Discrimination Act in 1975.

In truth, however, it is not laws which matter most. Laws may force a change in behaviour but they do not change the inner character or prejudices of a person. That comes from life experiences which, in turn, lead to a change in attitude and mindset. It is only then that prejudice, racism and discrimination are truly eliminated.

In embracing their new Australian identity, at no time did the new arrivals turn their backs on their heritage. The region I was raised in and which today I have the privilege of representing in this place is a shining example of a multicultural success story. People from most parts of the world now live within the region and new settlers have integrated into the community remarkably well whilst remaining proud of their heritage and their homeland. Over time, they established their respective cultural and sporting facilities. Today, many of those facilities have become important community resources for the broader community.

The Para Hills Community Club and the many sports facilities in the Para Hills Paddocks area are a credit to the British migrants of the 1960s. The Campania Club at Modbury, built in the 1970s and recently expanded and modernised, is an initiative of the large Italian community in the region. Similarly, the Croatian Sports Centre at Gepps Cross, the Dutch Club at Greenfields, and the Greek club, Florina, at Ingle Farm are all testaments to their respective cultural identities. In more recent years the Vietnamese people established their much-needed community facilities at Pooraka. The Maltese, Polish, Serbian, Hungarian, Macedonian and other communities with significant numbers in my region have established similar facilities in other places in Adelaide. I have no doubt that similar stories of cultural settlement can be found in most places in Australia.

One of the very visible benefits of Australian multiculturalism is that it has enabled Australians to experience international culture without having to travel overseas. By way of example, in recent weeks I have attended cultural celebrations of food, customs and entertainment at events organised by the Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Italian, Greek, Indian and Dutch communities of Adelaide. In South Australia, hardly a week goes by without a cultural event being held somewhere in the state, and events such as the German Schutzenfest, the Italian Carnevale, the Greek Glendi festival, the Indian Mela festival and the Croatian food and wine festival are now major annual events on South Australia's community entertainment calendar.

Of course, one of the important economic benefits arising from Australian migration has been the trade and business links set up by new settlers to Australia with their homelands. Having personal links and a knowledge of both countries has proven invaluable for enterprising people from both sides of the trade.

Earlier in my comments I referred to recommendation 1 and the Australian law, and I will follow up my earlier comments with some comments about recommendation 6, which links into recommendation 1. Recommendation 6 states:

The Committee does not support legal pluralism and recommends that the Government promote the message that multiculturalism entails both a respect for cultural diversity and a commitment to the framework of Australian laws and values which underpin social cohesion.

This is an important recommendation because it goes to the heart of Australian values. The laws of Australia, or of any democratic country for that matter, reflect the values of the people and the standards which all people of that country are expected to adhere to. Not all laws are agreeable to all people, but they nevertheless express majority sentiment. Where they do not, public opinion will eventually cause a change to them. Our laws also seek to ensure that the virtues of justice, fairness and equality are the bedrock of Australian beliefs. Our cultural freedoms arise from those laws, but cultural freedom should not extend to the point where behaviour is clearly in breach of Australian law. The post World War II migrants who came to Australia respected and accepted that view, and that is what made Australia's migration program a multicultural success story.

In the moment I have left, I will take the opportunity to commend the members of the committee from all sides of parliament in this House who worked together and cooperatively in trying to bring to the House a committee report that truly reflects the issues that are relevant to this parliament and to the nation in respect to the multicultural nature of our society today, and I believe that the report and its 32 recommendations pick up on the matters that we ought to be aware of and perhaps as a parliament at some point need to address. I also thank the secretariat for the terrific work that they did in assisting the committee with its work. I also want to thank the chair of the committee, the member for Calwell, for her leadership in guiding us through what were sometimes touchy subjects and touchy areas of debate. But we got through it together and have presented what I believe is a bipartisan report that does justice to the work of the committee.

Debate adjourned.