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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1077


Senator SHORT(8.46) —Most of the things I wanted to say tonight have already been said by Senator Messner, so I will not delay the Senate for long. There are a few points in relation the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Amendment Bill which I would like to raise because, as was said by other speakers, including, I think, Senator Messner, it provides an opportunity for the Parliament to look at some of the broader issues of multiculturalism which we rarely have the privilege of doing.

I wish to make a few points. First of all I welcome what I think has been a very bipartisan approach by all political parties to the concept of multiculturalism in Australia, and in particular to the magnificent role and part that migrants to Australia over many years have played in the development of this country. As the report 'Looking Forward' said in the first chapter in April 1984, almost 99 per cent of the Australian population are immigrants in the normal sense of the word. So I suppose we can all claim credit as migrants for building the Australia that we have today. I place on record my appreciation of the contribution that migrants of all racial and ethnic backgrounds and from all countries have made to Australia, particularly in the last 30 to 40 years since the end of the Second World War.

I also point out to the Senate, as has already been done, that the creation of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs was an initiative of the previous Liberal Government, the Fraser Government. It followed the recommendations in the Galbally report of the Review of Post-arrival Programs and Services to Migrants which that Government commissioned in the late 1970s. That report, from which the creation of the Institute flowed, was really concerned with specifics. Galbally was particularly concerned, as Senator Chipp has mentioned, with the question of language communication development for migrants in Australia and with tackling specific issues. One of the things I would like to raise later is the question of the amendments that the Government is now proposing concerning the Institute and its affairs, which the Opposition supports and whether the concept of multiculturalism and the role of the Institute in that will not be changed very significantly by some of these amendments in a way which has escaped the attention of both Houses of Parliament to date.

Without necessarily disagreeing with the proposition, I am concerned about whether the amendments, and particularly the amendment in clause 3 (a), cover all Australians in the way that they should. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Hurford) in his second reading speech in the House of Representatives said:

The AIMA Council reported widespread support for the general ideals of a multicultural society and in particular the need to address the issue of social inequality and to relate multicultural policy to all-

and I underline the word 'all'-

Australians.

The amendment to the Act that is proposed in the Bill before the chamber does just that. I would be interested to hear the comments of the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) on the implications that flow from that. My understanding of the amendment is that we are now saying for the first time that the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs will have direct relevance to all Australians-and that means to 100 per cent of us. Whilst not disagreeing with that, I would like the Minister to comment on whether the Institute is going to be geared to fulfil the extraordinarily wider role that is implied by the amendment. As I see it, the amendment will involve the Institute in a wider range of activities concerning all Australians regardless of whether or not they regard themselves as migrants and regardless of the fact that they might have lived in this country for 80 years.

I want the Minister to comment on whether the facilities of the Institute will be sufficiently geared to cover the range of activities that will necessarily be involved. For example, it is proposed under proposed new sub-section (1) (c) and (d) of section 6 of the principal Act to give the Institute specific directions to liaise, consult and co-operate with and to promote the co-ordination of activities and services of departments, authorities and agencies at the three levels of government, community groups, voluntary agencies, the media and employer-employee and other organisations. This very wide-ranging extension of the existing role of the Institute has implications for the role of the Institute and in particular for its capacity to fulfil that role if, as is implied in the second reading speech, the Institute will be subject to the budgetary constraints that will apply across the board in the period ahead.

I think this is a very important point. It seems to me that by amending the legislation in respect of the activities of the Institute we are running a risk of moving away from the specifics for which the Institute was originally created. We could be giving the Institute such a wide role that we may really run the risk of losing sight of those specifics and the original purpose of the institute. It may be that the Institute will get into so wide an area that it will not be able to cover the breadth of activities now envisaged.

Despite what I have said, I find it very interesting that, with one exception, the Government's proposed changes to the activities of the Institute are very minor. This would seem to me to run contrary to the whole approach of the Australian Labor Party, when in Opposition, to the Fraser initiative in this area. For example, Senator Grimes, speaking in this chamber on 22 November 1979, made various specific proposals. In fact, six specific amendments were moved at that time by the then Opposition. Senator Grimes on that occasion said:

. . . that such an Institute should not be just a matter of tokenism to ethnic communities.

He also said:

The Opposition is disturbed by the restrictions under which the Institute will be placed and its status.

It seems to me that the changes that are now being proposed do not take account of what were then fairly trenchant criticisms by the Opposition of the then Government in terms of the operations of the Institute. I just wonder how much tokenism there is in the changes that are now being proposed by the Government-changes which, as I say, the Opposition accepts.

The changes to the legislation give us the opportunity to consider the whole issue of what we really mean by multiculturalism in Australia. I hope we have a united view on that issue, although I guess different people place different interpretations on the word 'multiculturalism'. To me multiculturalism means the preservation within an Australian cohesive community of the cultures and values that people from different parts of the world bring to this country when they come here as permanent residents. I think the preservation of those individual cultural values and differences is enormously important. They have contributed enormously to the development of this country and they must be preserved at all costs. At the same time we must continue to bring cohesiveness into play because I am sure we all want to see Australia as one society. In fact, that comment was made specifically by those involved in the report entitled 'Looking Forward'.

I would be interested to hear the Minister's views on whether he feels that the changes proposed in the Bill conform to what has been traditionally a bipartisan approach to and recognition of the great value that various ethnic communities and individual immigrants have made in the course of our history.

I would be interested in any response that might be forthcoming from the Government. I am very pleased to see that the Government in its amending legislation is essentially endorsing the basic thrust of the original Institute as proposed by the Fraser Government. This is an indication of bipartisanship. It is interesting to see that the Labor Party, now in government, appears to be accepting the fundamental premises on which the Institute was created.