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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1079

Senator TEAGUE(8.59) —As a Liberal senator from South Australia it is a real pleasure to support the legislation that has been introduced by the Government in an area which is increasingly bipartisan in this Parliament; that is, our approach to the importance of a multicultural Australia. Both sides of the chamber recognise the importance of ethnic communities and Aboriginal communities in Australia alongside what has too often been described as the predominant English speaking Australian tradition. I recognise the main momentum of Australia's history and people and the importance of distinctly English institutions, such as parliament, the law, journalism, the structure of universities and the nature of so much of our education system. Throughout my thinking lifetime I have always felt that Australia is more than that and that it is a diverse country. I am proud to be an Australian. I am proud to be a part of a multicultural Australia, a part of a community that is more than the English speaking culture which I love. The community of which I am proud to be a part has a wide range of languages and cultures represented by the original Australians and the various waves of immigrant Australians.

Senator Short, who spoke before me, and indeed speakers who have taken part in this debate both here and in the other place, have endorsed the importance of all Australians coming to recognise that we are part of a multicultural community. I am proud that it was a Liberal government that had the opportunity to set up the original Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs by the 1979 Act. I was elected to this chamber in 1977. I took my place here in the middle of 1978. In my first months as a member of the Senate I was excited to be a part of the Government members' discussions which led to the then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr MacKellar, defining what we meant by the word 'multiculturalism'. Subsequently I have often referred to section 5 of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Act 1979 as defining quite precisely what I mean, what I understand the Parliament to mean and what I believe the Australian community should mean by multiculturalism. Section 5 of the Act sets out the objects of the Institute. I put it to honourable senators that there is not a better definition anywhere of what we all mean by multiculturalism than that expressed by the four objects of the Institute. They refer to all Australians. It is not a set of objects which refers only to the minority groups with languages other than English. For example, the first object is 'to develop among members of the Australian community an awareness of the diverse cultures within that community'. It is at this point that the amending Bill that is before the Senate will improve that original definition, because it will take away the words 'that have arisen as a result of the migration of people to Australia'. The intent of that amendment is soundly to incorporate the original inhabitants of Australia, those important citizens who are members of the Aboriginal communities of Australia, entirely within the words that I have read from the principal Act.

The second object is 'to promote tolerance, understanding, harmonious relations and mutual esteem among the different cultural groups and ethnic communities in Australia'. So there is not only the development of awareness among all Australians but also the promotion of tolerance, understanding and so on. The third object is 'to promote a cohesive Australian society by assisting members of the Australian community to share with one another their diverse cultures within the legal and political structures of that society'. There is no abrogation of the framework of law and politics in this country. There is one Commonwealth Parliament; there are State parliaments and local government institutions. There is a set of established precedents from the English tradition in our legal system which are accepted within Australia. Within the framework of our law and politics we have the object of promoting a cohesive Australian society.

The fourth object is 'to assist in promoting an environment that affords the members of the different cultural groups and ethnic communities in Australia the opportunity to participate fully in Australian society and achieve their own potential'. In many ways this is the most real, personal and important area. I notice that the Minister for Community Services, Senator Grimes, is in the chamber. There is a genuinely bipartisan view in this area. I regard those four objects of the Institute which we are debating tonight as the best definition of multiculturalism in Australia.

What is important-I feel this very keenly as a Liberal senator-is the importance of every individual in Australia. A minority of people-not members of this Parliament but, I am afraid, some people in the community-want to stereotype people and deny some individuals their individuality, their personal being, their growth into their full potential. I do not seek to claim any monopoly as a Liberal on that view of the importance of every individual. I hear from most responsible quarters of the Australian community a similar affirmation that every individual is important and that all of our programs and institutions in Australia ought to encourage each individual to grow into his full potential. Each person has gifts which ought to be exercised. We are indeed callous and inhumane if we limit the gifts and potential of any individual. Unfortunately, this appears to have been genuinely acknowledged in Australia only in the last decade or 12 years. Prior to that time, I think it is quite unexceptionable to say that Australia was far too bent upon a multicultural Australia, some sense of assimilating each individual into the one common and rather narrowly defined culture. There was a lack of tolerance and a lack of understanding of the individual potential of each Australian. When I think about the period 20 or 30 years ago I am horrified at the illiberal attitudes that so many Australian institutions had towards our fellow citizens. That is why I was so proud to see that fourth object in the 1979 Act which, of course, continues apace now and defines the positive qualities of multiculturalism.

I remember during the last election campaign that, as is the wont of politicians to give short synopses of what they stand for, or some biographical sentence, my supporters and I put forward that 'Senator Baden Teague, Liberal, South Australia, supports a multicultural Australia'. I suppose that was meant to indicate that I had some interest, involvement and concern for immigration and ethnic affairs questions and indeed for Aboriginal questions. I happen to be a member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies Council, representing the Senate, and take a very real interest in Aboriginal communities questions and development and in ethnic communities questions and development. A few people rang me up. I admit that they were supporters of my Party. I understand that this matter, largely through the efforts of the leadership of both sides of this Parliament, now has the majority support and understanding in Australia.

These few people who telephoned quite genuinely wanted me to explain to them why I was supporting what they saw to be ghettoism in Australia whereby individual communities would not have full access to the mainstream of Australian opportunity. It was a pleasant task for me to explain these objects and the total commitment of the Liberal and National parties to a multicultural Australia, despite certain ambiguities on the part of one or two parliamentarians in the middle of last year. I was proud that during the Fraser Government period this Act came into force with these four objects included. I was able to show that there was no support for language ghettos in Australia but rather that, in the terms of these objects, we would have a cohesive Australia within the framework of the established law and parliamentary processes in which there would be every right and encouragement for every individual in Australia to achieve his or her potential.

I take this to mean, in part, the ability of all Australians to have access to English, for example, so that they have the ability to express themselves in the language of employment and in the language of public activity. I take it to mean also the ability of Australians to have every right to retain the language of their birth for their personal use, their family use, their religious use, their community use and their cultural use. I can recall saying on a number of occasions to meetings of ethnic communities that in the 1950s it was very often the case that immigrant families would say to their children they would no longer speak Czech, Dutch, German or Italian because they wanted to make sure that the children maximised their knowledge of English. Therefore, they said to their children: 'We will not speak our home language any more and you will spend all your time speaking English'.

Many of those who are now in their twenties, thirties or forties had the opportunity of being bilingual. Unfortunately, many of them now regret that their parents' genuine decision-I believe that it was from another era and does not continue now-discouraged them from keeping the second language intact. I make the contrast that in the last five or seven years-all the time I have been a member of the Senate-there has been a growing and I think now a majority acceptance that young children in a family speaking a language other than English can rightly be encouraged to go on to become 100 per cent proficient in English without the need to limit their use of the home language.

It is possible for much higher goals to be expressed by Australian residents and citizens nowadays by saying to children: 'We want you to have the higher goal of being 100 per cent proficient in English and 100 per cent proficient in the home language'. I believe that there is a dialogue between the two language skills and that such children are doubly blessed in their ability to understand language and community cultures, and to reinforce their ability to communicate in English through their skill in an alternative or second language. Nothing I have said and nothing that these families in Australia profess denies that there is one national language in Australia, and that is English. Alongside that single, universal language there is now a very real and positive encouragement for families to continue to use and appreciate their language and culture, and in that way to enrich themselves and the Australian community.

This Bill which is before the Senate, as I have said, strengthens those four objects and, to my mind, strengthens the definition implicit in the original Act by fully incorporating the Aboriginal communities of Australia. As is known to the Senate, there were more than 200 language groups amongst the Aboriginal people of Australia. Unfortunately, some 50 of these languages are now extinct. Of the 150 or so that remain only 50 are judged by linguists to be likely to be retained into the next generation. Only some 15 Aboriginal languages have sizable speaking populations. I believe that the approaches of the past decade to Aboriginal language and community questions-there are, for example, bilingual schools in many areas of Australia-will mean that there is the opportunity of reinforcing the maintenance of Aboriginal languages to the very substantial gain of those Aboriginal individuals. That will not diminish in any respect the opportunity for every Australian, including every Aboriginal Australian, to have full access to and understanding of English as he or she may choose in order to participate fully in the employment opportunities and public life in Australia.

The Bill provides for a broadening of the membership of the Institute Council from nine to 12 members, specifically to allow wider community representation in the governing body of the Council but also to make sure that there is facilitation for the inclusion of an Aboriginal person. I know that in the Australian Government arrangements of the former Government and the present Government there was and is a department for immigration and ethnic affairs and another department for Aboriginal affairs. But in an institute such as this it is important to see that we are one Australia and that the four objects of the Institute, as amended and about which I have spoken, comprehend all the ethnic communities and all the Aboriginal communities of Australia. As I have said, there are about 150 Aboriginal communities in Australia defined by language group and there are more than 100 ethnic communities in Australia defined by language group. These 250 Aboriginal and migrant communities are all comprehended by the four objects of the Institute, as amended. It is entirely welcome that there is this ability to include an Aboriginal representative on the Council and, indeed, an explicit commitment for the Institute to involve itself in Aboriginal community matters.

I believe that we should see a closer liaison between the Institute of Multicultural Affairs and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. The Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies has been established now for some 25 years. It is a statutory body, like the Institute of Multicultural Affairs and has, despite its longer history, some objectives in common with the Institute of Multicultural Affairs. Certainly there ought to be established between the two bodies informal-indeed, formal as well-liaison to ensure that they are able to co-operate in their common areas of interest and endeavour.

Let me take the opportunity to put again to the Senate what I have put on an earlier occasion-that the spirit of that amendment which includes the Aboriginal communities with the migrant communities of Australia ought to be extended in one specific particular amongst the Aboriginal people. For more than 20 years now many in Australia have referred, as I have referred in the past, to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities of Australia as if the Torres Strait Islanders were not in the same category as the Aboriginal communities of Australia. I believe that, whilst there are racial and linguistic differences between the people who speak Kala Lagaw Ya in the Torres Strait and Meriam Mir on Murray Island, they are nevertheless two language groups in the Torres Strait which are a further extension of the 250 language groups of the mainland, the rest of Australia and, indeed, had there been survivors of Tasmania. I believe the time has come in Australia when we no longer need to refer to Torres Strait Islanders as though they were some oddity, exceptional or that they should be a demarcated group of Aboriginal Australians; rather, we should speak of the Aboriginal communities of Australia knowing that they fully include the Torres Strait Islander communities. I make that remark in the spirit of the bipartisan support for this Bill that is before us, which takes the step of including the Aboriginal communities with the immigrant communities of Australia.

I again state the importance of the Institute as a research body and note that clause 4 of the Bill redefines the functions of AIMA. These functions squarely include the objective of AIMA to provide information and advice to the Commonwealth Government. New sub-section 6 (1) (a) states that there is to be provision of advice to the Commonwealth Government relating to the achievement of the objectives of AIMA. Paragraphs (b) and (c) are just as important. There is a new emphasis in this sub-section which I welcome. I believe that until now, in the first period of operation of AIMA, there was too much emphasis upon the first priority that AIMA should have had, and that that concentration on this first priority was to the exclusion of some access to community groups. That first priority was to give direct guidance to the then Fraser Government on the implementation of the Galbally report on the Review of Post-Arrival Programs and Services to Migrants and all of its related matters. Whilst AIMA was rightly, I think in retrospect, concentrating on the priority of getting that right, after this review we are, happily, seeing explicit reference in this new sub-section to the publishing of reports, the gathering and dissemination of information, the conducting of research, and the promoting, conducting, commissioning and encouraging of community educational activities-all of these things in liaison with community groups.

I know that many community groups in Australia felt that AIMA was an aloof body while it concentrated on this first priority of giving advice in a highly technical and demanding area relating to the Galbally report. I believe that the Council and the staff of AIMA should foster an ability for individual Australians with genuine interest to be able to gain information, to submit material and to find that it is a community resource. There ought to be just formal consultations. AIMA should have a wide open door in advising government-the Opposition as well-and the Parliament and also a wide open door to promote dialogue, advice and support for community groups. I believe this emphasis is appropriate to this second stage of AIMA's development.

I make a final reference to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Education and the Arts on a national language policy which was tabled in the Senate in the first week of this session and note the unanimous support of the three Government senators and three Opposition Liberal senators who took part in the formulation of this report. In particular, with regard to the Bill that is before us, a number of chapters and recommendations among the more than 120 recommendations in the Senate Committee's report touch upon the functions and concerns of the Institute of Multicultural Affairs. There is an endorsement in the Senate Committee's report of the philosophy with which I began my speech tonight, about the importance of ethnic communities, the importance of Aboriginal communities, the importance of the maintenance of language resources that are within those communities and the proper fostering of each individual's potential. I am sure that the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs, in its reformulated and strengthened role, will go on to play a very important part in the achievement of the general thrust of the Senate Committee's recommendations.