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Tuesday, 16 April 1985
Page: 1082

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(9..27) —I thank honourable senators for their contributions to this debate. As the Opposition does not oppose the legislation, I do not wish to detain the Senate for long. In the eight years in which I have sat on the front bench in the Senate for the Australian Labor Party, during which time I have spoken on immigration and ethnic affairs in this place, I think there has been a general attempt on most occasions to ensure that the debate on all aspects of our immigration and ethnic affairs policies has been conducted in an unemotional, rational, sensible and sane way. Tonight, after hearing the speeches made by Senator Chipp, Senator Short and Senator Teague, one can only agree that that has been the case at least in regard to those three senators. Of course, there has always been a great tendency in this community and a great temptation on the part of people from all sides of politics, I suppose, to take advantage of what they see as undercurrents in the Australian community about ethnic affairs and to take advantage of the passions that are sometimes aroused. I think we have seen that in the last couple of years. Unfortunately, I think we saw that earlier tonight in the debate, but certainly not from the last three speakers I have named.

This Bill, which has the support of both sides of the House, aims to amend the legislation covering the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs by expanding its membership and its terms of reference, and in some cases making those terms of reference clearer so that it can fulfil its aim of developing awareness amongst the Australian community of our multicultural society. I think it is worth pointing out that this Institute, as a couple of speakers have said, was established by the previous Government with the general support of all parties in this Parliament. We are a multicultural society and we should develop a multicultural society which has features of tolerance, recognition of our past, recognition of the skills and all of the features which were mentioned by Senator Chipp tonight and which our great, diverse, ethnic origins have contributed to this community.

The Institute was developed with bipartisan support and has bipartisan support. There were some differences in the way in which members from both sides of the Parliament thought the Institute should operate. I do not think that is a defect; it is one of the strengths of our democracy. It is a desirable, healthy and appropriate situation in a society such as ours. As has been pointed out, the Institute is a statutory authority; it is governed by a council; it has a measure of independence from government and although it must, and should, recognise the direction in which the community should go it has that independence and that is very important.

In passing I just say that I think it is very unfortunate that the debate started tonight with a severe and trenchant criticism of the Committee of Review into the Institute of Multicultural Affairs which was established by the present Government. It was always thought and accepted by both sides of the Parliament that such a review should occur. Senator Messner spent most of his speech tonight-if honourable senators read the House of Representatives debate they will find the source of his speech was the speech made by Mr Ruddock in another place-attacking the members of the Committee of Review. It would be very easy for me to reply in kind. In this place it is not hard to make the same sort of speech that Senator Messner made about Dr Cass, Ms Eva Cox and Alan Matheson. It would be very easy to reply to that speech by making the same sorts of remarks about the likes of Frank Galbally and Petro Georgiou. I will not do that and I did not do that in the eight years when I was Opposition spokesman for immigration in this Parliament. It is a waste of time. It is the sort of speech which results in the situation we had last year in this country which was finally solved before the last election by the then Opposition's, and now Opposition's immigration and ethnic affairs policy being delivered to the Press and the community of this country not by the shadow Minister but by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition. That was a very sensible and sane move and the change that was made after the election was for the good and for the cohesion of our community. I believe I should say no more than that because I have been in debates in this place which condemn the xenophobia and racism that have gone on. They were debates about which Senator Baume, who is not here tonight, and I were the subject of attacks by various racist and xenophobic groups in this country.

As a child in the post-war years I grew up in Albury, New South Wales, where at that time there was a very large influx of refugees. Over the years I have seen the changes that have arisen in this country as a result of the great influx of people from different societies and different ethnic groups. I have seen this country enriched in every way-culturally and in all of our social developments-by the influx over the years of a great diversity of people. This has resulted in a policy which is bipartisan, or tripartisan, in this place. We should have what has been termed a multicultural society.

As an Australian I am very proud that all honourable senators can in this place say in general: 'We support a multicultural society'. As the report of the Institute of Multicultural Affairs states, a multicultural society encompasses the two broad meanings of that word. The descriptive meaning is that it is a society in which people of different ethnic and racial origins live together satisfactorily. The second meaning describes certain policies, certain institutional arrangements and community attitudes which ought to exist and which we hope will continue to exist in this society to keep it the socially cohesive society in general that it is and to develop and enrich our society as a result of the great admixture of not only races but also cultures and historical traditions. It was because of that that the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs was established, with the support of both sides of the Parliament. It was as a result of that that the present Government established the review of that society. It is as a result of that review that this legislation is before us tonight. The legislation expands, widens and broadens the activities of the Institute of Multicultural Affairs.

The Government certainly accepts Senator Chipp's very sensible amendment to the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Amendment Bill 1985. The Government will accept that amendment tonight at the Committee stage of the Bill. Senator Chipp is quite right in pointing out that the incorporation of the trade unions, tertiary institutions and research institutes does make it clearer what the Government means in clause 4 of the Bill. The Government believes that that amendment is a sensible addition to the Bill. However, the Government cannot accept the amendment which was moved by Senator Messner and which was not referred to by any other Opposition speaker tonight. The amendment, indirectly and in the way in which Senator Messner directly mentioned in his speech tonight, attacks the personal reputations and the political and intellectual integrity of those people who conducted the review. As I have personal knowledge of at least three of the people on that review, I and the rest of the Government reject that attack and in rejecting that attack we reject the Opposition's amendment even though it does not affect the legislation as it exists.

Senator Short in his speech expressed some concern-I can understand it-as to whether the Institute has the resources to carry out its functions to develop amongst the whole of the Australian community the functions with which it is charged under its legislation and its amended legislation. I point out to Senator Short that under section 5 of the original Act-it is one section which is not altered-the objects of the establishment of the Institute, which had bipartisan support, were to develop amongst members of the whole of the Australian community the functions which were then listed under that section. In times when resources are difficult and in times of budgetary difficulties people may say that the Government has not provided the Institute with sufficient resources to develop it in the way in which it was originally intended or in the way intended in the expanded terms of reference which will be given to it in this legislation which will be passed tonight. Unless we set our horizons high, unless we give the Institute broad aims and objectives and unless we resist the temptation to narrow in the terms of reference of the legislation the Institute's aims and efforts, it will never succeed. If we tried to provide the Institute with the resources that it may like and everyone else may think it would like, it would be an enormous drain, I dare say, on the budget because these things tend to be very open-ended. But at least we have set in train, with support on both sides of Parliament, an institution and have broadened and developed its capability. With people of good will on the board of the Institute as well as on both sides of the community, I believe that it can make a great contribution to the concept of multiculturalism, which is very dear to my heart and which I believe should be dear to the hearts of all Australians.

I thank honourable senators for their contributions; I thank the Opposition for not opposing the legislation. I reject the amendment moved by Senator Messner because I believe that it adds nothing to the debate or to the legislation. It unnecessarily denigrates people who did a good job, a job that was asked of them by government. I do not believe they deserve the criticism they received in the amendment, and certainly not the criticism contained in Senator Messner's speech. I desist from taking political points and answering in kind the sorts of accusations and allegations that were made by taking a similar line to other members on whom such attacks could have been made. As I have pointed out, in the Committee stage the Government will accept the amendments proposed by Senator Chipp and the Australian Democrats. I hope that the Senate will give this Bill a speedy passage.

Question put:

That the words proposed to be added (Senator Messner's amendment) be added.