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Friday, 5 December 1986
Page: 3484


Senator MESSNER(11.18) —I do not intend to take a great deal of time in dealing with the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Repeal Bill 1986 as, strictly speaking, the Opposition will not be opposing it. However, we have an amendment to the motion for the second reading, which I now move:

At the end of the motion, add:

``, but the Senate-

(a) is of the opinion that the Government's decision to abolish the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs:

(i) will break yet another promise to the Australian community,

(ii) will establish a bureaucratically controlled research office,

(iii) has ignored the Government's own Review of Migrant and Multicultural Programs and Services,

(iv) does not achieve savings of the magnitude announced by the Government,

(v) signals a downgrading of many important programs, and

(vi) was instigated without any consultation or consideration for those who would be affected; and

(b) further calls on the Government to explain how it intends to obtain data of the kind and quality provided by the Institute in order that governments, generally, might make appropriate decisions regarding our society''.

This matter was canvassed extensively in the House of Representatives by my colleague Mr Alan Cadman, the shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, who argued the case from the Opposition's point of view with regard to the Institute. This body was created by the former Fraser Government as a result of the Galbally recommendations some seven or eight years ago and constituted a major plank in the achievements of the Fraser Government in that period.

I address some remarks to the amendment I have just read. Firstly, it has to be acknowledged that since the election of the Hawke Labor Government in March 1983 the Government has repeatedly said that the Institute should have a much more prominent profile and increased role in the education of our people in the benefits of a multicultural society. That statement has been quoted ad nauseam, but the one that sticks with me is the one the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Mr Hurford, made in February 1985. Clearly it was the Government's intention at that time to maintain the Institute and to enhance and to develop its role. Since then, we have seen a broken promise and a change of direction as a result of what was apparently some kind of secret inquiry, of which we do not have full information, into the operations of the Institute. Again, we have seen another broken promise, which has been a consistent pattern of progress under the Hawke Labor Government since it came to office.

Secondly, I point out that the Council of the Institute and its Chairman, Archbishop David Penman, have advised the Government of their concern about the decision to abolish the Institute in favour of establishing some new office of multicultural and ethnic affairs which would have no statutory independence or autonomy at all. It would be a bureaucratic organisation controlled by public servants and would be in danger of not having access to all the views of multicultural representatives. Conversely, those people who are interested in the affairs of multicultural groups within our community may not have direct access to the decision makers. I cannot find anywhere in the Budget documents-perhaps the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) can help by pointing to it-any reference to the cost of operating the new office.

Thirdly, the Committee of Review of Migrant and Multicultural Programs and Services recommended the retention of the Institute as an independent research and community education organisation which had a role in advising on access and equity within the delivery of government programs and services. Yet the Government has flown in the face of that recommendation and taken action to seek the Institute's abolition. Again, this appears to be the result of the secret review which it undertook of the operations of the Institute to which we were not party. Consequently, it has not yet been made clear at all why the Government chose to dismiss that recommendation and advice from such an inquiry and, as I pointed out earlier, supported by the views of Archbishop Penman.

Finally, the Government has said that as a result of the abolition of the Institute there would be significant savings in the Budget of $2m, I think, in a full year, and $1m would be found within the current financial year. However, a review of the documents attached to the Budget indicates that the estimate of savings in this financial year is only $692,000. Again, the Government has not come entirely clean on this matter and its real reasons for getting rid of the Institute at this time. We would also like to hear from the Minister about that point. Maybe he can tell us more clearly what the Government feels it is achieving by abolishing the Institute. I do not want to delay the Senate any longer, but I again report that the Liberal and National parties will not be opposing this legislation.