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Tuesday, 28 June 1994
Page: 2083

Senator BOLKUS (Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (3.24 p.m.) —Mr Deputy President—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Might I just observe, before I forget, that there has been a debate on previous occasions about the relevance of answers by both sides. I have sought to be particularly generous, because this is intended to be a time of fairly wide debate. In fact, the motion moved by Senator Tambling was in respect of a question to Senator Evans about the Prime Minister's visit to Indonesia. It would be difficult for me to be required to rule on relevance on motions of that nature if latitude is not given on both sides.

Senator BOLKUS —I will be very brief because I know other issues are before us. I found the poem offensive and I found it so as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Multicultural Affairs. What I think that poem reflects is a divisive approach to members of our community. It is a slur, I think, very much on those in our community in the work force who may be of an Asian background. That is what the poem reflects very seriously. It reflects against others because of their ethnicity.

  Doggerel like that, though it might be useful to keep Senator Tambling amused, is nothing more than a reflection of an offensive, divisive attitude. In fact, it borders on racism in the way it presents those sorts of issues. I am not going over the top about this. I am just stating the plain fact that we have a society in Australia which is multicultural. One in four Australians are of a non-English speaking background, and there are some 240 different ethnic communities in our society.

  We pride ourselves on the fact that we treat everyone equally in the work place and any other facet of public and private life. This poem reflects an attitude which I think is very much against that sort of mentality and direction. We have had a bipartisan approach. In the future it might be best for Senator Tambling to show a bit of self-censorship, to show a bit more judgment when he comes into this place and not to drag things out of the gutters of Darwin and repeat them in here on the basis that they might be of some humour to him or anyone else. It was offensive; it should not have been done.

  Question resolved in the affirmative.