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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 747

Senator LUNDY (Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister) (9:50 PM) —Australia is a nation built on migration. Each sitting day of parliament we are reminded of this in our acknowledgement of the First Australians, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Acknowledging their custodianship of the land and paying our respects underlines that for the rest of us our path to this country was through migration. I love this about Australia. It is inspiring to think of the active commitment made over the generations to build a country, to form a nation. For many of us Australia has been a choice, a promise founded on values of equality and a fair go. As the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Minister Bowen, recently reflected, people choose to migrate to Australia because of its values. It is on belief and vision that we gathered from the corners of the globe and it is ideals that sealed our commitment and tied our fate.

Australia’s values and our character lie at the core of Australian multiculturalism. It is our laid-back approach, our warm welcome and hospitality that have enabled us to thrive in our diversity. In eschewing the trappings of class and the strictures of tradition, we have built a country driven by a collective desire for betterment, one that is open to innovation and new ideas and that is accepting of each other’s strengths and skills. It is an egalitarian belief that our value is not determined by our personal history or our background but by our potential, our willingness to contribute and our desire to give something back. It is a vision of this nation held by successive governments and nurtured over many decades. We have always known that the strength of this country was not just our magnificent coastlines or our incredible Red Centre but our people, the people of Australia.

From the outset, Australia’s multiculturalism has meant full citizenship. To migrate to Australia was to commit fully and to belong wholly. Our model of citizenship commands loyalty; it demands that our system of the rule of law, our rights and responsibilities and our democratic values are upheld. In return, our multiculturalism recognises that commitment through acknowledgment of a shared future through investment in the potential of new citizens and their families. This investment is seen in the practical strategies of our settlement services—in the network of migrant resource centres that have become a founding point for our neighbourhoods and communities. This investment has endured over the decades and preceded any formal ‘multicultural policy’.

The Adult Migrant English Program—AMEP—has operated for well over 60 years. It has been a staple of successful settlement and a cornerstone of multiculturalism in Australia. In 1945, when the AMEP began, Australia’s population was approximately seven million people. In the interceding years we have taken this many again through our migration program. Since the end of the Second World War some seven million migrants have come to our shores and made Australia home. It is a truly marvellous social phenomenon to triple in size and integrate every culture of the world in the course of one lifetime. This is the genius of Australian multiculturalism: it is our capacity to evolve and draw in the best elements of each new culture. It has also been our recognition of who we are—the cultures we count among us, the diversity we live within and how we reflect upon ourselves.

The Special Broadcasting Service, or SBS, is an acknowledged part of our multicultural story. It has been important in mirroring our changing face, in showing us Australia not as a myth trapped in the past but as a contemporary cosmopolitan society in the 21st century. The establishment of SBS was recognition of the need for new Australians to feel connected, to have media in different languages and content sourced from all over the world that reflects our different cultures. The charter, mandate and themes of SBS remain completely relevant, as do the ongoing principles of Australia’s brand of multiculturalism.

When Labor were elected to government in 2007 we appointed the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council, or AMAC, and commissioned it to provide advice to the government on a new multicultural policy. I would like to recognise this evening in this adjournment debate the contribution of each of the members of AMAC over a long period of time, particularly the leadership of the Chair, Andrew Demetriou, and the Deputy Chair, Judge Rauf Soulio. The council’s advice was received in April 2010 and on 16 February this year the government launched our new policy, titled The People of Australia. It is a policy that puts in place robust institutional architecture to strengthen and promote the multicultural attributes of Australia, from which we all benefit. The policy will revitalise and strengthen our unique form of multiculturalism and it recognises that our multiculturalism here is built on the values of mutual respect, rights and responsibilities and fairness.

The government’s new multiculturalism policy takes a whole-of-government approach to maintaining our socially cohesive society for all Australians. The policy embraces four key principles: celebrating and valuing our diversity, maintaining social cohesion, communicating the benefits of Australia’s diversity, and responding to intolerance and discrimination. As a government we are committed to combating racism. Racism discounts the contribution that migrant Australians have made to our nation and ignores the sacrifices they make for our collective future. That is why, as part of the policy, the government will establish a new national partnership to develop and implement a comprehensive anti-racism strategy for Australia. This will be supported by the recent announcement that we will restore the position of race discrimination commissioner to a fulltime position.

The strategy will concentrate on research, the development of educational resources, public awareness to combat racism, and to promote tolerance and acceptance. It will involve youth engagement, ongoing evaluation and, of course, consultation. The partnership draws on a broad range of expertise and brings together the existing expertise on anti-racism and multicultural matters across three government departments, including the government’s ministerial multicultural council and the Australian Human Rights Commission. As part of the policy and our commitment to multicultural Australia, we will also introduce a new independent advisory body. This new body will have broader terms of reference and will succeed the current Australian Multicultural Advisory Council. The new council will advise the government broadly on multicultural affairs and related policy, and help ensure that government services are responsive to the needs of migrant and refugee communities, as well as all Australians. The new council will also act as a champion for multiculturalism in the community and implement an ambassadors program to celebrate the benefits that diversity brings. To help strengthen the independence of reporting from government, the council will also be tasked with managing Australia’s access and equity strategy.

A third component of our policy is the Multicultural Youth Sports Partnership program, which is designed to foster inclusion through sport. This grants program will create opportunities for young people from ethnically diverse backgrounds to engage in their communities through sport. We all know what a wonderful platform sport is to promote acceptance, break down social barriers and make friends. It is an innate way of Australian life and we all know that sport teaches kids about not just teamwork but also working together to achieve goals and respect. It crosses cultural, religious and political divides. On the sporting field, all that matters is the task at hand, having fun and hopefully learning some life skills along the way.

The future of multiculturalism in Australia is recognition of who we are. It is in the strengths of our greatest asset—our people, the people of Australia—and I am proud to commend the policy to the Senate. It is a policy, after all, about all Australians and for all Australians. Testimony to the role that sport plays was a wonderful event hosted by Craig Foster from SBS and myself this morning. This sporting event was a prelude, if you like, to Harmony Day, which will be on 21 March, and it was about the Harmony game. Schools, community clubs and any organisation around the country can register, either on the department’s website or on the SBS website, to participate in Harmony Day events or, indeed, a Harmony game. I urge them to do so because Harmony Day is a wonderful opportunity that all Australians have to celebrate their commitment to and appreciation of what it is to be a truly wonderfully multicultural nation.