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Monday, 26 November 2018
Page: 11466


Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (11:12): Between 1975 and 1985, over 80,000 Vietnamese people came to Australia seeking asylum from persecution in their home country after the Vietnam War. Before coming to Australia, some were in jail and in re-education camps where they were starved and forced into labour merely because they had worked with the previous government. Fearful for their safety and hopeless for their future, especially for the future of their children, they fled Vietnam to neighbouring countries and, ultimately, found their way to Australia.

Many of the Vietnamese refugees who came to Melbourne settled in my electorate and many more took their first steps on Australian soil in my electorate. They lived in temporary accommodation like the Midway Hostel near Footscray but soon found employment and started rebuilding their lives. There are now over 200,000 Vietnamese-Australian people living in our country, and there are almost 10,000 in my electorate. The land on which the Midway Hostel formerly stood in Footscray is now governed by a council that has a long representation of Vietnamese-Australians. Indeed, the previous mayor in Maribyrnong is my good friend Councillor Cuc Lam. On this occasion, I would like to congratulate the newly elected member for the South-Eastern Metropolitan Region, Tien Kieu, for being elected for the first time to the Legislative Council for the Labor Party.

In just over 40 years, the Vietnamese-Australian community has played a significant role in transforming Melbourne's west into a vibrant multicultural hub, enriching our society and our identify. We couldn't imagine it without them. Indeed, my children attend a bilingual, Vietnamese-English primary school. New ideas and innovations from the Vietnamese community have strengthened our businesses, hospitals, schools, cuisine, literature and culture. We learn from the values revered in the Vietnamese-Australian community, values like hard work, the pursuit of excellence, and community and familial obligation. The contribution of the Vietnamese community to our society is so visible in the social fabric of my electorate, and it is one that we appropriately celebrate here. That's why I support the Vietnamese community in Australia's efforts to build a new Vietnamese-Australian museum in my electorate, in Footscray. I welcome the Andrews Labor government's commitment of $2.5 million to make this project a reality—a museum to showcase the many ways in which this community has enriched our state, our community and our nation, a museum where all Australians can learn about the Vietnamese-Australian community's experiences, achievements and values, a museum to remind us that the personal freedoms that we take for granted—freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of speech—are not universal.

In Vietnam, personal freedoms and rights are in fact deteriorating. As the Vietnamese community built their lives here in Australia, they saw with anguish their brothers, sisters, cousins, family and friends left behind, suffering at the hands of the same government they fled. In September this year over 100 members of the Vietnamese-Australian community came to Parliament House to voice their concerns about human rights violations in Vietnam. The delegation expressed concern about the lack of protection for religious freedoms, a draconian cybersecurity law used to surveil the Vietnamese community, law enforcement brutally acting against people conducting peaceful protests, and the horrifying treatment of people who are imprisoned, including deaths in custody.

Respect for human rights, embodied in the concerns shared by the Vietnamese-Australian community, is fundamental to Australian values. The shadow minister for foreign affairs recently said in a speech:

… in all foreign relations, we should have a clear understanding and articulation of our interests.

…   …   …

Our national interests are firmly grounded in our values - and we will always seek to protect them.

This includes defending and promoting democracy, free speech, the rule of law, and protection of rights, including freedom from intimidation.

We need a museum in Australia that documents the Vietnamese-Australian community's history, and their journeys to Australia, to remind all Australians why defending democracy and human rights is in the national interest for all of us. We need a museum that celebrates the success of multiculturalism in Australian society, particularly at a time when the Morrison government is preaching the politics of division and seeking to sow fear and suspicion in our suburbs—when the coalition's contribution to multiculturalism is to tell us 'it's okay to be white' and to blame traffic on immigrants in our community. We need a Vietnamese-Australian museum so that the community can have a place to call home, a place where they can look back with pride at their arduous paths to Australia, their hard work, resilience and persevere to rebuild their lives, and a place where they can advocate for a better future for all Vietnamese people in Australia and abroad. There is no better place—with respect to my parliamentary colleagues here—to do that than in Footscray, in my electorate, the home of the Vietnamese community in Victoria. I want this to be a place where we can celebrate a thriving, multicultural success story that is my community and the broader nation's.