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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 6062

Mr PERRETT (9:18 PM) —I rise tonight to respond to the violent attacks on Indian students in Sydney and Melbourne. Thankfully, I do not have to refer to anything that occurred in my electorate of Moreton in Brisbane. Irrespective of whether these attacks are racially motivated, I am appalled by the violence. Any kind of violence and intolerance is an affront to most good-hearted Australians. Indian students like all of us are entitled to live without fear of violence or intimidation. I understand that many Indian students are very angry and that they have protested the violence a number of times in Sydney and in Melbourne. There is no room whatsoever in Australian society for violence and victimisation against anyone. Obviously, Indian students are anxious to have these issues resolved; however, I support the Prime Minister’s call for students to leave these matters in the hands of the professionals, the police. Retaliation is never the answer.

I would also urge international students, or any victim of such violence, to find constructive ways to respond and to cooperate fully with the police. I would point out that they should never underestimate the unrelenting thoroughness of the police. It does not take place in 40 minutes with a couple of ads, but the police seem to always get their man or woman. That is the best way to ensure that those found responsible for the attacks will be dealt with by the courts.

Racial disputes, if left unresolved, have the potential to cause ongoing hurt in our communities. We can learn this by looking at some of the experiences in Australia’s history. Over the last 200 years, we have been scarred by some racial and religious violence, but, thankfully, not on the scale we see in many other parts of the world. We turn our minds back to conflicts like the Myall Creek massacre of Indigenous Australians in 1838 and the Lambing Flat riots against the Chinese miners on the goldfields in 1861.

If I look a bit closer at the electorate of Moreton, in Brisbane in 1888—the year of the centenary celebrations—the windows of nearly every Chinese business in Brisbane were smashed during a four-hour race riot that spread out from the valley. Ironically, the valley is now seen as a bit of a tourist destination for people wanting to visit Chinatown—although I do point out that the real Chinatown is in my electorate, in the suburbs of Sunnybank, Robertson and Macgregor. Also closer to home, following the September 11 attacks, the Kuraby mosque in my electorate was fire bombed by a crazy person—or, I should say, a confused person; sorry. This was despite the best efforts of the local Islamic community to promote tolerance and to build understanding throughout the community. But I can tell you that, since then, we have been striving even harder for harmony. We have been working especially hard to encourage young people on the south side.

The Rudd government is committed to a harmonious, multicultural Australia. It was the Australian Labor Party in 1975 under the leadership of Gough Whitlam that abolished the White Australia policy and opened up Australia to a new era of multiculturalism. I say a ‘new era’ policy wise, because there already was practical multiculturalism. Despite some of the blemishes in our past—for example, the ones that I referred to earlier—today, when it comes to multiculturalism, most countries look to Australia as a glowing example of success. In a meeting with the UNHCR representatives earlier this year, they made the point that European countries need to look to us as a guide as to how to get it right. Why do we get it right? We put resources towards making sure that people are integrated into our community—supported, integrated and accepted.

Most Australians are fair, decent, welcoming people who extend the hand of friendship to others, no matter the colour of their skin or where they come from—or even the football team that they support. And our immigration and settlement programs have ensured for the most part that new Australians receive appropriate support and the best opportunity to make a new life in Australia. But we can always do better. That is why I welcome the initiatives of this government to set up a task force on crimes against international students and a separate international student security task force.

I have spoken often before in this chamber about the rich cultural and ethnic diversity that we experience on Brisbane’s south side. It is amazing how Queensland has changed from being the state that had the lowest percentage of people from overseas and now we are the state that is taking the highest percentage of people from overseas. We have changed from the closed-minded redneck past to being a much more welcoming state with a vision for the future.

I represent an electorate where one in three residents was born overseas. I am sure there might be other MPs that have similar electorates; however, mine is completely diverse, rather than just one particular group. For the most part, irrespective of where they come from, we all settle in and get on well together, because mine is a vibrant, strong and healthy multicultural community. We have a significant representation of people who have come from Muslim communities of Zimbabwe in South Africa—people who have come to Australia as business migrants, particularly—and a significant Chinese community, to the extent that I have my business cards done in Mandarin. I even have a Mandarin name—Bai Ge. It is not quite as well known in the Chinese community as Lu Kewen or Kevin Rudd, but I am doing my bit to make sure that I am known—because, apparently, in Mandarin, ‘Graham Perrett’ does not read well.

In my electorate there is also a very significant African community, particularly from the troubled region of the Sudan. They live particularly in the suburb of Moorooka, where I live. There are also significant Indian and Korean communities, to name others. I particularly wanted to mention the Indian community because the president of my Lions Club, the proud Lions Club of MacGregor, is an Indian gentleman by the name of Surendra—although no-one ever calls him that; everyone just calls him Sam—Prasad. I think the incoming president of the MacGregor Lions is also Indian—Vaska Desha. I would also mention another significant Indian community leader, Dr Ashim Majumdar, who is President of the Federation of Indian Communities of Queensland, which is the umbrella organisation looking after many of the Indian groups.

Even though I had taught a little bit of Indian history when I was a schoolteacher, until I went to the Indian Bazaar last year I had no understanding of how many different Indian communities, Indian foods, Indian religions et cetera there were. I guess it would be like saying that all Australians are the same: no, there is actually a Queensland contingent, a New South Wales contingent et cetera—even Victorians!

When these reports of trouble from down south in Sydney and Melbourne came I spoke with the local police and the Indian community leaders to see what we needed to do in Moreton. Thankfully, the police, the Indian community leaders and the universities that I made contact with reported next to zero complaints or violence targeted against Indian students in Brisbane. This is very encouraging news. However, the price of racial harmony is eternal vigilance and that is why I and the Queensland government are stepping up our efforts to ensure any simmering issues in the community are dealt with constructively and positively.

Australia is home to more than 150,000 people born in India. My wife is not one of them, but her grandparents certainly are from India. Eleven thousand people of Indian descent live in my state of Queensland and many, obviously, in my electorate of Moreton—especially the many who have fled the oppression and intolerance of Fiji and found a safe haven on the south side. Indian-born people make a great contribution to this country and especially to my electorate. Many are professional and highly skilled people: doctors, teachers, computer programmers and engineers. There are many teachers that I have met over the years.

Australia is also home to around 90,000 Indian students, who last year contributed around $2 billion to the Australian economy. That is a hell of a lot of coal trains. Apart from our shared obsession with cricket, India and Australia have another thing in common, and that is a diverse multicultural community. Indian people bring a rich and diverse culture to Australia and we are all the richer for it. I am perhaps a little bit chubbier because of my love of curries.

I particularly want to recognise the efforts of the Indian Senior Citizens Association and the Indian Cultural Association in my electorate. These groups play a crucial part in promoting Indian culture on Brisbane’s south side. I was particularly pleased to be involved in the Indian Bazaar at Mount Gravatt last year and I look forward to doing so again this year. It is truly a tremendous celebration of Indian culture. I thank all Indian-born Australians for the many and varied contributions they make to our society and to my community.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Order! In accordance with standing order 192B, the time for the grievance debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.