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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 639

Mr HUSIC (3:05 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. Will the minister outline to the House what the government is doing to support multiculturalism in Australia? How is this strategy being received? Are there any risks to this strategy?

Mr BOWEN (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank the member for Chifley for his question. Last week I announced the government’s new multiculturalism strategy. Our response to the report of the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council The people of Australia is an opportunity for the government and for the House to say clearly and openly Australian multiculturalism has worked and to embrace that principle renewed. Australia invites new members of our community to fully participate in our society. The celebration of new cultures takes place in an environment of freedom and respect and traditional Australian values and, whenever there is a conflict between those values, of course those traditional Australian values must always win out. Not only has the Australian economy benefited from the immigration of those from diverse backgrounds of great skills but our society has also benefited from the cultures they have brought with them and sustained in this their new  homeland. People come here not to change our values but because of them—because Australia is a place of freedom and tolerance and because Australia is a place of freedom and democracy. They come not to change that but because of that.

We on this side of the House are proud of what multiculturalism has meant and continues to mean to Australian life. In launching this new strategy last week, I noted that multiculturalism was not the exclusive child of the Labor Party or the Liberal Party. I pay particular tribute to former Prime Minister Fraser, who first made multiculturalism explicitly the national policy, and the Prime Minister also paid tribute to her predecessor a few minutes ago. It is the responsibility of elected officials to ensure that the debate on immigration and multiculturalism is handled sensitively, maturely and—most importantly—honestly. It is incumbent on all political leaders to uphold the values of freedom of religion and respect, and any pandering to or encouragement of any prejudice in the community has no place in the Australian political discourse.

Let me say this very clearly: this government condemns in the strongest possible terms the statements like those of the parliamentary secretary to the Leader of the Opposition last Friday. Senator Bernardi said: ‘Islam itself is the problem.’ As I said earlier, multiculturalism is based on the traditional Australian values of democracy and freedom, including freedom of religious expression. Any attack on any religion’s traditions is an attack on the freedom of religion of every single Australian. It is important not only that this side of the House condemns those remarks but that all members of this House condemn those remarks and that the Leader of the Opposition not only distances himself from those remarks but also explicitly condemns the remarks of his own parliamentary secretary.

Multiculturalism and harmony depend on the promotion of mutual understanding, not the perpetuation of intolerance. Comments like those from Senator Bernardi do a great disservice to the traditions of his party. More importantly, they do a great disservice to this nation.