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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 926

Mr HUSIC (4:12 PM) —I have often said that if you want to see some of the proudest Australians you should go to a citizenship ceremony. On those days, when families are brought together, seeing others take the pledge to their new nation, you see some of the happiest faces in this country. I have to admit my own heart bursts with pride watching the smiles and looks that are exchanged and the arms around other people’s shoulders, and every moment the bond between the new citizen and their new home deepens. It is among the moments that I live for as a member of parliament, and I share in that joy as people feel the uplifting power of a second chance, sensing a brighter future ahead. Our new citizens feel that they can grow in a nation free of persecution, one where democracy, freedom of thought and freedom of religion are core values held dear by the nation and expected to be cherished, nourished and protected by citizens. So many of us have shared that experience in electorates across one of the greatest nations on the planet. It is a powerful experience where we are inspired by the outward demonstration of unity and commitment to the common good.

However, a commitment to a united and common good cannot be found upon divided ground. Those before us in this place have had the wisdom to recognise this. Over the course of a quarter of a century, they worked together to peel away a policy we rightly shun today—the White Australia policy. The policy had its birth in the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, but in 1949 Minister Holt of the Menzies government took the step of releasing the grip of this policy by allowing non-European refugees from World War II to remain in Australia, followed up by a decision in 1957 to allow certain non-Europeans with 15 years residence to become citizens. The Menzies government, to their credit, ditched the ‘dictation test’, which had applicants undertake tests in languages they had no hope of learning or knowing, such as Latin. In 1966, Minister Opperman announced applications would be received from non-Europeans but, significantly, in 1973 the Whitlam government introduced a specifically non-racially based immigration policy. It has been a cornerstone of policy for 38 years. It was unchallenged—until last week, when three distinct events combined to create a firm image in the minds of many that levering off religion for political advantage is something not being pursued by a fringe group but being considered by elements of a major party in this country.

The first event was the revelation that a Liberal senator would table a petition, signed by all of three people, calling on the government to prevent immigration to this country of people who are of Islamic faith. Then there was the revelation that the opposition shadow cabinet had put before it as a discussion point the issue of Muslim immigration. The interpretation of shadow cabinet colleagues, as passed on to the media, was that the member for Cook sought to capitalise on this issue. Finally, the Leader of the Opposition’s own shadow parliamentary secretary, Cory Bernardi, went on radio and declared:

Islam itself is the problem.

As if to comfort those aligned with this statement, he went on to say:

It’s not Muslims. Islam is a totalitarian political and religious ideology.

There is a tangled logic there that only the brave or idle would seek to unravel.

I ask the Leader of the Opposition, who seeks high office which comes with the responsibility to protect and advance the unity of a nation he seeks to lead, how the comments of his own shadow parliamentary secretary reflect upon him. He is yours. You chose and keep him for that position. When he speaks from that position, it is as if he makes those comments within earshot of you. How do you think this does not impact on you? When pressed on radio, Senator Bernardi said he has not been prevented by the Leader of the Opposition from expressing these views:

Well no, he—

Tony Abbott—

certainly hasn’t. I’ve been in contact with Tony, I’m his parliamentary secretary.

Importantly, all these events occurred in the space of a week and, unlike events in 1996, we are not prepared as a government to let these matters hang in the air, smothering relations between us within this country and affecting our relations with those outside our country.

This matter of public importance is necessary to immediately deal with this matter. The Leader of the Opposition has had the opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to a non-discriminatory policy and bring to a head this subterranean contest within his side, where these comments are deliberately floated in the public domain for political advantage—and to the shock and dismay of those within the Liberal Party. I have sought for some time to put a spotlight on these extreme elements of the Liberal Party that have sought to divide on the basis of religion. Their continued fascination with this form of political campaigning, stretching over elections held in 2004, 2007 and 2010, is a blight on a party of liberalism. Why is the senior leadership of the party unable to deal decisively with this extremism? What inferences are to be drawn by this? It is clear that there are those within the party that seek no association with this sentiment, yet the extremists continue to crowd out common sense and decency within the coalition. The events of the last week have been truly staggering, because the advocacy of discriminatory immigration policy seeks to tear at the combined efforts of our respective parties over 60 years. Worse still, the events of the last week suggest to me that elements of those opposite are perpetuating a fraud, leading on those who seek to tread a path that is truly beneath them and suggesting somehow that the opposition wish to potentially translate this position into official policy. For political gain, elements of the opposition harbour support from dark ambitions, nurturing hope in the minds of the extreme that their divisive wishes might just become policy. What desperation drives people—people who put themselves forward as able to meet the responsibility of leading the nation—to this point?

For us, the imperative is to demonstrate to those who take comfort in this backward policy that this is a false comfort that will eventually work against their interests and our country’s interests. It will sap our ability to express ourselves as a country united that values diversity of opinion, thought, expression and faith. As I stand here today, I think of the mums, dads, students, small business people, professionals, community workers and sportspeople—those drawn from the Islamic faith who are trying to do their best to contribute to the betterment of our nation. How are those people supposed to feel when they ponder on how they were admitted to share the richness of life here but that others of their faith have been locked out? I still hear from refugees who have escaped war-torn nations and of their expressions of guilt and shame that they survived and prospered while others less fortunate suffered or perished. And we would then, by operation of a discriminatory policy, seek to place on our citizens the weight of that guilt—to enslave them to that shame? Once we put up that barrier, how are those who live here supposed to feel? We would give comfort to those people who seek to prey on fear and anger, setting us back from where we want to be. What does this do to the strength of the nation’s unity and purpose, when we enslave our own to the burden of this shame?

We have as a nation learned from our mistakes, yet we have a party where elements therein are ready to walk headlong into another mistake. How is this leadership? How does this advance our nation? And how does it help us internationally? Let me take the House, in broad terms, to the value of our exports to the following countries in 2009-10: Indonesia, $4 billion; Malaysia, $3 billion; United Arab Emirates, $2 billion; Saudi Arabia, $1.5 billion; Pakistan, $600 million; Bangladesh, $400 million; Turkey, $300 million; Jordan and Iran, respectively, $150 million; and Lebanon, $25 million. Just out of those countries, during that time, we earned a shade over $12 billion in export dollars. They are nations with over 50 per cent of people who consider themselves Muslim. Do not forget the other $18 billion we earned from countries with sizeable Muslim populations within our very region: India, the Philippines and the Russian Federation. If we were to regress to a discriminatory immigration policy, would we effectively say to those countries, ‘We’ll take your dollars but not your people’? It is absurd. Do we believe that people in these countries would not react? Do we think that governments in some of those nations would be mute while their local citizens ask why their governments tolerate a policy of discrimination by our government? Remember that through the seventies and eighties we placed massive international pressure on countries that abided and supported discrimination. Given this proud history, what then would this do to our ability to advocate on the world stage the need for countries and other corners of the globe to embrace liberal democracy, tolerance and fairness? We would be hamstrung, utterly and completely crippled in our ability to get others to do something which we are simply unable to do ourselves.

I do not ignore the fact that there has always been concern about the ability of migrants to settle within our land. Wave after wave of migrants has encountered this. Without doubt, there are always the misguided that walk amongst us on the fringe as they peer disdainfully at us distancing themselves from the common decency and respect that hold us together as a vibrant, progressive community. But we must acknowledge we have settled seven million people in this great country of ours since World War II and, as reflected on by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship in a powerful speech he gave last week to the Sydney Institute, we have succeeded where others have failed because of the genius of our multiculturalism. He put this down to three key principles: respect for traditional Australian values, our citizenship centred multiculturalism and, finally and importantly, political bipartisanship, which I reflected on earlier. In particular, I draw the House’s attention to the quote that stood out in my mind:

If Australia was to be free and equal then it will be multicultural. But if it is to be multicultural, Australia must remain free and equal.

Our immigration policy and our approach to multiculturalism are intrinsically linked and they are underpinned by how we see ourselves as a nation celebrating values of respect, acceptance and liberty.

On Australia Day I had the pleasure of participating in a citizenship ceremony held at Blacktown City Council’s Bowman Hall. The special guest for the day was Todd Greenberg, who was there in his capacity as an Australia Day ambassador. He is the CEO of the Bulldogs NRL club—and I suppose we cannot all be perfect. He related to the audience the story of he and his wife inquiring of their son, who had only recently started school, about his new friends at that school. His son mentioned one boy in particular. ‘Where is he from?’ asked his parents. ‘I don’t know,’ was the reply. ‘Has he got brothers and sisters?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Where do they live? Where are they from?’ The response: ‘Dad, I don’t know; he’s just my friend. He’s my age, speaks like me, he’s my friend’—all the questions of a regular parent along with the dismissive, sometimes irritated, responses of their child. When Todd and his wife finally got to meet their son’s friend at a school function they discovered he was of Chinese background and it reminded Todd of how children do not put barriers in the way of their friendship with others; they just get on with things. I remember in Minister Bowen’s speech to the Sydney Institute where he recounted growing up in Western Sydney and going to school at St Johns Park. As he said:

When I was at school, I didn’t sit around with my mates from Vietnam, Iraq, Bosnia and Croatia and talk about the genius of Australian multiculturalism. We had much more pressing teenage matters to occupy us.

Rather than philosophising about multiculturalism, we lived it.

Again, the clear sight of the young at work.

Back in January, the US was shocked by an event that would resonate with many here. We did not necessarily pay too much attention to this event, understandably so, because our friends and neighbours in Queensland were battling some of the worst events that nature could throw at them. Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was holding in effect a mobile office, called ‘Congress On Your Corner’, outside a local shopping centre when a gunman opened fire. Six people lost their lives, including nine-year-old schoolgirl Christina Taylor Green, who was born on 11 September 2001. The incident triggered nationwide discussion about the incitement of hate and violence creeping into national political dialogue.

Republicans had homed in on Congresswoman Giffords during the previous mid-term elections by controversially and graphically marking her position with a gun-sight target. About a week later, President Obama spoke to a stunned and grieving nation. It was an incredibly moving speech in which it was as if, through his words, he took the hands of the grieving and led them to somewhere better. With indulgence, I quote from that speech because so much of it translates neatly to our own experience:

We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.

That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that some day she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.

This is the most moving part in my mind:

I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us—we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.

Our nation’s children would not expect us to throw up stark barriers to divide us from others. Are we without the ability or strength to summon up what is required to lead this country and meet the expectations of the youngest among us? I think not.