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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 930

Mr RUDDOCK (4:28 PM) —Members on this side of the House stood to support the matter of public importance discussion proposed by the member for Chifley, and did so in good faith, because members on this side of the House are strongly committed to a non-discriminatory immigration policy for Australia. I regret that this matter of public importance has been proposed—and I do not question the bona fides of the honourable member for Chifley, who may have been encouraged to bring the matter forward—but I listened to the three arguments that he raised as to why this matter was important at this time. The first was because there was a petition tabled by a Liberal senator in the Senate that spoke about levels of Islamic immigration.

He did not say in relation to that petition that that was also tabled in this chamber by the member for Newcastle, Jill Hall; the member for Banks, Daryl Melham; the Chief Government Whip, the member for Hunter, Joel Fitzgibbon; the then member for Charlton, Kelly Hoare; the member for Capricornia, Kirsten Livermore; the member for Parramatta, Julie Owens; I might say the member for New England, Mr Windsor; and also Senator John Faulkner. If the inference is to be drawn that this matter should be raised because that petition had been tabled by a Liberal, what does it say of the others? He spoke about comments at the opposition shadow cabinet.

Mr Melham —I didn’t raise it in shadow cabinet or anywhere else.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Order! The member for Banks does not have the call.

Mr RUDDOCK —Let me just say: I was at the shadow cabinet meeting, and what I have seen reported—because I do not talk about these meetings—does not reflect what I heard. If the member for Banks were desirous of ascertaining what he thought were the views on these matters of the member for Cook, he might well reflect on some of the speeches that the member for Cook has given, particularly one after he participated in the Kokoda pilgrimage with the member for Blaxland, Jason Clare. I table the speech that the member for Cook made to the Sydney Institute on 6 October simply to put that on record.

The only other point he had to make was that a parliamentary secretary had made a statement and had later recanted from those views as expressed by him. I do not believe that this is a substantial case for debating this matter at this time other than to distract from the internal divisions of the Labor Party. But I will not use the speech of the government leader in suggesting that distraction is all that is being sought. I want to take some time to spell out where the opposition does stand on these issues and to put down once and for all that our position is absolutely non-discriminatory in relation to race.

Honourable members interjecting—

Mr RUDDOCK —And religion, and culture, and country of origin. But that does not mean you should not be prepared to discuss issues of composition. Certainly one might well be concerned about the lack of emphasis from time to time on the importance of skilled migration to adequately assist Australia, or about the way in which fraud can impact on allowing some elements of the program to grow at the expense of more bona fide migration, or in focusing on refugees, particularly those who come through the front door rather than the window.

I am always surprised about the extent to which members opposite walk away from their history—because from time to time it is appropriate to reflect upon your history—and always pay attention to the leadership on these issues from this side of the House. I listened to the Prime Minister speaking about multiculturalism, and she paid tribute to Prime Minister Menzies, who supported postwar migration. She paid tribute to Prime Minister Menzies for creating the Colombo Plan; to Prime Minister Holt for ending the White Australia policy; and to Malcolm Fraser for admitting Vietnamese boat people to this country and creating SBS. I did not recall the comments of a former Prime Minister who spoke of ‘Asian Balts’, or another Prime Minister who was opposed to Vietnamese boat arrivals—although not Prime Minister at that time. We could go back and discuss those issues in that way, but I think it is unnecessary, I think it is divisive and I do not think it reflects well on us.

When I listen to these debates, I reflect on the matter as one who presided for 7½ years over an immigration policy which was totally and absolutely non-discriminatory in terms of race. I was one who was responsible for a report endorsed by John Howard, A new agenda for multicultural Australia in December 1999, in which John Howard—who is often maligned as not supporting multicultural Australia—spoke of Australia occupying ‘a unique intersection of culture, geography, history and economic circumstance’, being ‘blessed with immense natural resources, living in a continent of great physical beauty’ and having ‘an educated and skilled workforce, democratic institutions, social harmony and a lifestyle that is the envy of the world’. He said:

Australia’s cultural diversity is one of our most important attributes as we face the challenges of a rapidly changing world.

                         …                   …                   …

We are an open and tolerant society that promotes the celebration of diversity within the context of a unifying commitment to Australia. Our diversity is a source of competitive advantage, cultural enrichment and social stability.

These were the comments of John Howard. It is important, because sometimes I think there is a reflection on cultural diversity as being the only element of multicultural policies and programs. I think it is important to understand that our cultural diversity, which is something of which we are all very proud, does have to be supported; it has to be supported by reflecting on each of its values. That report, A new agenda for multicultural Australia, said:

For multicultural Australia to continue to flourish … multicultural policies and programs should be built on the foundation of our democratic system, using the following principles:

  • civic duty, which obliges all Australians to support those basic structures and principles of Australian society which guarantee us our freedom and equality and enable diversity in our society to flourish;
  • cultural respect, which, subject to the law, gives all Australians the right to express their own culture and beliefs and obliges them to accept the right of others to do the same;
  • social equity, which entitles all Australians to equality of treatment and opportunity so that they are able to contribute to the social, political and economic life of Australia, free from discrimination, including on the grounds of race, culture, religion, language, location, gender or place of birth …

I hope I have mentioned them all!

  • productive diversity, which maximises for all Australians the significant cultural, social and economic dividends arising from the diversity of our population.

That was the approach to Australian multiculturalism of the former government. Provided people are prepared to accept that this is the handshake—that it is a two-way street and that those who come from other cultures and who want to be respected offer the same respect to others—it seems to me that we can move forward sensibly. I have always been disappointed when I find that when multicultural policies and programs are being talked about some only emphasise the elements that they want emphasised, and not the whole of the agenda. I think it is very important to keep that in mind.

It has been suggested that the new Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has broken new ground. It seems strange to me, because I thought the member for Werriwa was, in fact, the last Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs. I thought he was—he might disagree if he was not—but the title was stripped away by the present Prime Minister at the last election. I do not know why that happened; I did not hear an explanation. But now it needs to be brought back with great fanfare; presumably to make a statement.

It is very interesting; I come from New South Wales, and the issues about which we are speaking loom larger in New South Wales than I suspect they do elsewhere. Much more of the migration outcome settles in and around Sydney, and most of our seats have something like 30 per percent or so of our population overseas born—some of the colleagues opposite have even greater. We live with it every day, but it was in New South Wales that Premier Carr stripped away the title from what I think was called the Ethnic Affairs Commission and re-established it as the Community Relations Commission.

I do not know what he was saying when he did that, and I have not heard from anybody else what he may have been saying as he made that decision. You might forgive me; I think this debate is too important to politicise. I was prepared to participate in it because I wanted to take the opportunity to reaffirm, as positively as I could, that the approach of the coalition is to conduct immigration policies that are absolutely non-discriminatory in terms of those characteristics about which I have spoken.

I have had to put my political career on the line to affirm it in the past; I would not want to have to do it again. Let there be no doubt; our position in relation to these matters is absolutely non-discriminatory. We were not trying to politicise it in any way, shape or form whatsoever. But the nuances of debate can sometimes reflect on many, and I think I have demonstrated how sometimes even those on your own side can be caught up in that way.

Let me just say, as I did in relation to these matters: our position is absolutely non-discriminatory. There were people who tabled petitions to whom I see the Clerk of the Senate suggesting have an obligation to table—including members on both sides of the House. I do not draw any inference from their tabling of those, and nor would I in relation to my good friend Senator Gary Humphries.

I have heard comments about my colleague, the member for Cook. I do not talk about what happens in our shadow cabinet, but from time to time I hear things that are said. I have not heard anything in the nature of what I have seen reported. That is what I say, and I usually have a pretty good recollection of these matters.

Mr Gibbons —Give Cory a go!

Mr RUDDOCK —Cory Bernardi has walked away from comments of his own, and he ought to be allowed to do that. They were the only three pieces of evidence upon which this matter of public importance was raised. While I respect the honourable member, I do not think he should have been used in the way in which he was.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to table the address to the Sydney Institute on 6 October by the honourable member for Cook.

Leave granted.