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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 935

Ms GAMBARO (4:53 PM) —The coalition has always supported a non-discriminatory immigration policy, so I am very proud to be standing here today to support the matter of public importance from the member for Chifley. I also acknowledge the previous speaker, the member for Canberra, and her diverse cultural background. She and the member for Chifley have truly lived the multicultural dream, as have I. My parents and, firstly, my grandfather came to this country in 1939, and many years later so did my family. I have lived, one could say, two cultures. While my parents are Italian and I was brought up in the full Italian way, I speak Italian but I call myself Australian. That is what makes multiculturalism so great in this country. While we all celebrate diversity, we also work towards unity.

The matter of public importance here today is just being used as a wedge. It is being used to highlight the very worst in society. We are all Australians. We live under one language, we live under one law and we have one national identity. But, unfortunately, the member for Chifley and, yesterday, the Prime Minister’s rhetoric do not quite add up. Quite conveniently yesterday, the Prime Minister brought up the issue of multiculturalism, which is something that we support on this side of the House and always have.

I am very privileged today to be speaking after a former minister for immigration, the member for Berowra, who spoke so eloquently before me. I must say that in all of my dealings with him the compassion that he provided to the immigration program was outstanding. There were many times when I went to him for ministerial intervention where he granted immigration status. I am also proud to be serving with the shadow minister for immigration and citizenship, the member for Cook, whom I find to be a man of great integrity. We have had many discussions since I was appointed to the portfolio. In all of those discussions he has supported multiculturalism, he has supported me in every way and he has supported programs that provide the great settlement services that new immigrants and those under the humanitarian program so richly deserve. So the comments that have been made about him today are absolutely unfounded and false. I have found him to be a man of great courage.

Today we are here talking on this matter of public importance at a time when the Labor Party, under the leadership of Julia Gillard, continues to struggle with an immigration policy that cannot stop boats making their perilous journey and that holds more than 1,020 children in detention. How compassionate is that? The government is short on humanitarian credentials. So what does the Prime Minister do? She starts to ignite the multicultural wars, and that is what we are seeing here today. If the Prime Minister really cared about multiculturalism, she would have included it in her ministry. As the member earlier mentioned, she would have put it in her ministry straight after the election, not six months after the election and especially since the recommendation to the government by its own Multicultural Advisory Council was made some time ago in April.

I have been travelling around the countryside and I know why the Prime Minister has suddenly put multiculturalism on the agenda. It is because all of those out in the ethnic communities are very angry with this government. They are angry at their inaction. They are angry at their ability to make a statement in this area and have been sending motions of no support to the government in their policies on multiculturalism. If the Prime Minister really cared about multiculturalism, she would have travelled to parts of Australia where there is a high density of Australians that come from migrant families or who are migrants themselves and talked to them. But, instead, we saw her take the member for Lindsay, David Bradbury, out to Darwin so that they could do a little bit of illegal boat spotting on a Customs naval patrol. How cynical was that exercise to Australians who were watching it before the election? But I guess that was the ‘old Julia’ and now we have the ‘new Julia’, who supports immigration and supports multiculturalism—just like the ‘old Julia’ did not support a carbon tax and the ‘new Julia’ supports a carbon tax.

The government today, in the MPI, calls for the urgent need for leadership in a non-discriminatory immigration policy for Australia’s future. But this is a very far cry from what happened on 9 April 2010. On that day the then Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, suspended all immigration from Sri Lanka and from Afghanistan. Labor’s attack on the decision to freeze the processing of Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers shocked many at the time. Mirko Bagaric, an associate professor from Deakin University, said:

This is probably the most repugnant refugee policy of any Western country that is a party to the international refugee convention. I know of no precedent of anything approaching a Western democracy doing anything as brutal to refugees as this.

No Western democracy has done what those in the government have done. As far as I am concerned, there has never been a more racially discriminatory immigration policy in Australia’s history since the repeal of the White Australia policy. The Labor Party have been very happy to use immigration to their political advantage, but now they are heralding a new era of multiculturalism. What a disgrace! Since Labor have won office, they have made a mess of migration, they have made a mess of multiculturalism and they have made a mess of border protection.

There is so much history here. The former immigration minister spoke of the history of the Labor Party. We have a proud history in the area of immigration. He quoted Whitlam earlier. I will not give you the full quote, but in the book, China, Communism and Coca-Cola, Clyde Cameron, Whitlam’s minister for immigration, said on 21 April 1975, around the fall of Saigon:

Don Willesee—

the foreign affairs minister—

came to see me with a request that I accompany him to Whitlam’s office. He wanted to get a ruling on the admissibility of certain categories of refugees … Whitlam stuck out his jaw and, grinding his teeth, turned to Willesee and thundered, “I’m not having hundreds of—

I cannot repeat the word for parliament, but it starts with F—

Vietnamese Balts coming into this country with their political and religious hatreds against us” … I could have hugged him for putting my own view so well … [Willesee] made a … plea for Vietnamese who had been employed by the Australian embassy, claiming that we had a moral obligation to take them into our arms. Whitlam rejected this plea out of hand.

Of course, we saw the boatloads of Vietnamese refugees that were accepted by the Fraser government and we have seen the wonderful contribution that the Vietnamese community has made to this wonderful country of ours. So the Labor Party has really got form with its past history.

Under Prime Ministers Fraser and Howard, Australia saw a well-ordered but also a very generous immigration policy. There was no public angst about immigration of ethnic groups. When people from different ethnic groups came to Australia, they were encouraged to settle—not to forget their origins but to realise that they were now Australians and that we had common and fundamental rights enshrined.

I know that diversity of cultures is desirable. I know firsthand how they contribute to the Australian identity. But we also need to focus on what holds us together as a society. We need to focus on what is good about multiculturalism. The government’s policy on immigration shows that the Labor Party does not care about people stuck in overseas detention camps. I have just come back from the Thai-Burma border and, I must say, the harsh and unjust treatment of people in refugee camps and the ability of this government to accept more of them really needs to be looked at. We really need to accept many more offshore applications. The government shows that it really does not care about people living in tent cities in the Sudan, in Ethiopia and at the Thai-Burma border who are fleeing economic, religious and social persecution. The Labor Party does not care about refugees on the border of Iraq; it does not care about those in Bhutan or the Congo who have fled for their lives from oppressive regimes and seek resettlement right now through the full and legal processes of the UNHCR. To the Labor government it does not matter because the refugees are not part of the 9,000 or so illegal maritime arrivals in Australia since it watered down its policy in 2008. Out of sight, out of mind. I have seen firsthand the people who live in refugee camps on the edges of these regions, fleeing prosecution.

Not only do I question the government’s commitment to a fair and equitable immigration policy but I also question the commitment of the government to support a culturally cohesive Australian society. On only 10 February, it cut $6.8 million to multicultural funding in 2010-11. It appears that Labor had hoped that these funds would go unnoticed. How can we stand here and listen to the government say that it supports multicultural policy when only 10 days ago it cut such a large amount from the program? (Time expired)