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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 938

Mr STEPHEN JONES (5:03 PM) —I am very pleased to stand and speak in relation to the matter of public importance that has been brought to this House by my good friend of 12 years, the member for Chifley. I say I have known the member for Chifley for around 12 years. It was probably three years into that relationship before I discovered that the member for Chifley is Muslim. That goes to show that those who say that you can know everything about a person if you know what their religion is are wrong.

There has been a tragedy in New Zealand today: the earthquake in Christchurch. Our response shows that we in Australia share a common bond with those in our region. It is the common bond of humanity. Our response to it—not just the response of people in this place but the response of all Australians—is to instinctively say: how can we help? It is not new. In January 2005 we saw the same response when the area of Banda Aceh in Indonesia was hit by the terrible tsunami. We did not ask ourselves: what is the colour or creed of these people? All Australians rose to the tragedy and said: how can we help? It is what we stand for as a nation. It is deeply embedded in our values.

This matter of public importance asks us to reconsider those values and asks us to show leadership in relation to them. Leadership calls for clarity. It calls us to stand up here and in our communities and say quite clearly what we stand for. On this side of the House we have absolutely no shame in saying that we believe in a non-discriminatory immigration policy. We believe in an Australia that is confident in itself, its lifestyle and its culture—so confident that we are able to embrace and learn from others who share our values whilst retaining their identity, some of their culture and their nationality that they brought with them from the countries of their origin. It does not mean that we tolerate anything in the name of culture and religion. That is what our view of multiculturalism is all about.

We believe in these things because they spring from basic Labor values and, I believe, the basic Australian values of fairness, dignity and equality. We believe in these things because we believe that with diversity comes innovation, progress and vibrancy, and that is good not only for our community but also for our economy. It makes this an interesting place. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine Sydney without its Chinatown or Melbourne without its Lygon Street, its Italian quarter. It is difficult to imagine the tremendous growth and prosperity of the last 15 years without our reliance on a migration program which not only brought skilled workers but increased our population at a time when our fertility rate was declining. We believe in these things because it is good for our community and good for our economy—it makes Australia a better place.

The third reason that we believe in these things is that we believe that religious proscription is a very slippery slope indeed. Today it might be Islam that we single out as a religion that causes us problems or offence or makes us somewhat uncomfortable. I acknowledge that there are those in the community who hold that view. Today it might be Islam, but tomorrow it might be another group within our community. I remind members in this place that within the living memory of our parents it was possible to pick up a newspaper in this country and see job advertisements with the addition at the bottom ‘Catholics need not apply’. Religious proscription is a very, very slippery slope. It is something we have been able to overcome in our lifetime; it is a very ugly thing that we do not want to revisit.

This debate is as important to all of us in this place as it may be hurtful or offensive, because I think it touches on a very thin edge of the wedge of politics, of fear, of discrimination and of hate. It is a debate which must be met and I am very pleased to see members from both sides of the House stand in this place and state quite clearly that these are not attitudes or values that we want to see emanate from this place or be a part of Australian political life. I must say that I believe the members opposite when they get up and say on behalf of their constituencies and themselves that they do not subscribe to a race based immigration policy and that they thoroughly embrace the values of multiculturalism.

But I think it does great violence to suggest that the contribution of the member for Chifley was perhaps a stunt or that it was thinly based on the mere tabling of a petition. It diminishes the motivation that brought this matter of public importance to this place. If you listened carefully to the contribution of the member for Chifley, it was a very, very personal contribution based on his experience as a member representing a region with very diverse cultural backgrounds and his experience growing up as a son of Muslims in Australia. It was not the mere tabling of a petition; it came on the back of a pattern of behaviour. Materials that were distributed many years ago during the election in the seat of Greenway and during the next election in the seat of Lindsay in Sydney are things that cannot be lightly dismissed. It was not the mere tabling of a petition or even, indeed, the mere making of a speech—and I will come to that. It is a pattern of behaviour which on the one hand says, ‘We formally stand for something,’ but on the other hand gives the nod to prejudice that may exist within our community. I stand here and say that that is unacceptable.

This MPI talks of leadership, and that is not just about reflecting concerns within the community but about dealing with them. It means showing and leading by example—acting in a way which would make the hundreds of schoolchildren who daily come to this place when this parliament is in session look upon the debates and considerations of this great parliament and be proud of us. It means setting an example to those kids as they go back to their communities and their schools. The test is not whether we reflect community opinion but how we deal with it. How do we respond to those emails—based on terribly wrong facts and probably deliberately terribly wrong facts—that each and every one of us received in our inboxes over the last months? Do we reject them, take issue with them and argue with them or do we give comfort to the prejudice that lies behind them? That is the test of leadership. That is the question that members opposite must ask themselves: how have they and their colleagues responded to those emails? Have they adopted them as policy or have they rejected them outright?

The events of the last couple of weeks are not without precedent. It is unfortunate that we have seen a pattern of behaviour in this area. Before I get to this point I want to address quite squarely a point made by the member for Berowra. If he is saying that political parties in this country and in this area have not always had a happy history in relation to this issue, I wholeheartedly agree with him. The history of my own party on this is a part of the public record and is well known. The point is that we have wholeheartedly rejected that history and that we seek to make a new history and a new beginning and ensure that we do not give comfort to those who harbour those prejudices within their hearts. That is the point—not that we have made mistakes in the past but that we are willing to recant and say that it is not part of our future. The comments that have been made over the last week are not without precedent. In my view, the challenge for the Liberal Party is whether it is going to be the party of Menzies, Holt and Fraser—governments with records that we applaud—or the party of Hanson, Bernardi and Morrison. (Time expired)