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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 940

Mr WYATT (5:13 PM) —I rise to speak on this issue. Strong leadership is absolutely critical in the way we look at all Australians as being equal regardless of their status, their race or creed or their socioeconomic status. I would not have joined the Liberal Party if I had thought that it was narrow in its thinking.

We live in an incredible country, a country that has accepted so many people from so many lands and has accepted the cultural mores, the practices and the foods that we thoroughly enjoy. But there are also times when none all of us cannot cast a stone on the fact that we have not been discriminatory in some form or another within our behaviour or our comments. Over the lifetime that all of us have there are periods when we do digress from the principles of antidiscriminatory behaviour.

I had the privilege of sitting for 10 years on the WA Equal Opportunity Tribunal. I thought I would have seen a diverse range of cases presented over that time because I sat on some landmark decisions. The ones that I saw continually were cases of discrimination based on gender, discrimination based on pregnancy, discrimination of race based on Aboriginality. I did not see any other. I did not see religion as a factor in that. Maybe that speaks volumes for the way in which we sometimes narrow our comments.

When I grew up in the sixties and seventies, the kids I hung out with were also people we called ‘new Australians’. To me, the games we played, the times we shared, the music we shared and the stories we told were part of Australian growth, part of Australian history, and the direction we were setting as a new country. People came here for a range of reasons. It was to create new opportunities in a land where they saw fairness, where they hoped that they could establish strong family ties that would lead to a perpetuity of life within this country and where they hoped they could contribute to the building of a nation—a nation that has become great over the years.

It somewhat disappoints me that we are having discussions in this manner, because as leaders within this House we should by our practice, by our doings and by the things that we put in place be demonstrating that we embrace all people. I believe that democracy in this country enables any cultural grouping from anywhere around this world to be part of a society which gives generously.

In my seat of Hasluck there is the suburb of Gosnells. When I go to citizenship ceremonies there I see the immense pride of new Australians from different cultural groups, and I have said to them: ‘Retain what is yours culturally. Retain what is yours on the basis of the country you come from. But remember that you are part of a family within Australia, in Australian society, in which you have the freedom to practise those things that are important and dear to you and to practise the faith that you have but at the same time acknowledge that you live within a society where there are expectations of people whom we welcome into the broader Australian family of Australian society.’

I see the incredible pride that they have in taking the step to become citizens of this country, because they believe in what is the fundamental ethos. But they also acknowledge to me that they experience at times comments that are hurtful and spiteful. The reality of our society is that we do have people who make comments that are inappropriate. Sometimes comments are made in the adversity of pressure and people apologise later. I have great respect for people who take the courage to stand up and say they were wrong and apologise. I think that is an absolute quality that we sometimes lose sight of. Each of those new Australians will contribute not only to the workforce but also to the society in which they will live and move in their time. I expect them to also encourage others to come with them—their families in family reunion processes.

My understanding of the history of all Australian government is that at different points in time we have recognised that there is a need to look at the history of the past and reshape it and to contribute to the debate on the rights of fellow Australians and those who want to become Australians, those who want to be part of a society that is rich in many facets of its culture, its norms and its behaviours.

I constantly receive reminders of who I am. During the election campaign I had an interesting experience—which my son found distasteful. We were standing in a place called Alfred’s Kitchen in Guildford in WA. At Alfred’s Kitchen, there is a log fire that burns and you can get hamburgers and you stand with others and you converse. The thing that surprised me was that a group of guys wearing Eureka Stockade T-shirts deliberately went out of their way to come past me and the comment they made was, ‘Look, it’s Uncle Tom Wyatt.’ My son said, ‘What does that mean?’ and I said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ When he went home and he had a look at what it meant, he was appalled. What he said to me was not about my circumstance. He said, ‘Why do we have to make comments that detract from the quality of another human being? Why is it that we set aside and distinguish difference so markedly that it is a factor that comes into play that creates prejudices?’ Sometimes our debates help that.

Certainly in my dealings with Tony Abbott, the leader of this party, he has in no way ever indicated to me nor shown me a single bone that is discriminatory. We have differences of opinion, and I think all of us enjoy the freedom of that within our democracy. I think that is tremendous. A thing that we need to distinguish is that the term ‘One Nation’ applied to a particular party. To continue its use is to diminish the impact of what we are all trying to achieve in this House, because it reinforces the notion of somebody who had some very strong views that were divisive—but which were, in a sense, her take on Australian society and life at the time. I think that we owe it to all of the constituents that all of us represent to ensure that the whole ethos of fairness, inclusiveness and the right of every Australian to every facet of what we offer within this society through this parliament is accorded them.

I think we also need to acknowledge that there are mistakes made by individuals. Some people, when you talk to them later, say, ‘I wish to hell I hadn’t said that.’ The foot-in-the-mouth disease is a problem. I would hope that we do not talk about a multicultural society, as such, as the emphasis of what we are doing but about a society which encompasses all Australians, all people—regardless of our cultural heritage—because this is a country that has so much to offer the world in the model of citizenry that it displays and demonstrates regularly. I think that we have an opportunity to do that, and when people transgress let us remind them of what this House has done in the past in terms of discrimination—of words that are said that are unjust. We do not need to have the political debates in the way that we sometimes do, but we should admonish those who do transgress, because I do believe that we have come a long way since the days of the White Australia policy and that every member of this House wants that to prevail, regardless of our political persuasions. We will have our differences of opinion on issues, but let us not denigrate the legislation of this House, or that of states and territories, which address the issues of a fair go and being antidiscriminatory.

We need to walk as one Australian society, welcoming of all people for the values and skills that they bring, because to me that is what we are about.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Sidebottom)—The discussion has now concluded. Thank you to all those who participated.