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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 26133

Senator TCHEN (1:20 PM) —On Thursday last week Mr Jim McGinty, the Western Australian Attorney-General, abruptly left a Commonwealth ministerial meeting and flew home to Perth, fearing for the safety of his family after an allegation of a neo-Nazi plot to harm him. The alleged threat was made by a Mr Jack van Tongeren, head of the Australian Nationalist Movement, which is described as a white supremacist organisation. A number of its members are facing court charges over a spate of racist graffiti attacks in Perth against Jewish and Chinese businesses and offices. It was reported that alleged threats were also made against a number of other prominent Western Australian and national leaders—including the Western Australian police commissioner; the Western Australian Premier, Dr Gallop; and the Prime Minister—for `crimes against Australia' because of their support of multiculturalism.

Mr van Tongeren, a convicted felon who has spent 12 years behind bars for a series of firebombing and other racially motivated crimes committed in the eighties around Perth, apparently believes that no-one who came to Australia after 1868—when transportation ceased—is entitled to be a citizen of this country. He is against not only migrants but also Indigenous Australians. He is especially against the idea of a multicultural Australia. But, unlike others of his kind, Mr van Tongeren is prepared to resort to violence to realise his prejudice. After an intensive hunt for him, the Western Australian police apprehended Mr van Tongeren last week and have charged him with various offences related to both his and ANM's activities. I congratulate the Western Australian police on their diligence and effectiveness against those who conspire against the safety and security of Australian society.

Although, in reality, Mr van Tongeren is no more than a small-time operator, and the Australian Nationalist Movement is a poor shadow of al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiah, his notoriety is still a timely reminder that every society, however prosperous and harmonious, will always contain an element of discontent. We must be vigilant that such discontentedness does not turn to maliciousness. The likes of Timothy McVeigh are no less of a threat to stable and civilised societies than Osama bin Laden and his followers, and are likely to be just as prevalent.

Of course, Mr van Tongeren is not alone in his dislike of a multicultural Australia. Less than a decade ago, Mrs Pauline Hanson shot to national prominence with her opposition to Asian migration, Indigenous social equity and multiculturalism. When I came to this chamber from Victoria, representing the Liberal Party, Senator Len Harris came here from Queensland, representing Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party. In my first speech I reflected on the many changes—including the adoption of a non-discriminatory migration policy, together with multiculturalism, as a basis for building a tolerant, harmonious and mutually supportive society—that have occurred, mostly for the better, in Australian society since the end of the Second World War, while Senator Harris stated his opposition to the concept of multiculturalism.

It was my belief then, as it still is, that the opposition by Mrs Hanson and Senator Harris to multiculturalism was because they—and many others in the community who might have agreed with them to varying degrees—did not really understand what `multiculturalism' meant and did not have the chance to gain such an understanding. I am pleased to say that Senator Harris quickly came to realise that multiculturalism is a description of a process of nation and society building, based on mutual respect, shared experiences and human values and acceptance of a common destiny. It is not the description of an end state of a society of diversity, so he had no reason to oppose it. In the five years since entering the Senate, Senator Harris has indeed proved himself to be a dignified and valuable member of the Senate, and I am delighted to have shared this experience with him. I also note that Mrs Hanson soon came to realise that, while there are many evils in this world, multiculturalism is not in fact one of them. I was pleased by that also and wish her well in her life.

Let me briefly recap for the Senate the history and rationale of multiculturalism as practised in Australia—at least as far as I understand it and how I believe the Howard government perceives it. As I noted earlier, multiculturalism is a description of a process of nation and society building, based on mutual respect, shared experiences and human values and a common destiny. It is not the acceptance of a society of diversity, simply for the sake of diversity. As a concept, multiculturalism developed in the 1960s in the wake of large-scale immigration from non-British European sources, which had commenced after the end of the Second World War. At the beginning of the post-war migration waves, the newcomers were simply extra pairs of hands. Who they were and what they knew did not matter—indeed, the less talked about the better. The only concern the government of the day had was that the influx did not trigger the innate distrust of these `foreigners' in what then would have been called the `native' population. The call was to assimilate to the Australian way of life and as soon as possible.

By the 1960s it had become obvious that it was both inequitable and wasteful to demand that all migrants must ignore and discard their knowledge and experiences of their own societies and simply become Australians with all its implications of social history and social skills. It was also obvious that this was an impossible demand and that enclave communities, each with their distinctive characters, were already springing up all over the country, with the development of a collection of ghetto societies an unacceptable but real possibility.

By this time, it was also obvious to forward thinkers that future migration would be coming from an ever broader range of countries with different cultures and linguistic histories. The Holt government had not only opened migration access to Asian countries but signed formal immigration arrangements with Turkey in 1967. This was an amazingly liberal and far-sighted move, given that 37 years later the Europeans—those marvellously progressive and enlightened folks that the Democrats and the Greens in this chamber are forever holding up as role models for us backward Australians—are still baulking at accepting Turkey into the European Community.

After briefly trying the idea of integration, an idea somewhat less severe than assimilation, the concept of multiculturalism as the foundation of a growing Australian society—especially since it was obvious that migration would continue to be a major force in the building of this society—came to be adopted as national policy by the Fraser government. Since then, multiculturalism has enjoyed all-party support in politics—except for that brief period in Mrs Hanson's early political career, but that period has ended, except for a brief period during the Hawke government when the industrial and organisational wings of the Labor Party, having initially opposed the arrival of Vietnamese boat people supposedly because of their association with the Vietnam War and the South Vietnamese government, discovered that migrant communities could be a rich field for political power base building and that multicultural funding from the Commonwealth government provided a good recruiting tool. Apart from that little hitch, multiculturalism has been a low-key but effective and consistent force in bringing harmony and prosperity to the Australian community.

The Howard government has been forward looking and inclusive in pursuit of productive implementation of multiculturalism to further the aim of harmony and prosperity through diversity, built on a foundation of mutual respect and acceptance. The simple fact that we came through the aftermath of international terrorism acts and the difficulties of dealing with the victims of large-scale people-smuggling, without any overreaction from the community generally—a mere five years after the explosion ignited by Mrs Hanson—is testimony to the success of the Howard government's diligence.

The creation of the citizenship ministerial portfolio to accompany the multicultural affairs portfolio was a clear signpost for the future direction of Australia. The fact that Prime Minister John Howard took this action before the tragedy of Bali shows that he and his government have a commitment to an Australian future in which all Australians can and will proudly play their part. It concerns me greatly that the opposition leader, Mr Mark Latham—incidentally, he is not on Mr van Tongeren's list of people that he thinks have sold out Australia—said in his speech to the Global Foundation on 20 April this year that multiculturalism has passed its use-by date and that we should move on—move on to what?

Australia will continue to be a country of large immigration intake. Our future growth is the key to our ability to continue to attract migrants to participate in our development. Although historically the United Kingdom has been Australia's top migrant source, the spread of our migrant sources will continue to diversify, and increasing numbers of new migrants will come from countries and communities with cultural heritages distinctly different from ours. The only tool we have available to us is this idea and acceptance that whatever they bring has a potential place in our future society. On that basis, we can build a future society that we can all share in. However, should we jettison multiculturalism, as Mr Latham says, because he thinks it has already given us a `community of communities' and we have nothing further to prove? In a radio interview with Mr John Laws on the following day, 21 April, Mr Laws commented:

... multiculturism is a failed experiment I've got to tell you. That's my feeling about it. But we've seemed to have promoted ourselves social division by encouraging people from other cultures to come here and hang onto those cultures.

In response, Mr Latham said:

Well that's where we've got to move on.

If Mr Latham shares Mr Laws's views of what multiculturalism is about, we all have real reason to be concerned. However, to be slightly charitable to Mr Latham and the Labor Party, perhaps Mr Latham confused multiculturalism and multiculturism. Certainly on the Labor Party web site, where these media items were listed, he used the two terms interchangeably, but they are quite different. Multiculturism is a society of many cultures. Multiculturalism describes a process which is based on different sources and where something entirely new is built. Perhaps Mr Latham's description of a community of many communities demonstrates his confusion about this.

Mr Latham's offhand attitude alarmed me even more than his actual words, and it would alarm every Australian who believes that, notwithstanding his or her cultural heritage, they have contributed and will continue to contribute with advantage from that background to Australia's future, and who believes that future Australians who join us and who have their own cultural heritage will and should be able to contribute in the same way. It is okay for Mr John Laws to have a misconception about what multiculturalism is about. But Mr Latham, who has the pretension to be Prime Minister of Australia, should really have a much clearer idea about this. Mr Latham delights in the claim that he will inherit the mantle of Gough Whitlam. That is not fair to Gough Whitlam. Gough Whitlam had the grand vision, though perhaps he did not see the trees so well. Mr Latham would be more at home in claiming the mantle of Graeme Campbell.