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Wednesday, 27 March 1985
Page: 981

Mrs SULLIVAN(12.04) —In relation to the speech of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Amendment Bill which we have just heard from the honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous) two things should be put on record. The first is that the honourable member for Calwell said at the beginning of his speech that he would depart from his prepared text in order to respond to statements made by the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock). For the benefit of those who may read his speech in the future, I point out that he returned to his prepared text during the last five minutes of a 20-minute speech. I say that because it might otherwise be impossible for anyone reading his speech to understand the relevance of the first three-quarters of it to the last quarter.

The honourable member for Calwell, in the first three-quarters of his speech, went to great pains to advance the cause of the Cass Committee of Review of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs. For the last quarter of his speech, he spoke on the Bill. I am sure that it will be noted more than once in this debate that the content of the amending Bill that we have before us on the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs owes virtually nothing to the report of the Cass Committee of Review. That was a point that my colleague the honourable member for Dundas was trying to make. It was the point that the honourable member for Calwell took such strong exception to.

The second point I make about the speech of the honourable member for Calwell is that he is obviously a very disappointed man-could I even say a bitter, disappointed man. It was very clear in the first three-quarters of his speech that he is a very strong advocate of the sorts of views that were expressed by the Committee of Review of AIMA and that he is strongly in agreement with comments and conclusions in it. Indeed, he made statements that indicated that he took sections of it to be statements of fact. It has been very seriously challenged whether the content of that report of the Committee of Review could pretend to fact in a number of its areas.

I take issue with one point the honourable member made. As I recall, he said at one stage that the Cass report was of considerable value. I remind the honourable member that today we are not debating the words of intention, we are debating the deeds of fact. The simple deed of fact of this amending Bill is that very little change has been made to the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs. The honourable member for Dundas has already indicated that we support the amending Bill. If this amending Bill achieves, as we hope it does, improvement in AIMA, in its activities and in its abilities, then that is to be applauded. However, I think the fact that there is so little change of substance of the original Act is a vindication of the decisions of the Fraser Government in setting up the Institute and in the operations of the Institute. Whilst we have before us a Bill of several pages, in fact the substance of change to the original Act is very small. When we look at clauses 4 and 5 of the amending Bill we find that nearly all the matters covered in those clauses are covered in the original Act. There is some rearrangement of words and some small additions. We have decided the additions are good additions.

I do not think it hurts a body such as AIMA to be subject to review. I do not think it hurts at all when such an innovative body, which has been operating for a few years, has a review of its functions and its operations. It was innovative and experimental when it was set up by the Fraser Government. It is appropriate that a body as socially important as AIMA be examined from time to time. It certainly would not be desirable if this body or any similar body ever got the idea that because of the subject it dealt with-that is, multiculturalism-it was some sort of sacred cow and could not be examined, questioned and criticised.

The main issue in debate today is the substance of the report that came out of that review and, how little of the substance of that report has been implemented by the Government. AIMA has been vindicated from much of the criticism made by that Committee of Review when it is judged by the action that the Government, under its newer Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Hurford), has decided to take.

The Bill is largely window dressing on an embarrassing incident. The embarrassing incident was the Cass report. The Minister in his second reading speech said that the Review reflected the Government's desire to ensure that the administrative arrangements to implement our multicultural and community relations policies were effective in meeting the needs of both migrant groups and the community generally. As I have said, we do not have any objection to that sort of review and we do not have any objection to the desire that is expressed by the Minister on behalf of the Government in his speech. That bipartisan approach is welcome. Nevertheless, it ought to be pointed out that the Review was essentially a failure in its first instance. It provoked two further very substantial reports. One was a report by the Council of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs, a report called 'Looking Forward: A Report on consultations concerning the recommendations of the Committee of Review of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs' and the other was a report from the Institute entitled 'Response to the Report to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs of the Committee of Review of the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs'.

The honourable member for Calwell took some exception in the course of his speech to the fact that some substantial resources of the Institute were used in preparing this response.

Dr Theophanous —For a long period of time, too.

Mr Coleman —Six days.

Mrs SULLIVAN —The honourable member for Calwell says 'for a long period of time'. The honourable member for Wentworth (Mr Coleman) says 'for six days'. I have not investigated the issue, but I dare say it will be discussed further in debate on this Bill and that that can be settled. The point really at issue here is that made by the honourable member for Dundas. What an enormously expensive and wasteful exercise-wasteful of public resources-this has been. The whole process has been lengthy. The objectives may have been worthwhile but the outcome has been very little change, albeit worthwhile change, at enormous expense. It shows the risk of letting ourselves in for the sort of report that came out of that first exercise. The Bill is largely window dressing. The substance of it is minor.

I welcome the move of the Government to spell out the fact that Aboriginal affairs should be specifically included. Mind you, I do not accept this statement by the Minister in his second reading speech:

The amendment proposed by Clause 3 (a) of the Bill will remove the current restriction of the Institute's activities on cultural matters to those relating only to migrants.

That is some overstatement of the problem. There were some people who had some doubt as to whether the Institute of Multicultural Affairs ought to embrace in its activities the matter of Aboriginal culture. However on reading the previous speeches made on this matter, and in particular reading the speech by the honourable member for Warringah (Mr MacKellar) in response to the statement by the then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs on 11 October 1984 in which the honourable Member for Warringah referred to the second reading speech he made as the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs when setting up the Institute, it is very clear that that was never the intention. There was some specification in relation to a research function of the Institute of Multicultural Affairs and the Institute of Aboriginal Studies, but it was never the intention of the Act-in fact, it was specified that it was not the intention-that Aboriginal culture would not be included in AIMA's charter. Nevertheless, if some people had that doubt and thought that there was a constraint on the activities of the Institute of Multicultural Affairs, it is welcomed that their doubts be resolved. I have been actively interested in the subject of multicultural affairs, particularly through my involvement in education matters since I have been a member of the Commonwealth Parliament. On the many public occasions when I have had an opportunity to speak on the issue of multicultural education I have always drawn out the point that, when looking at multicultural education, we should be sure to pay heed to the many riches of Aboriginal culture and the many ways we can benefit by knowing more about it. I have always seen Aboriginal culture, as I think those truly interested in multiculturalism do, as part of the total debate.

The only other comment I make relates to what is really quite a substantial difference between AIMA's annual report, and the reports of other statutory authorities. It has been passed over in debate so far. Clause 7 refers to the normal minimal reporting requirement of statutory authorities as provided in the Audit Act, but it goes further than the provisions for reports contained in that Act and spells out that certain other information must be contained in the annual report of the Institute. Clause 7 refers to requests made by the Minister under section 17, that is, requests made by the Minister to the Institute to furnish reports on such matters as the Minister may request. It also includes other directions and communications from the Minister to the Institute. It is welcome that this sort of communication between a statutory authority and a Minister is contained in an annual report. Given the sort of heat that has been generated in the debate so far, I am not sure why that clause of the Bill does not extend to the Institute's responses to the Minister. However, I think probably no great harm is done by that omission. I bring to the attention of the House that this detailed reporting is in many ways a quite innovative provision and one sincerely to be welcomed.

The question of the reporting of statutory authorities is a vexed one. The issue of reporting and the content of reports will be a matter of some public dissension in respect of other Bills on the Notice Paper. I thought it worth highlighting this particular provision of the legislation as it relates to a fundamental aspect of accountability of statutory authorities; that is, the production by statutory authorities of reports concerning their activities to the Parliament and, thereby, to the people of Australia.

In conclusion, I am pleased that the amendments to the Australian Institute of Multicultural Affairs Act are such that the Opposition can, and does, wholeheartedly support them. Nevertheless, I also very strongly support the second reading amendment moved by the honourable member for Dundas (Mr Ruddock) and seconded by me, which highlights and criticises the wasteful nature of the way in which this exercise has been conducted by this Government.