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Tuesday, 18 October 1988
Page: 1793


Mr HOLDING (Minister for the Arts and Territories)(5.05) —Basically, the nature of these estimates involves discussion of two essential aspects of government policy. One is immigration and the other is local government. Let me deal first with the local government issue, which was raised by the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Andrew). I listened with great interest to the honourable member for Wakefield, who made it perfectly clear that he wanted more spent on local government, and I have some sympathy with that. He said he wanted more spent on roads, and I have some sympathy with that. He wants more spent on local hospitals in his electorate. Who could not sympathise with that? But in making all these assertions in the Estimates debate, what the honourable member discloses is the essential political schizophrenia of the coalition.

During the last election campaign we were told that the policy of the coalition was to provide massive tax cuts funded by massive cuts in public revenue. The problem is that if we are going to cut public revenue-the figure that was estimated was put forward in order to justify the policies of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard)-we would be looking at cuts of about $6 billion. I recall the Leader of the Opposition saying that one of the things he would do in his first week in government would be to call together members of his Cabinet and tell them that they all had to face a massive cut in their portfolios. This was simply money straight off the top, with no question of where the Ministers would find it. It is extraordinary that, having adopted a broad policy that was good enough to go to the electorate with which says that there have to be continual cuts in government expenditure, when it comes to the Estimates we find individual members of the Opposition saying, `Well, although I supported that policy at the last election, I did not really mean it. What we really want is more money for local government. We want more money for hospitals. We want more money for roads'.


Mr Staples —And tax cuts.


Mr HOLDING —Yes, and tax cuts as well.


Mr White —I wouldn't get on to that subject.


Mr HOLDING —I am very happy to get onto any subject the honourable member wants to mention. Every speech that Opposition members make in this House indicates that the one thing they will not do is allow facts to interfere with their political prejudices.

Let us deal with the Government's record on local government. In the last Budget introduced by the Treasurer (Mr Keating), general purpose financial assistance to local government was increased to $652.5m for 1988-89 as against the previous figure of $636m. That was a 2.5 per cent increase over last year's entitlement. In the economic circumstances we face, local government has had to take on considerable additional commitments. The financial assistance provided to local government has dramatically increased under a Labor government. When we came to office the untied assistance was $424.5m. This year it is $652.5m, an increase of over 50 per cent. At the same time this Government improved funding arrangements through the Local Government (Financial Assistance) Act 1986, with the result that more assistance now goes to disadvantaged councils. In the last Budget, road funding was maintained in real terms, increasing from $255m to $269m. That is the record of a government which over five years has been forced to adopt economic constraints. What we see is the kind of approach adopted by the Opposition where any argument is good enough: `Do not let us relate political philosophy to our particular demands'. As my colleague the honourable member for Calwell (Dr Theophanous) pointed out, nowhere was that more evident than in the contributions made by members of the Opposition in respect of immigration.

I adopt the arguments put so cogently by the honourable member for Calwell, who talked about the fact that the Opposition was the first major combination of political parties in almost 2 1/2 decades to adopt a policy of opposition to a bipartisan approach on immigration and to do so for the most spurious of reasons. The reasons were advanced at two levels. Firstly, there is the argument about multiculturalism. I accept the argument that there is some misunderstanding in the community about multiculturalism and that some people perceive it as being more relevant to ethnic communities than to them. It is the responsibility of members of the Opposition and members of the Government to explain what that policy is about and how it affects every Australian. What happened was that the right wing think tanks had done some polling and they had discovered that the last group of people to arrive in Australia was not very popular. Suddenly a concern was expressed, first of all in the National Party by Senator Stone. I must concede that Senator Stone has a certain honesty and candour about his position: he does not make any secret of it. He said, `In government we will restrict Asian immigration'. It was as simple and as blunt as that.

The Leader of the Opposition thought that that was not really a bad idea, that he could actually run with that and pick up a few votes. The way he chose to put it was that the Government must remain in control of its immigration policy. Let me say this: over recent years no government in the Western world has been more in control of its immigration policy than the Australian Government. I include the last two Liberal Ministers for immigration in that. It ought to be noted that when these policies were canvassed by the Leader of the Opposition in this chamber-surely this is of significance-one former Minister for immigration chose to absent himself from the chamber and the other took a far more principled course and crossed the floor of the House. Does that not indicate some dissent, some lack of clarity in terms of position? Why did they take that view?

I have said it publicly and I will say it again: I do not think that the Leader of the Opposition is a racist. But I believe that what he was playing for was the worst aspect of Australian society because in the history of our immigration policy-it does not matter what time one looks at it-there has always been an ethnocentric attitude towards the last group of arrivals. I invite those who say, `We will cut back on Asian immigration'-wink, wink, nod, nod-`because we do not believe that they are socially cohesive', to look at the history of immigration. If they apply that standard and ask, `What evidence do we have?', they will see that we have polls.

Opposition members who are interested in immigration would know that when the Italians, whose community has made an enormous contribution to Australian society, came out after the war they were subject to the same sorts of hatreds and nonsense. I have available for the benefit of honourable members, if they want to take the trouble to read them, copies of Sydney newspapers from 1948 which said that `Australia was about to be Latinised'. What a lovely term! What they meant by that was the Italians in sections of Sydney had bought and opened some restaurants and fruit shops, were buying their own houses and, God help us, were speaking Italian on the streets. What a threat that was! The interesting thing about those articles is that if one changed the name of the author, changed the term `Latinised' and made it `Asianised', it could be signed by the Professor of History at Melbourne University, the Leader of the Opposition or Senator John Stone.

At no stage has the Italian community received more than 30 per cent approval in gallup polls. Never has a poll been conducted in which the Greeks, who have made an enormous contribution to the development of Australian society at every level, have received more than 32 per cent approval. The best that another great community, the Jewish people, could get-even when we knew the nature of what had occurred to them during the War and the Holocaust, when they sought to come here from the four corners of the earth-was 38 per cent approval. That is the history. Previous great Ministers for immigration in all parties at no stage said, `We will lean to those sorts of attitudes'. The only groups that ever received approval, for a very short period, were the British and the Dutch. That was it. Will one single member of the Liberal Party or the National Party who says, `Multiculturalism produces a lack of social cohesion or social division' get up in this House and say, `It is occurring in my electorate'? The honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Pratt) says that he wants one Australia, but does he say that multiculturalism has produced any evidence of social division in his electorate? The only thing that is occurring in South Australia is the lunacy of the group known as National Action. Those lunatics fired bullets through the home of a former Minister for immigration, Mr Hurford, and recently fired bullets through the office of Senator Teague. That is a national disgrace.


Mr White —Do you know that?


Mr HOLDING —It is interesting that the honourable member is the only voice in this Parliament who wants to support such a group. When a Minister for immigration goes to South Australia he walks around with a couple of bodyguards. When we ask why, we are told that it is because of what has occurred in South Australia as a result of the actions of National Action. Those sorts of lunatic groups have been spurred on and encouraged by some of the nonsense--


Mr White —Mr Deputy Chairman, I raise a point of order. I seek your indulgence and clarification. I hope the Minister is not accusing me or anyone else on this side of supporting the particular group which he is talking about.


Mr HOLDING —No.


Mr Downer —You are; you are saying `spurred on and encouraged by us'.


Mr HOLDING —Statements have been made by the honourable member's leaders in the course of the argument on immigration, and they have encouraged those groups. I do not say that they set out deliberately to encourage them, but I do say that the kinds of arguments that have been advanced by a once great Liberal Party have given a credibility to fringe racist groups that they would never have had otherwise.


Mr Downer —Ha, ha!


Mr HOLDING —The honourable member can laugh. It is all right for him. He never opens his mouth except to put his gold-plated foot in it. He does not know what this kind of pressure is all about. He has led a thoroughly protected life. When the honourable member for Mayo talks about what is occurring on the tram stops and the bus stops-he has never lined up for one in his life; he has never had to--


Mr Downer —Mr Deputy Chairman, I raise a point of order. Unless the Chair upholds decency in debate I think this debate will degenerate into a great deal of personal abuse. These allegations are completely false and utter nonsense. It is a massive and dangerous beat-up.


The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Cowan) —There is no point of order. I suggest that the interjections cease and the Minister return to addressing the Chair.


Mr HOLDING —I am very happy to address the Chair. What I am saying is that so long as major political parties in this country are prepared to say that particular groups who apply for immigration to this nation can be discriminated against on the basis of social cohesion and can be excluded, having passed all the tests, on the basis of their race or origin, they are pandering to some very dangerous forces in our society. I believe that there is overwhelming evidence to show that many younger people who are good young Australians of Asian origin and background are suffering on a daily basis. I encourage the honourable member for Mayo (Mr Downer) to examine those facts, because it is time they were examined.

I conclude on this note: if all is well, as the shadow Minister would have us understand, in terms of immigration policy, what precisely is Senator Stone's position? We are in an odd and unique situation in that the person whose ranking is fourth in the coalition-who would be entitled to be ranked fourth if the coalition came to government-cannot participate in the shadow Cabinet because he has been very blunt and, I think, very honest about his personal views on Asian immigration. The poor man was caught because he honestly believed that he was supporting his Leader. That is why he got the bullet. The Leader of the National Party, old Sinkers, is prepared to support John Stone as Leader in the Senate so long as he--


The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Rocher) —Order! The Minister will refer to honourable members by their correct titles.


Mr HOLDING —The Leader of the National Party of Australia in the House of Representatives supported the Leader of the Opposition when he sacked Senator Stone but gave Senator Stone his assurance that he, the Leader of the National Party, would continue to support Senator Stone so long as he stayed in the Senate and did not try to come here and take his job. That is the reality. Honourable members opposite know it. I ask honourable members opposite not to come in here and preach to us about their position on immigration because the position of their leader is a national disgrace. The position that has emerged in the coalition is that a principal coalition spokesman is out of the shadow Cabinet, because he at least had the honesty to say clearly what he believes ought to be the policy, but continues to hold his leadership position in his Party. That is the kind of nonsense that is going on in the coalition.

While that is the Opposition's position on immigration, the reality is, as the honourable member for Calwell pointed out-I know the Leader of the Opposition would like these matters not to be mentioned because he would like to think that he can go back to ethnic communities and receive some sort of welcome-that those people who have come to build their homes in Australia feel nothing but contempt for what has occurred in the destruction of what was bipartisan policy support for the development of multiculturalism in our society; policies which I believe have brought great strength and credibility to this nation. Those policies were not the property of any one government. While that position continues to be maintained by the coalition, anything it says on the question of immigration or the problems of immigration lacks complete credibility.

Proposed expenditure agreed to.

Department of Defence

Proposed expenditure, $7,440,398,000.