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Monday, 5 March 2001
Page: 24947

Mrs CROSIO (4:45 PM) —I rise to speak today in this grievance debate on an issue which is of prime importance to my role as federal member for Prospect. My electorate of Prospect has benefited over the years from policies—mainly from the previous government—which promote migration, diversity and cultural tolerance. My electorate covers a large proportion of the local government area of Fairfield, and I might remind the House that 52 per cent of the population of Fairfield local government area were born overseas. I have represented the area of Fairfield at all three levels of government for more than 30 years and I have built some very close relationships with many of the cultural groups and societies within my electorate. I have also formed close personal and professional associations with many of the families who have come to Australia and choose to live in my electorate.

At the last census, it was recorded that more than 120 languages other than English were spoken in my electorate of Prospect. I would like to put on the record that this is one of the highest numbers of languages spoken in the home of any electorate in Australia. Migrants from Europe, Asia, the Middle East and many other parts of the world have lived in my electorate for many years, having moved to Australia in the hope of starting a new life. Many of them are small business owners; they are workers; they are families; and they all, in their own way, contribute to the social cohesion of the community that I represent. Much of the success of migration in my electorate was due to the policies—and I repeat this for the member for Scullin, who is in the chair—of the previous Labor government and the previous Prime Minister, who openly embraced the benefits of immigration and cultural diversity.

I heard the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs speaking in this parliament last week, heralding the success of this government's immigration policies. I was shocked to hear the minister standing in this chamber claiming that, due to his policies, integrity had been restored to Australia's migration program. It is interesting that the minister chose the word `integrity' to describe the policies of the immigration portfolio, because this is a word which for me conjures up images of honour, fairness and decency. I am quite sure that this government—certainly by its actions—lacks all of these qualities. In his answer to a question on that day, the minister was quoting from a report recently released by Econtech, which stated, and I am quoting the minister here:

...annual consumption per head ... will be boosted by $257 per capita by the year 2007-08. Work force productivity will be about 0.08 per cent higher by that same year in comparison with what it would have been under the former policies.

Of course, he was speaking from a report that was released over the skilled migration program. The minister went on to quote from the report, saying that the participation rate in the labour force had been 0.62 per cent higher since the previous government. The minister also quoted a report from Chris Richardson from Access Economics which stated that, because of the redirection of the policy of migration, the Commonwealth had saved $1.4 billion over five years.

One thing these statistics highlight is the increasing emphasis this government is placing on valuing the worth and the contribution of migrants to this country only in economic terms. Both these reports and the minister rationalise the value migrants have made to Australia strictly in terms of monetary gains. I believe that migration in this country should not be measured only in money terms: migrants benefit Australia in ways which simply cannot be measured. Cultural diversity provides a huge and undeniable social and cultural benefit to this wonderful country.

One thing which I find outrageous—and I was outraged last week—is that the minister claims the policies of the former government in regard to migration were based around family reunion policies and that this government has redirected migration towards attracting skilled migrants, thus saving the Commonwealth $1.4 billion in four years. This just shows the cold-heartedness of the government's ideology, because everyone knows that the family is absolutely vital to the peace, happiness and wellbeing of any individual in any community. Without the structure of the family, we have to ask, where would many of us be now? Especially in migrant communities, families are crucial for establishing a support base and for providing a safety net for those people who have made our country their new home and are prepared to work hard.

How can the minister justify placing an economic value on the worth or the potential worth of a migrant? I find this offensive to the thousands of people in my electorate—the people I represent—who have migrated to Australia to start new lives or to be reunited with their families. The minister, in one of the most offensive comments I have heard in this House, said:

I am sure honourable members would be pleased to see the outcome of the remodelling of the immigration program to put an important emphasis on keeping the program balanced in terms of skill as against other categories which have adverse economic outcomes.

We can all see what the minister is saying. He is implying that the family reunion program was a waste of money and a drain on the Commonwealth's purse. I say to the minister that you simply cannot measure—again, I repeat myself—the value of family reunion programs for migrants in monetary terms. Family reunion is often the basis of happy migration. Many people may need the support of their families when they come to Australia so they can stand on their own two feet and start to make a living. This is a country whose population and development was built on migration. Many of our great scientists, doctors, sports stars, and religious, political and community leaders have come from migrant backgrounds. If not, they have been migrants themselves. I am sure the minister at the table, the Minister for Financial Services and Regulation, would not question that topic. I would say to particularly the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs that not all of these leaders and successful people were the highly skilled, highly trained, economically viable migrants that the minister would like to see now make up our entire migration program. Who is this minister to justify through economic reasoning that a migrant who does not fit the skilled migrant criteria of this government will not one day, through hard work and determination, become a lifesaving surgeon, for example, a leading scientist or a religious or a community leader—or enter this parliament and even become a leader of this country?

My electorate has so many people who have come from so many different countries. Having been reunited with their families, the vast majority of them are very hardworking indeed. They hold down good jobs and they contribute to society in so many ways and their value in simple economic terms cannot be measured. The way the minister implies that only skilled migrants are useful to this country is insulting to the many people I represent, and his comments show what little respect he really has for these people or really how much `integrity' his migration policies have.

We all live in this one country—19 million of us on a land mass almost the size as that of the United States. We come from different places and Australians are made up of different colours and races. This country relies on a non-discriminatory and a caring immigration policy, and it must take into consideration the fact that many migrants plan to start again in Australia and are prepared to start at the bottom and to work hard to work their way up. That is what our migration policy must reflect. But under this government—and after the minister's comments in this chamber—it is quite clear that the old style of rich, middle-class, educated immigration is back. It is back with a vengeance. Australia can no longer hide behind the white picket fence that this government is keeping us behind. We need to start understanding other parts of the world and understand the full benefits to society of all migrants. Australia is the land of the fair go and the land of opportunity. This government is not reflecting the egalitarian Australian ethos of a fair go by allowing only migrants from a particular background into this country.

This country has a history of cultural diversity. Our indigenous people have always had a rich variety of languages and different customs. Members of the First Fleet came from a number of different ethnic backgrounds. We have all seen, and we acknowledge, how damaging to the progress of this country the policy of White Australia was. We as a country can either move forward or regress, and after hearing the comments of the minister in the House it looks as though we have already regressed and that the government are starting to economise and rationalise our migration and our migrants into their monetary worth. I again appeal to the minister and the government to give due consideration to the people who are waiting to join this country through family reunion but, more particularly, to not measure their worth in the first generation. I have always believed, with the contribution that migrants make to this country, that if we do not gain the first year we do in 10 years or 20 years time. One has only to go to schools in my electorate to see the value of education for these children because their parents have persevered and they have worked with their children so that they had a better life in Australia as educated human beings. I believe they are the leaders of tomorrow and that we have benefited through their parents, who have made the sacrifice, having to come to this country. (Time expired)