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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1521

Ms VAMVAKINOU (10:30 AM) —On behalf of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration I wish to make a statement concerning the committee’s inquiry into multiculturalism in Australia.

I am very pleased to inform the House that the Joint Standing Committee on Migration has launched a broad-ranging inquiry into multiculturalism in Australia. Before speaking about the inquiry I want to welcome the government’s response to recommendations by the Australian Multicultural Advisory Committee, chaired by Mr Andrew Demetriou. On 16 February the government announced its intention to create a new independent advisory body, the Australian Multicultural Council, to succeed the current advisory committee. A new anti-racism strategy is to be developed in partnership with key organisations like the Australian Human Rights Commission. In addition, I want to welcome the government’s renaming of the position of the parliamentary secretaryship held by Senator Kate Lundy, who will now be known as the Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. These are all very positive developments and, as Chair of the Migration Committee, I welcome them.

I also want to acknowledge the cultural and linguistic diversity of Indigenous Australians as we go forward in this inquiry. Indigenous Australians have a history of settlement on this continent that stretches back thousands of years. It is a simple truth that we are a migrant society. Cultural and linguistic diversity has been a feature of Australian society since the earliest days of colonisation. It is popular to talk as though Australia’s ethnic diversity is a product of post World War II migration only. But, as any student of Australian history knows, some of the earliest settlers to arrive on Australian shores were in fact the Chinese, the Afghans and the Malay, especially in the north of the continent. And the British did not discriminate about who they transported to these shores! Among the First Fleet convicts were not only the English, Irish and Scots but also prisoners from different parts of the Empire.

I do not want to underplay the enormous impact of the White Australia policy, but that era is long gone and should remain dead and buried. Last week in this place both the government and the opposition reaffirmed their commitment to multiculturalism and a non-discriminatory migration program. It is time to move forward together and ensure the benefits and success of Australian multiculturalism is the main story in this place.

This inquiry is an opportunity for the committee to stay in touch with the challenges migrant communities face. It has broad terms of reference to look at practical measures that enable migrants, including refugees, to settle, integrate and participate as full members of Australian society. It will canvass the contribution that migration makes to Australia and make recommendations to maximise the positive effects of migration. Some of the key issues that we will be exploring are the role of multiculturalism in the government’s social inclusion agenda; the adequacy of settlement programs for new migrants, including refugees; and incentives to promote settlement in regional Australia as well as our major cities. The committee will also look at the skilled migration program and ways to better utilise the skills of all migrants already in Australia. It will also consider initiatives to assist migrants establish small businesses.

Some have asked, and continue to ask: why conduct an inquiry when the government has just announced its commitment to multiculturalism? The answer to this is simple: patterns of migration and trends within communities are not static. New and different communities arrive, economic and social conditions change and government programs must therefore be reviewed to ensure relevance, value for money and effectiveness. The range of issues that the committee will explore is very broad. For example, as our population ages, how should we respond to the needs of elderly migrants, especially those who need residential or nursing home care? We have a skills shortage and an extensive skilled migration program, but are we doing enough to recognise the skills of migrants already here and to provide them with opportunities to work? Housing is expensive. How are new migrants faring in the major cities, where the cost of living is high? And how can we encourage settlement in regional areas?

This inquiry will allow the parliament to hear directly from individuals, business and community organisations. It is an opportunity to hear about their experiences, listen to their ideas and produce fresh ideas that will maximise the benefits of migration for Australia as a whole. I ask every member of this House and the Senate to promote the inquiry in their own electorate and I also ask members who have any further questions to ask the secretariat, myself or indeed the deputy chair, the member for Macquarie, who I note is in this place at this time.