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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1655

Ms GAMBARO (8:10 PM) —I second the motion moved by the member for Werriwa on multiculturalism. I note the government’s response to the People of Australia recommendation made by the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council. I note the importance of this topic to all Australians. I commend the member for his past work in this area.

Australia is a diverse nation. That is one positive aspect that makes us all Australian. The fabric of our society was born out of being an island nation. It adds to who we are and how we identify ourselves as Australians. Planned migration over many years has produced a nation that can boast much about where we are today more than ever. Some 200 languages are spoken. One in four of us were born overseas and at least half of us have one parent who was born overseas. But it is not just on the facts and figures that we judge the success of our multicultural efforts. The success of our efforts was put very simply by Hakki Suleyman, Chairman of the Migration Resource Centre North West of Victoria, when he said:

True settlement for migrants can only occur when they are full participants in civic affairs.

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the hard work and the efforts of the whole of the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council and in particular the work of its chair, Andrew Demetriou.

The People of Australia statement and the recommendations received by the government back in April 2010 are very important as we speak to this motion. As I travelled around various migrant resource centres, I was struck by the anticipation they shared while waiting for the release of the government’s response. They shared with me their disappointment that it was taking so long for this government to respond. So, along with the many migrant resource centres and ethnic communities, I too finally welcome the release of the government’s response.

The member for Werriwa calls on this House to recognise the success of a multicultural Australia and to reinforce the beliefs our diverse communities bring. The success of where we are today dates back to governments and the challenges past governments faced. In 1977, under a coalition government, the Australian Population and Immigration Council articulated the first official definition of ‘multiculturalism’ that was based on the principles of social cohesion, equality of opportunity and cultural identity. Mr Fraser said at the time:

Australia is at a critical stage in developing a cohesive multicultural nation.

We are a few years on from there and the push factors and where people originate from are also different—and one may even argue there are greater pull factors—but in common with those sentiments now is the fact that people still want to settle in Australia. I think we find ourselves at a critical stage in continuing to develop a very cohesive society. The forces may be different politically and the cultural landscape is different, but the sentiment remains the same. Australia has one of the best resettlement programs in the world. I share that view with the view expressed in the comments made by the member earlier.

When the Howard government adopted the term ‘Australian multiculturalism’ it was reflective of Australia’s unique diverse heritage, democracy and cultural identity. It was a coalition government under John Howard that endorsed the principles of civic duty, cultural respect and productive diversity in the newly evolving value of Australian democracy and citizenship. It was a coalition government that created the Council for Multicultural Australia, supported by the then Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. It was also a coalition government that introduced the Charter for Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society in 1998. We also shifted to a focus on harmony and inclusion through the establishment of the Living in Harmony grants and Harmony Day, which will occur this year on 21 March.

You see, we on this side of the House have a long and consistent history of inclusion and the advancement of a multicultural Australia. The last multicultural policy statement was released by a coalition government and Mr Howard said, ‘This new statement reflects the government commitment to promoting diversity.’ There were four principles of that plan: responsibilities of all, respect for each person, fairness for each person, and benefits for all. These four principles still resound around Australia today. As I traverse this great country of ours in my role as shadow parliamentary secretary I have heard people of differing ethnic and religious backgrounds affirm that these principles hold true. People reiterate them, they understand them and above all they strive to achieve them.

Many of the issues that have been articulated in recent public debates on multicultural Australia evoke a much broader debate—a debate about concepts, tensions and challenges and about the reality of what it means to live and exist in a multicultural Australia. Our support for a multicultural Australia has been evident for many years as we led the way in this area. We have demonstrated our bipartisan support and we seek to assure those on the other side that we will continue to do so.

I broadly support the motions put forward by the government in the People of Australia multicultural policy. The great work down by the advisory council is very evident in this document and I note on page 6 of the document, under the heading of ‘rights and responsibilities’, that Australia’s successful multicultural society and our democracy are built around shared rights and responsibilities that are fundamental to living in Australia.

In the citizenship pledge taken by new Australians they pledge loyalty to Australia and its people. I agree that according to government policy Australia will continue to have an ever-evolving and ever-diversifying population. While our nation is evolving and diversifying, its people should continue to strive to become good citizens irrespective of ethnicity, religious or cultural origins. My view is that the sacred right that Australian citizenship delivers transcends ethnicity.

I accept the key initiatives of the expanded Australian Multicultural Council to act as an independent champion for our multicultural nation. However, I caution that we must not dismiss our responsibility and the role that we play in this House to act as leaders in this area for our nation. We must, in all areas, seek to uphold and support the council.

I congratulate the National Anti-Racism Partnership and Strategy outlined in the policy document. I have no tolerance for racism. As someone who experienced racism as a young child I know there is no place in Australia for that. A member earlier spoke about German immigrants being hounded during the war period. My grandfather was sent to a prisoner-of-war camp in South Australia when the war broke out. He spent some three years in that camp, although he had been accepted as a migrant. So there is that history in Australia, although the political leaders at the time thought they were doing the right thing. But my grandfather was able to continue on and to form a very valuable partnership. He established himself in this country and became a great migrant.

So there are examples in the past where we have not got the policy right in this particular area but, as I said, I have no tolerance for racism. I think everything must be done to seek to address the barriers and hurdles to settlement and social inclusion for citizens of our country. Citizenship and inclusion and the direction of government resources must correct inequalities and provide a fair go for the individual. I question this government’s commitment in this area after their recent cut of $6.8 million dollars from the multicultural program.

Whether we have come to hold our sacred Australian citizenship by birth or by choice we have been united by a common goal: to live as individuals within a peaceful democratic, culturally pluralist society free from the ugly, extreme elements of racism. On this side of the House we have set the national agenda in this place by displaying leadership in tolerance and inclusion. And we have done that in spades over the years.

I now call on individuals outside of this place to echo the People of Australia policy and reflect its attitudes. Collective and individual responsibility is the crux of what is required here. No policy document and no amount of rhetoric can replace the actions and words of individuals in our society. I want positive stories to be told of settlement and citizenship in Australia; I want these stories to be told in homes around our nation. These ought to be positive stories of the hopes, dreams and aspirations of individual citizens who are advancing Australia in a multicultural, inclusive society.