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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1658

Ms VAMVAKINOU (8:20 PM) —I want to join the member for Brisbane in congratulating the member for Werriwa for bringing this motion to the House this evening. As the former Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, I know that the member for Werriwa has worked hard in that portfolio and played a very important role in providing the basis for the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council’s statement on cultural diversity and the recommendations to government.

The member for Werriwa’s strong commitment and understanding of this issue is reflected in this motion and I welcome the opportunity to speak on it. I would also like to take this opportunity to welcome the federal government’s formal response to the statements and recommendations provided by the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council to the government. The People of Australia’s 10 recommendations have all been supported or supported in-principle and I commend AMAC’s efforts and contribution to the government’s policy development on multiculturalism.

When we speak of the social and economic benefits of multiculturalism today, we speak about the enrichment of the community in the development of Australia’s language capacity, enrichment in the areas of business and commercial work, and enrichment of Australia’s productive capacity. Our patterns of migration and our multicultural policy have been embraced by a diverse and harmonious society that has formed the instrumental building blocks for the development of our social and economic capacity as a nation.

Who can ignore the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, where, in the post World War II era, 100,000 workers—two-thirds of whom came from thirty countries around the world—built one of the most complex water and electricity projects in the world. Towns were built around the project, and today this project is still the largest renewable energy generator in mainland Australia. It stands in its monumental capacity to generate a vast proportion of 67 per cent of our national electricity market. This is innovation; one of the largest and most complex hydro-electric schemes in the world, and it was built by Australia’s migrants. It is an icon of migration’s contribution to our economy. If the reactionary, small-minded approach of some were taken into account at that time, where would Australia’s productive capacity be from the lack of this project alone? This defining project stands tall as a symbol of Australia’s identity as an independent, multicultural, resourceful and innovative country.

Who can fail to mention the contribution of migrants to our manufacturing and industrial base? When we speak of independent entrepreneurship, who can go past Brunswick Street, Fitzroy Street, Sydney Road, Acland Street and Lygon Street—streets in my home town of Melbourne—areas renowned for their vibrancy and cosmopolitan nature, with a vast array of independent small businesses. For every John Ilhan, Ahmed Fahour and Frank Lowy, there are many thousands of migrants, unknown to us, who are a part of Australia’s success stories. Their small businesses have built and sustained the bedrock of our local and national economy.

As we move into more modern times we can benefit from the contribution of migrants to meet Australia’s skills deficit. As history has shown, migrants have driven innovation, and as such are building and continue to build our economy. They are not just doing the grunt work. As working Australians building the foundation of our national economy, they are also driving innovation to build and expand our social and economic outlook. In all our aspects of the Australian economy, our migration policy and the migrants who have made it successful have led the way. Ours is a society that is culturally diverse, linguistically diverse and ultimately Australian, and we must acknowledge and be proud of this.

It would be remiss of me not to point out the fact that often when we talk about multiculturalism, people think solely in terms of migrants who have come to this country. But if multiculturalism means anything it must also be about our Indigenous peoples. Finding a place for their cultural diversity, their linguistic diversity, and finding a place that recognises their rightfulness as this nation’s first people is paramount to our national dialogue. They are our asset, one of our greatest, and as our first people, as this nation’s Indigenous people, they are very much a part of our collective identity. Acknowledging their place in our society is very much an important part of what I understand multiculturalism to be. We want them to succeed in the same way migrants have succeeded in this country, a success which they all too often have been denied. We have succeeded in doing that symbolically here in this parliament; it is time now to close the gap.