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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1659

Mrs MARKUS (8:25 PM) —I rise to respond to the motion moved by the member for Werriwa and to take this opportunity to inform the parliament and the Australian community of the remarkable record of the coalition in relation to services and support for Australia’s migrant community. The coalition has always supported a non-discriminatory migration and refugee policy. From our start as a coalition in 1949 under the leadership of Sir Robert Menzies we took the first step towards a non-discriminatory immigration policy when the immigration minister at the time, Harold Holt, allowed 800 non-European refugees to remain in Australia and Japanese war brides to enter Australia.

Since 1945 approximately 6.5 million migrants, including over 700,000 refugees and humanitarian applicants, have migrated to Australia. The diversity and size of Australia’s migrant population has made a significant contribution to shaping modern Australia, and the coalition has consistently supported diversity.

Our population of approximately 22.27 million people, identifies with around 250 diverse ethnicities, and around 200 other languages are spoken. In the 2006 census, 45 percent of the resident population were people born overseas or people who had a parent born overseas—my husband and my two children included. Over the 17 years of a Robert Menzies led coalition government, we continued to break down the walls of discrimination. In 1957 the coalition changed the residency requirement, and in 1958 introduced a revised migration act, which, amongst other things, abolished the controversial dictation test and removed forever any references to race. In 1966 the coalition recognised that migrants offered much more than an economic benefit to the nation, and we were the first to expand non-European migration, ease restrictions on temporary residents and establish a new visa category that no longer looked at race, religion or creed but looked at the applicant’s qualifications and suitability to settle, with skills that would benefit Australia. In 1973, Labor was elected and, while there was much talk, migration was reduced during their term. It was not until a coalition government was re-elected that migration numbers and sustained funding for services were increased.

The coalition took the lead on migration policy and continues to review and renew its approach to emerging needs and future trends. Under coalition prime ministers we introduced: the Humanitarian Settlement Services; the Settlement Grants Program; the Adult Migrant English Program; the Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors Program; financial support for the National Translators Accreditation Authority; migrant resource centres, a much-needed service across multicultural communities; a national action plan to build on social cohesion, harmony and security; and representative organisations to promote community harmony and the benefits of diversity. We established the first Minister for Multicultural Affairs and supported the establishment of representative groups. Our policies endorse the principles of civic duty, cultural respect, social equity and productive diversity as the foundation for nation building in the unique Australian historical, democratic, and cultural narrative.

The services we introduced and the principles that underpin them have contributed to community harmony and social cohesion. It has been coalition’s policies that have empowered our migrant and refugee communities, and served the nation’s best interest. And we will challenge the government if there are cuts to effective policies or programs that go against the best interest of all Australians. The coalition has consistently and judiciously developed policies that support our many and diverse migrant communities and which reinforce the benefits diversity brings.

Earlier speakers have talked about racism. My own children have experienced that. As a nation, as a community, as peoples across this nation we say ‘no’ to racism. Tonight is an opportunity for all of us to agree that together we can build a unified, cohesive nation. We should be talking about what unites us, a common set of principles, the value and contribution of each individual and the richness of diversity in all its vibrant culture that makes up the fabric of this nation. We should be, we would be and we will be a stronger, better and more cohesive nation for doing that.