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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1661

Mr IRONS (8:35 PM) —I congratulate the previous speaker, the member for Banks, for his passionate speech. I know he is a passionate man with regard to this area, and it is good to see him in here quoting statistics about his electorate.

I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate and this issue before the House this evening on multiculturalism. I will probably speak about my electorate a bit too; most of my speech is focused on that. The 2006 census statistics show that 57 per cent of people in my electorate of Swan were born in Australia. Obviously the remaining 43 per cent were born overseas. This is an interesting statistic in itself but the picture becomes more interesting the further you drill down into the detail. About 8.1 per cent of the Swan electorate were born in the United Kingdom but no other ethnic group contributes more than 2.5 per cent to the total. What this means is that there is an incredible diversity of ethnic groups in my electorate, all living relatively peacefully alongside each other. It is an absolute privilege to be able to stand here today and represent all these people in the federal parliament.

When I attend citizenship ceremonies in my electorate of Swan it is clear that that people want to be in Australia and respect Australian values and laws. They actually swear an oath to do so. Some people wear their traditional dress as they take the oath of allegiance, while others are surrounded by their relatives and new Australian friends. I must admit that the African women are probably the most gregarious people at these ceremonies. The dress they wear is fantastic; it is very bright and colourful and you cannot miss them. I see many pieces of clothing that represent our national flag, and it encourages me to see people who are becoming citizens and having pride in their new country. None of these people will forget where they came from and all are loyal and grateful to Australia for allowing them to become citizens. I am sure all members of this parliament would tell similar stories of the citizenship ceremonies in their electorates.

My own foster parents, who migrated to Australia from South Africa back in 1959, were happy to embrace the Australian way of life, which was less conservative than the way of life they left in South Africa. I know from speaking to dad years later that he was impressed by the fact you could go to a pub at lunchtime and have a beer or a wine without it being frowned upon. In South Africa you were considered to be a drunk if you went to have a drink at lunchtime. I can hear the member for Herbert laughing over there. He obviously knows a bit about that! I grew up in a society that was welcoming citizens from Europe in droves, and those migrants who arrived during the sixties and seventies all faced the enormous challenges that current-day migrants face. There were cultural differences and there were language barriers, but they mucked in and worked hard and became an integral part of our communities.

In addition to citizenship ceremonies, I attend gatherings and functions of different ethnic groups in and outside my electorate. I have always felt welcome and have been treated with great respect. Our ethnic group leaders are to be commended for their efforts to integrate and educate the people they represent, and I feel proud to be able to represent the diversity of ethnic groups in the Swan electorate. However, whilst it is often said that Australia is a happy and peaceful multicultural society, debate seems to rage over whether we as a society should endorse multiculturalism as a goal or instead pursue integration. I get the sense from some of the other members in this place that there may be some racial problems in the eastern states. It is usually localised incidents that create and drive these debates, and it is important always to keep these matters in proportion.

I can understand some of the concern that arises when our TV shows report the teachings of radical preachers preaching intolerance. This concern and anxiety is highlighted by the media and it would be good to see some of the many positive stories about migration in our nation shown by the media. Where there is true racial intolerance, we must be quick to condemn, but we must also be quick to realise that these people account for such a small proportion of Australia’s immigrants. I also understand that Australia is a tolerant society, but in return we expect tolerance for the way we live our lives in Australia. But if is a case of applying common sense, unfortunately governments do not have the power to enforce that; it must come from the community.

But what we do have power over is our immigration policy. I would certainly always advocate a strict policy, balanced with the economic needs of our nation, so that the imbalances are not allowed to develop. And we should maintain our humanitarian involvement as well. I think most Australians would agree with that. Where there are problems, governments should act to address them. Intolerance should not be tolerated.

In conclusion, we live in an Australia which has welcomed different nationalities from all over the world. When I am out in the electorate speaking with different people from diverse backgrounds and nationalities, they sincerely tell me that all they really want is to have a happy and peaceful life. I am proud to be a Liberal member of a parliament that has brought many good things to immigration policy in Australia.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. BC Scott)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.