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Thursday, 25 May 1989
Page: 2649


Senator BUTTON (Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce)(10.10) —I move:

That the Senate-

(a) acknowledges the important contribution which immigration has made to the economic, social and cultural development of Australia;

(b) recognises that bipartisan support for the dismantlement of the White Australia Policy and the adoption of a non-discriminatory immigration policy have been to the overwhelming national and international benefit of Australia;

(c) welcomes the support now expressed by the newly-elected Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) on 9 May 1989 for a non-discriminatory and bipartisan immigration policy; and

(d) reaffirms its unambiguous and unqualified commitment to the principle that, whatever criteria are applied by Australian Governments in exercising their sovereign right to determine the composition of the immigration intake, race or ethnic origin shall never, explicitly or implicitly, be among them.

The Government welcomes the stand taken by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) in regard to Australia's immigration policy. The announcement of a return to a bipartisan immigration policy has, I believe, also been welcomed by all sectors of the Australian community. Indeed, in discussions which have taken place between the Opposition and the Government surrounding the motion I have moved, the Opposition has indicated that it intends to move an amendment to the motion. That amendment is unexceptionable to the Government, and we wholeheartedly support the principles in it. I must say that we would have preferred the nine principles which I think Senator Alston intends to move as an amendment to be attached to our motion by way of an addendum.


Senator Robert Ray —It is by way of an amendment unfortunately-rather than an addendum.


Senator BUTTON —Yes, that is what I say. We would have preferred it to be way of addendum and not by way of amendment. In those circumstances we prefer to remain with the motion which has been moved by the Government. Nonetheless, as I said a minute ago, the return to a bipartisan approach implicit in the statements by the Leader of the Opposition and in the discussions which have taken place is welcomed by us and, we believe, by all sections of the Australian community.


Senator Hill —It is still a political ploy.


Senator BUTTON —It is inevitable that the Opposition will conclude that with the brilliance which one gets in interjections from Senator Hill--


Senator Hill —We all read that letter from Mr Hawke. I have never seen anything so hypocritical in all my life.


Senator BUTTON —Senator Hill often interjects, `This is political', which I always find surprising in this place.

Opposition senators interjecting-


Senator BUTTON —I would not be too fussed about this. It is not an issue which--


Senator Boswell —I think Senator Button is terribly embarrassed about having to do this.


The PRESIDENT —Order! There are too many interjections.


Senator BUTTON —Unless the Opposition wants to change the nature of this debate, I would have thought it would save its interjections for when the Opposition had a bit of heat put on it, but it is not. Senator Boswell, of course, lowers the tone of the debate by saying, `I thought you would have been ashamed'.


Senator Boswell —I said you were embarrassed.


Senator BUTTON —I think he ought to be embarrassed by his Leader who, of course, was the principal contributor to this whole issue. Is Senator Boswell repudiating that? I do not want to go over the detail of the ground we went over last August but there are a number of points which deserve some reiteration. Firstly, I simply make the point that a number of governments of different political persuasion held a bipartisan approach to immigration for over two decades, until the Howard-led Opposition decided last year to break with that tradition. The promised return to bipartisanship by Mr Peacock is reflected in the return to the Opposition front bench of two members of the Opposition, the honourable member for Dundas, Mr Ruddock, now the shadow Minister for immigration and ethnic affairs, and the current honourable member for Goldstein, Mr Macphee, now the shadow Minister for foreign affairs-two important shadow ministries which bear very directly on this question, as Senator Hill readily acknowledges.


Senator Hill —This higher plane the Government is taking-it is turning into a political farce.


Senator BUTTON —I think it is very important that those things be acknowledged. Throughout the debate over the last nine months Messrs Ruddock and Macphee have stood by the convictions that they expressed in their commitment to a non-discriminatory immigration policy. That commitment was never more tested than when they-as did Senator Peter Baume in this place-crossed the floor last August to reaffirm that race should play no part in immigration policy. Mr Macphee, Mr Michael MacKellar, Mr Ruddock and others have been quite vocal on this issue. If there was ever any cause for confusion about the stance of the Australian Parliament on these issues it emanated from that very noisy disagreement within the Liberal Party and the coalition over that period.

Clear bipartisan commitment to a bipartisan immigration policy, along with that of the Leader of the Opposition, marks a return to the great tradition established by previous Liberal leaders and government of all political persuasions until last year. It was this bipartisanship that gave the necessary support to the Holt Government in initiating the dismantling of the so-called white Australia policy. It was this bipartisan support that contributed to the overwhelming national and international benefit of Australia. At the risk of being chastised for quoting oneself, I remind the Senate of what I said when we debated a similar motion in August last year. I said that leaders such as Holt, Gorton, McMahon and Fraser:

. . . were concerned about where this country's real interests lay. They pursued an immigration policy which took that into account. It was a triumph of reason over prejudice, of statesmanship over politics.

With this motion before us today and the amendment moved by Senator Alston-we will not support it; we would have supported it had it been moved as a addendum-we have the opportunity to put aside the deep divisions of the last nine months and to rid ourselves of that debate. Lest anybody be in any doubt about the importance of it, it was often denied in this place that anyone who travelled in South East Asia and places such as Hong Kong, southern China and Thailand during the last few months would have been fully aware of the dangers in that non-bipartisan approach in this country. It was a matter of profound concern in those countries, to their communities at large and also, particularly, to the business communities in those countries.

As the Senate knows, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) wrote to the Leader of the Opposition foreshadowing today's motion and invited him to take this opportunity to put aside the debate of the past. I regret that only today we received the amendment to be moved by Senator Alston in response to that letter. The Government invites and encourages honourable senators to support this motion and re-embrace unqualified bipartisanship on Australia's immigration policy once and for all. Responding in a sense to Senator Boswell's interjection about embarrassment about this issue, there are still views on public record which are unrepudiated. For example, on 9 August last year Senator Boswell's leader in this place, Senator Stone, said:

Asian immigration has to be slowed. It is no good dancing around the bushes.

He was asked whether he stood by those comments on 11 September last year. He said:

I've never retracted these words. I would never be likely to do so.

But the will of the Opposition in this matter was expressed in a collective way through the Leader of the Opposition a few days ago.


Senator Teague —It certainly was.


Senator BUTTON —I am glad for that reassurance. The motion I have moved represents an unambiguous and unequivocal commitment to a non-discriminatory immigration policy. It is a clear statement to Australia and to the world that the white Australia policy is dead and buried, as we believed it was. It is a clear indication to Australia and to the world that Australian governments will not include explicitly or implicitly race or ethnic origin in their immigration selection criteria. It is about acknowledging the multicultural character of the Australian society, and the importance of policies which provide the basis for social cohesion in a culturally diverse society.

I do not wish to be anecdotal in the course of this debate, but there is an 83-year-old pensioner who lives in my street in Melbourne. When the change in leadership took place I was amazed by what he said in a discussion with me in the street. He said to me, `I think John Howard's problems started when he talked about the immigration debate'. This old man, who has lived in that suburb all his life, said, `You can't talk that way now. It used to be common talk when I was a young man, but you can't talk like that any more. Australia belongs to the people who live in it'. I thought that was a very succinct view on this issue from somebody who has been around for a long time. It was a very enlightened view from a man of that age. That is what this motion is about. It is an opportunity for all senators to endorse a principle and a philosophy that expresses most powerfully the core of Australian values, namely, that equality can never be compromised by race, colour, belief or, least of all, country of origin. It is a unique opportunity for the Opposition, which it has accepted, and us to invite all Australians to acknowledge the significant contribution that immigrants from all parts of the world can make, have made and will continue to make to Australia. Although we may differ on the details of immigration policy, I urge, in moving this motion, that never again should we part company on the fundamental principle of racial equality in this Parliament in terms of what this Parliament stands for-the whole of the Australian community. I commend the motion to the Senate.