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Thursday, 17 October 1996
Page: 4469

Senator CONROY(7.29 p.m.) —I rise to add my voice to those who have publicly repudiated the views of the member for Oxley (Ms Hanson) as expressed in her inaugural speech. It saddens me that this is necessary. It is a national disgrace that Ms Hanson's views have been allowed to remain virtually unchallenged, especially by the Prime Minister (Mr Howard).

I agree and endorse that free speech is one of the most important principles that a democracy is built upon, but free speech requires vigilance so that ignorant and intolerant comment is challenged. Ms Hanson's speech and her subsequent public comments represent some of the most ignorant contributions to public debate in many years. She states:

. . . we are in danger of being swamped by Asians. Between 1984 and 1995, 40 per cent of all migrants coming into this country were of Asian origin. They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate.

Senator Jacinta Collins —Who said that?

Senator CONROY —Pauline Hanson. I almost do not know where to start. Ms Hanson uses the figure of 40 per cent over 11 years to imply that Australia, a country of over 17 million people, is in danger of being swamped. The average immigration intake over that period from 1984-85 to 1994-95 was 102,188 per financial year. That makes a total of approximately 1,226,000 for the period. Of these, according to Ms Hanson, 40 per cent were of Asian origin. This equates to less than 2.9 per cent of the total population. Ms Hanson's views are paranoid and deceitful. I guess the old line `lies, damn lies and statistics' is appropriate in this case. There is no danger of being swamped as she claims.

Ms Hanson then moves on to assert that they, the Asians, have their own culture, form ghettos and do not assimilate. These remarks echo statements from racists in the past who claimed the same of Italian, Greek, Macedonian, Lebanese and Turkish immigrants. What has history shown us? Let it be the judge of the racists of the 1950s and 1960s. Australia is a much richer country in every way for the contribution of the southern European migrants of the 1950s and 1960s.

I live in Melbourne, which I consider to be the centre of multiculturalism in Australia. I shudder to think what life would be like without the rich diversity provided by these migrants in community activity, the arts, business, medicine, culture and, of course, that great Victorian religion, Australian Rules Football. My life would not be the same if I had not been able to stand in the outer at Victoria Park cheering the skills of that Macedonian marvel Peter Daicos and the skills of Saverio Rocca. By mentioning the footy, I do not want senators to think for a moment that I wish to trivialise this issue. Pauline Hanson challenges the greatest tradition of this country—a fair go.

In Victoria earlier this year we had a state election. The Labor Party did not fare well, but in the seat of Clayton, Mr Hong Lim, the first Cambodian born MP, was elected; in the west of Melbourne, Mr Sang Nguyen, Australia's first Vietnamese born MP, was elected. I proudly declare that both of these people are close personal friends who have enriched my life, broadened my horizons and, most importantly, are excellent contributors on behalf of their constituents. It saddens me greatly that if Pauline Hanson had her way neither of these people would have been allowed into Australia. Australia would have been much the poorer for this.

I live in what Ms Hanson would have you believe is a ghetto—the municipality of Footscray. I have been an elected councillor for this area and I was privileged to serve on council with my friend Ms Mai Ho—Australia's first female Vietnamese councillor. I challenge Ms Hanson, who makes such a play of her simple origins, to come to the Footscray Mall on a Saturday morning and to actually view the harmony in our Footscray community. Yes, we have poverty; yes, we have illness, drugs and all of the other social problems that afflict other communities in Australia. But the quiet determination of the overwhelming number of people in Footscray is to build a better life for themselves and their children.

Forty-eight per cent of our municipality are from non-English speaking backgrounds. They have come to Australia with nothing but hope, and now they must endure the racism and bigotry of people such as Ms Hanson. I have witnessed first hand the effect of ignorance that Ms Hanson is now the martyr for if you read today's paper. The hate, the hurt and the tears are caused by people who will be encouraged by her views; people who feel free to vilify Australians on the street because they look different.

As I mentioned earlier, Ms Mai Ho was one of my colleagues on the Footscray Council. In fact, she was the Deputy Mayor of Footscray when Jeff Kennett abolished local governments in Victoria. But I am willing to predict that she will be re-elected to the new council next year, and one day she will be Australia's first female Vietnamese mayor.

The Asian community do have their own distinct culture and religion and I have participated in many of their cultural and religious events. Their community events, despite the ignorant views of Ms Hanson and her ilk, are a blend of Asian and Australian activities. The Tet Festival is an excellent example of this. Many members on the opposite side have been to the Tet Festival held in Footscray Park every year and I congratulate them on that. It is a brilliant display of dragon dance, music, fairground rides, sporting activities and stalls of diverse nature. This festival is a joyous occasion shared by people of all backgrounds in Footscray and from throughout Melbourne. It is not the cause of a Bosnia-style situation as her alarmist claims would have you believe.

I would now like to turn to the role of the Prime Minister, particularly in light of the campaign slogan used by the coalition in the last election, `For all of us'. It now seems that `us' does not include Australians who have an Asian background. John Howard should know better than anyone that he was elected as Prime Minister to lead all Australians. He craves to be a statesman; history will not remember him so. Yes, free speech is vital but by going missing in action in response to Ms Hanson he shames himself and he shames Australia by his silence.

Imagine if a Malaysian MP stood up and called Australians `Asia's white trash'. Australian newspapers would be in a frenzy. We would all demand that the Prime Minister of Malaysia publicly repudiate these views. Australia's Prime Minister has failed this critical test. As Pauline Hanson's views are reported unchallenged in our region, Australia is diminished. Australians of Asian origin deserve the Prime Minister's public support.

But Australia will not just suffer embarrassment. Already the Queensland grain growers have stated that they are suffering as a consequence. This is the tip of the iceberg.

Senator Panizza —Do they grow grain in Queensland?

Senator CONROY —I think so. Australia has been abandoned by Europe economically. We must make our own way, establish new allies and new friends; reach out to those around us. It is the Prime Minister's responsibility to advance the country's interests, not his own party's cheap political ends. The Prime Minister now has the chance to support a resolution on these issues, but this will not be enough. He must not hide behind free speech. He must join in the debate.