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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 4751


Senator O'CHEE(1.10 p.m.) —Today I rise to speak on behalf of people who cannot speak for themselves. I am rising to speak for another generation of Australians who are being asked to pay a price that some of us have already paid. I am rising to speak on behalf of the young school students who are ethnic Asian, but farther in heart from Asia and far closer in heart to Australia than anyone can possibly imagine. I am speaking in this place because it is about time that those young Aussies, the flower of the next generation, received the respect that they deserve in the schools which they attend.

In the other place, an honourable member has said that we should halt Asian immigration. There have been claims that Asians are responsible for tuberculosis, that Asians are responsible for crime, and that Asians are responsible for the forthcoming civil war. As every honourable senator knows, each one of those claims was outrageously false and outrageously ill informed. I want to deal with each of those claims briefly.

Last century, it was believed that Asians were responsible for leprosy. That was false, just as it is false to say that Asians are responsible for tuberculosis. The facts are that no ethnic group is more susceptible genetically to tuberculosis than is any other ethnic group. Tuberculosis is a consequence of one's environment. Asians coming to this country cannot be responsible for the introduction of tuberculosis, because every person seeking permanent residency in this country has to undergo a health check before they get their residency. Of course, there are those who say, `Oh well, it is the Asian tourists who bring tuberculosis.' If that is true—and it is hardly likely, because it tends to be the people who have the best diet and the best health in Asia who come down here—and we are to close our borders to these people, then it also follows that we must close our borders and stop Australians going overseas, lest an Australian get tuberculosis overseas and bring it back here. So Asians are not responsible for our health crisis.

Asians are not responsible for our crime rate. In fact, to the extent that the Bureau of Criminology keeps statistics of crime rates of different ethnic groups in this country, the ethnic Asian community has one of the lowest crime rates in Australia. You only have to go and sit in the criminal courts of any city in this country to see that that is a fact. There are very few ethnic Asian defendants in court cases, because there are very few ethnic Asian criminals. So that is also an outrageous and ill-informed comment.

Then, of course, there is the suggestion that the Asian community in this country is going to cause a civil war. Why would we want to cause a civil war? This is our country; it is our precious homeland in which we were born, in which we were nurtured, and in which we strive to live in freedom and in peace. We have no interest in civil war, we have no interest in strife, and we have no interest in division. Our interest is in peace and equality and freedom.

That brings me to the claim that freedom of speech is paramount. Freedom of speech is important. It was one of the things for which our Anzacs fought and died. It was one of the finest, most wondrous gifts which we inherited from the Westminster system. But freedom of speech counts for nothing unless the citizens of a nation enjoy freedom from fear, freedom from violence and freedom from persecution. Together, freedom of speech, freedom from fear, freedom from violence and freedom from persecution are the four great freedoms on which this nation was built. But none is more important than the others, and those who exercise freedom of speech must ensure, just as those who exercise the freedom to drive a car must ensure, that their freedom does not come at the expense of the freedom of others to live safe from fear or persecution or violence. Every freedom in this country is a freedom that must be exercised cautiously and lovingly, if that freedom is to have value.

If she truly believes in a united Australia, in one Australia, one people and one flag, it is about time that the honourable member for Oxley, Mrs Hanson, called on her supporters to cease the intimidation and the violence against young Australians of ethnic Asian background. Unless she does so, she gives lie to her claim that she is interested in one Australia. Unless she does so, she divides this country. Unless she says that racial persecution must stop, nobody in this country can have any faith that her comments about building one country are anything other than mere rhetoric.

I want to talk about those precious young Australians who are the victims of the consequences of her actions. In hundreds of schools around this country young Australians watched the clock in fear as the minute-hand ticked closer to lunchtime. They knew that once they left the safety of their classroom and entered the playground, they would become the whipping boys and the whipping girls of the fear and paranoia that Mrs Hanson has whipped up in this country.

Why do I say that? I say it because I know it. Twenty-five years ago I was one of those children. I do not speak about it often in this place. In fact, I have never spoken about that to this day, but it is true. I understand how Mrs Hanson can feel discriminated against when she sees people getting special treatment on the basis of the colour of their skin, and to a certain extent it is discriminatory. But that is nothing in comparison to the real discrimination and fear that these wonderful young people feel as the clock comes round to lunchtime.

I really believe that this country is far finer than the vision of hate and division which has been created in the last couple of months. This nation is about upholding the fundamental truths which attract people from the four corners of the world. As the people come to us from the four corners of the world, I propose a four-square deal for all Australians because there are four truths that underpin everything in Australian society. They are as follows. Freedom—freedom of speech, freedom from fear, freedom from persecution and freedom from violence. A fair go—equality of opportunity regardless of circumstance, regardless of the colour of your skin, regardless of the wealth or poverty of your parents. Mateship—loving one's countrymen, respecting them and treating them as you would want to be treated yourself. And reward for effort—looking after those who seek to look after themselves.

Those are the four great truths upon which this nation was built. They marked the upward passage of our society and turned us from a convict settlement into one of the greatest nations on the face of the earth. They encouraged young Australian men and women to spread these truths to other countries and to other people less fortunate than ourselves. They are the four great truths which we should seek to uphold in this place. Protecting the weak, the needy and the vulnerable are a consequence of the four great truths.

If this nation is to have any meaning, if this society is to have any value, we must ensure for all of our citizens the four-square deal which I outline here today. But, most importantly, unless you have lived with fear, unless you have felt it well up in your throat, unless you have come scarred and battered from the battlefield of the intolerant mind, freedom of speech, which is won with little effort and paid for with no sacrifice, is freedom of speech in rhetoric only. It is really freedom to be intolerant. I believe the finest thing we can offer is a tolerant Australia.

I say to Mrs Hanson that, if she believes in the Australian spirit, if she believes in one Australia, she should publicly call on those who support her to end the hatred. If she does not, it is not being cruel to be kind, it is being cruel to be cruel. At the end of the day, despite our differences across this chamber, we are here because we love what Australia can be. Do not turn it into something which it should not be or once was and should be for ever regretted. But lift high our hopes, our aspirations and our vision to make one Australia mean one people who live free from fear and free from persecution. I thank the Senate.