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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 4755


Senator BOLKUS(1.38 p.m.) —I also rise to speak on the issue of race that has been discussed earlier today by Senator O'Brien and Senator O'Chee. I am moved to speak on it because I have always held the view—which was just reinforced for me by Senator O'Chee—that unless you really are a victim of racism, unless you experience it, then you do not really understand it fully. That is not to say that those who do not experience it do not understand it. But when you are the victim of it, you know the de meaning, corrosive, negative effect it can have on people.

What I would like to do today is put on record some of my thoughts about the current bushfire that is pervading our society, and also put it into some sort of context. As a young person—and, I must say, not just as a young person, but even in recent days—I was also the victim of racially inspired abuse. When you are told, `Go home, you wog,' and you are told that directly in the streets of Australia by people who do not know you but who make that assertion on the basis of what you look like, then you do not feel you are really wanted here as much you thought you were. You do not feel the security that you think you deserve to feel, having been born in this country.

One of my motivating factors for joining a political party—the Labor Party—was the issue of race. I was inspired by people like Whitlam and Dunstan in the late 1960s. Consistently through my time in politics I have had a very firm view about how we should treat those who are of different ethnic backgrounds, colour and political beliefs to ourselves. You cannot be a `former' minister for immigration. Because once you have been a minister for immigration the experiences that you have in that job stay with you for the rest of your life.

One of the experiences that stays with me from the three years that I was privileged to hold that portfolio is the enjoyment of the richness and the diversity of our society. Another experience that stays with me is that consistently wherever I travelled in the world as a representative of this country, I felt proud when religious, political and business leaders recognised the degree of tolerance and respect for diversity that Australia, under the multicultural banner, was recognised as achieving internationally

One of the other motivating factors that makes me get up this afternoon is that in recent weeks—in particular, the recent seven or eight weeks—I have had quite a number of calls from people in our community, from all parts of our community. Only a week ago, I was with some Chinese Australian friends—I was, in fact, experiencing some acupuncture— when one of them said to me that she had had problems with her 14-year-old son who had had a metal plate inserted in his eye. That kid needed a metal plate because he had been a victim of racial abuse in the schoolyard.

She kept discussing this and telling me about how the daughters of some of her friends have had their hair pulled and how they have been taunted on a racist basis at school. She said that that was bad enough, but the fact that the parents of the kids who did this did not even bother to ring and apologise for this unprovoked racist inspired action hurt her very much. Senator O'Chee, she was saying that, having lived here for quite a number of years, she did not feel the sense of security that she deserved.

They are not the only circumstances that make me get up this afternoon. Members of the Aboriginal community are ringing me. Some of my Asian Australian friends, people who have actually been born here and have made a great success of business life here are getting spat at in galleries, and so on, and being told to go home. This is not the way that Australia needs to go, nor is it the way that we should go.

One of the galling things about this is that these victims do not have their experiences paraded in our media in a way that, for instance, the person that lit the bushfire has her experiences paraded in our media. We do not see the end result of the bushfire that she has lit. We do not see the victims because, firstly, it is hard for people to come up and be brave enough to go on the media and say what they have experienced, and secondly the media is not accessible to them.

One young Aboriginal person wrote to Pauline Hanson and she floated the letter to some of us, as well. She said to Pauline Hanson:

If you think you're smart you should see what your show was like on 60 Minutes . If someone asked you what you think about the Irish or the Scottish coming to Australia, it would be a totally different thing. The reason is that they are white, and Asians and Aboriginal people are totally different because they are black and they are different to everyone else. And you are scared of what is different—

I am not going to use this girl's name, but she continues—

I am a 10 year old Aborigine and I totally disagree with you. You are nothing but a racist woman who is dull minded. I'm ten and I know what xenophobic means. You need to go back to school and learn the wonderful and sad history of the Aboriginal people. The white people actually took the land from the Aboriginal people who had done nothing. We have a lot more right than you to own and walk the footsteps of our ancestors and our culture. If I were you I would shut your mouth and start learning that you are wrong and have no right to say or do what you do.

My mother is single, and I will tell you that I was not a mistake and other single parents would not call their children mistakes either. You should be so ashamed of what you have said and smarten your act up about foreigners—

she goes on to explain how she is part of a very successful family of Aboriginals. She finishes by saying—

I have a lot more to say but I don't want to waste my time on a woman like you.

These are the kids who are suffering and about whom we should be concerned. We should have a greater assumption of responsibility to them to ensure that what is happening is, in many ways, discounted, quarantined and put back in the box in which it belongs.

Pauline Hanson is of the advance Australia backwards school. Her comments are unfounded, they are ignorant, they are illiterate. It is a position of prejudice, of ignorance, of fear. She has lit a bushfire and it is bushfire which is contrary to our national interest. It is not our destiny, and never has been, to be a monocultural nation that Pauline Hanson dreams of our being. It is not in our national interest. We are judged as a nation on what we stand for, how we respect each other and how tolerant we are of each other.

The diversity of our society is an asset; it is probably our biggest asset. The extent is enormous. We need to foster this diversity and not destroy it. We have been acknowledged as a successful multicultural society internationally. We all benefit from the diversity, from our diets to our economic and social outlooks. Those prospects have been enhanced by the diversity here.

We need to recognise that. We need to embrace it and we need to ensure that we work it to our advantage. In that respect, how we are seen by the rest of the world is important. We need to treat the Aboriginals in our society in a non-racist way and a tolerant way. Race is a commodity in the global community which cannot be underestimated. How we handle the issue of race is not just important to the way that we develop as a society within Australia but it is important to our global image. Unless we get it right, we are going to suffer. And, unfortunately, I think the message is that we are starting to suffer.

I might be a lone voice in this—I do not think so—but let us not undervalue the importance of immigration to this society. We are a nation of migrants. Not many of us would be here if it was not for planned and unplanned migration programs. If we look at the history of Australia this century, we will find that whenever there has been a depression or a recession, conservative governments, particularly, have responded by bringing in people to stimulate growth and, through growth, to generate employment. If we look at the regions of Australia over recent years, where there has been population growth, we will find economic growth and less unemployment. That is a factor that should not be ignored. I come from South Australia where we have an aging population. We would like to have more population to ensure a critical base there and to ensure a market.

Let us look also at the communities that have come in through our migration program. Not one of them can be seen to be a burden on the overall Australian society. They have all very quickly made contributions, not the least being the Vietnamese community which, in very quick time, coming from refugee origins, has reached the top of the class in respect of retention rates at schools, employment records and low levels of criminal records.

Whether it is the previous waves of migration—the Irish, the English, the Greeks, the Italians—or the more recent Vietnamese, Cambodians, Lebanese, Turks, and we go on to 221 different ethnic communities, all of them have made and continue to make contributions at home and they also contribute by the fact that they build bridges to the rest of the world.

In the past, we have had the Hansons and the Campbells and others in our society and their views have been jumped on. It is unfortunate that—I say it is unfortunate and I will not go any harder—John Howard has not done in this particular case what we used to do in the past. I just cannot for the life of me understand why he hasn't, why he didn't, and why he won't just say the magic words that would put an end to this debilitating discussion in our society.

Alan Ramsey this morning in a very clear and accurate article canvasses why the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) is wrong. He goes on to say that the defence he has is a miserable one. I do not want to read it into the Hansard but I think Ramsey, in his article in the Sydney Morning Herald, has tackled this issue very clearly and succinctly. He asks why the Prime Minister quite deliberately and quite stubbornly has refused, for the better part of two months, to repudiate the bigotry of a speech as offensive as Hanson's.

I would like to go to the issue of freedom of speech. Sally Morgan wrote an article that I read about three weeks ago in one of the weekend magazine supplements. She said that by not responding to Hanson, the Prime Minister has not just given her permission to speak; he has also given her authority and status from which to speak. That is the particular point that really needs to be understood by the Prime Minister.

It is not an end to political correctness that we are talking about here; we have debated immigration across the country in the past. An organisation like the Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research had the job of stimulating debate but, unfortunately, that body copped the axe in the recent budget.

I would like to finish on the call for a fair go. We have always stood for a fair go for ideas, culture, diversity, each other, blacks and migrants. My son just a few weeks ago said to me, `You know, we didn't have this problem six months ago. We've created a problem we don't really need at the moment.' He is one of those who is experiencing—not as a victim—what many of his school friends are experiencing.

My call is to the business community. The religious community is starting to come out. The opposition, of course, is taking a role, and it is good to see members of the government also taking a role. But the one community that benefited consistently from migration—and always used to come to me in my consultations on the migration program—was the business community, always wanting more. It would be really good if they got into the debate now and stressed to the Australian public, from their position of status in our society, the positives that we have achieved and the positives that we continue to achieve, if we work together constructively to overcome the Hansons, the voices of prejudice, ignorance, hatred and fear and build on that enormous diversity we have here, for our social and economic future.

Senator O'Chee, I was going to ring you a couple of weeks ago when I heard you on ABC radio. I accept that you also have close contacts with migrant groups in our community in the diversity of our society. It is important that we hear more and more the voices of those people in this debate. We understand what they are experiencing, but we also understand the value that they are contributing to our society.