House debates

Wednesday, 15 August 2018



7:50 pm

Photo of Richard MarlesRichard Marles (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight I stand in total opposition to the appalling speech made yesterday by Senator Fraser Anning. In my first speech to this parliament, I spoke about what made the Australian character so wonderful: a sense of egalitarianism, of mateship. But I also said our history bore witness to an innate fear which had also characterised our nation and how that fear had led to shameful policies such as the White Australia policy.

There is a trend in global politics today which asks people to give voice to those fears and to make them the guiding light when exercising a vote. Yesterday was an ugly local expression of this brand of politics. There is nothing noble or enlightened or sophisticated about bigotry. It is the product of small-minded, inward-looking, fearful thinking. Bigotry will not help build our country or solve the many real problems facing Australians who are struggling with wage stagnation. Indeed, it will do the opposite. Bigotry hurts the very many Australians who are the victims of it, like Muslim Australians, such as the member for Chifley or the Victorian Minister for Sport, Minister for Veterans' Affairs and Minister for Tourism and Major Events, who are every bit as Australian as Senator Anning and who are making an incredible contribution to our nation.

Bigotry stands in the way of a prosperous Australia. Our nation has one-quarter of its population born beyond its borders. Australia is more invested in the idea of multiculturalism than almost any other place on earth. There is no better expression of the centrality of this story and its importance to our future than the wonderful celebration of multiculturalism that is the Pako Festa, which occurs each February in Pakington Street, Geelong West. Bigotry and the White Australia policy are the polar opposite of this story. They speak to an outdated idea of a much narrower vision of Australia which never really existed. But it is also a vision of Australia which, if it were allowed to proliferate, would leave Australia isolated from our region and the world and would see the Australian people become impoverished. The extraordinary book Australia's Second Chance by George Megalogenis, which traces the economic history of Australia through the lens of migration, makes it clear that the White Australia policy was an economic disaster and that prosperity has always followed Australia pursuing a significant permanent migration intake.

From a humanitarian point of view, Senator Anning's words were repugnant, but it is also true to say that asking people to politically engage on the basis of fear is to ask them to politically engage on the basis of poverty. The politics of fear was given a particularly disgraceful voice last night, but it happened within a context. Everyone in this parliament knows how the politics of fear can be exploited. It worries me that senior figures on the conservative side of politics are calling for massive cuts in the permanent migration intake when this would be a disaster for jobs and economic growth. It worries me that the former Deputy Prime Minister has just written a book in which he repeatedly talks about the plight of the poor white regional fringe. Why does he need to qualify that idea by saying 'white'? And it worries me that government ministers spuriously talk about the violence of African gangs when the use of that term risks demonising a wonderful community and inciting hatred towards its members. These lesser acts all indulge in the politics of fear, and they need to stop. Today we saw a fantastic demonstration of bipartisan leadership within the parliament, but beyond today it is incumbent on the government to demonstrate leadership on multiculturalism which eschews bigotry and the politics of fear at every turn.

The use by Senator Anning of the phrase 'the final solution' will stand in infamy as one of the most shameful contributions ever made to this parliament, and his resolute failure to apologise for the use of the term is damning. The member for Kooyong rightly implored Senator Anning to visit a Holocaust museum to properly understand what the final solution was. If he had an ounce of character, he would do this and then decide whether he wished to continue to own these words. Tonight I resolutely stand in solidarity with Australia's Jewish community.

When I spoke in my first speech of the fear that has been a part of Australia's past, I made the point that it is time for Australia to face this fear and move beyond it. The fear experienced by the earliest European settlers belongs to another age. In a contemporary setting, fear will only hold our nation back. But the wonderful side of our character—mateship and a sense of togetherness—is at the heart of a successful multicultural Australia, and it can take us into the future. At our best, we do multiculturalism as well as anyone in the world and our multicultural society, in an increasingly globalised world, is the best hope for Australian prosperity and for Australia to take its place as a global beacon of a peaceful and civil society.