House debates

Tuesday, 21 August 2018


Parramatta Electorate: Immigration

7:30 pm

Photo of Julie OwensJulie Owens (Parramatta, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to tell two stories of belonging. I was at the station the other day with a friend of mine, Durga Owen—same last name, no relation—who's running for the state seat of Seven Hills. Durga is a Tamil woman and has that wonderful brown skin that I tried to get when I was young and instead got melanomas. She's a gorgeous woman. These two young Sudanese Australian boys walked past and then came back to talk to Durga. They said to her, 'We came back because we've never seen a dark-skinned woman on a poster in Australia.' For these two boys, this was the first time that they had seen those kinds of opportunities for themselves.

When the same-sex marriage debate was going on, I interviewed a lot of people in my office. I opened my doors for about two weeks. There was a Christian couple who, part way through our meeting, said with some despair in their voices: 'We are a white, heterosexual, Christian couple. Where is our place in the world if this bill goes through?' There was a couple who was afraid of losing their place in the world, compared to the two Sudanese boys who were looking for one—two stories of belonging.

In that fascinating human community with all our hopes and fears, unfortunately, we see the fear mongers—the people who seek to use fear and division for their own ends, people who see discomfort and uncertainty and fan it into fear to gain political power. In doing so, they damage both groups: those who are looking for a place in the world and those who are trying to hold onto it. Both groups deserve the respect and understanding of our community, and neither group should be exploited for political gain.

I want to share an email I received from a member of my community following the inflammatory speech by Senator Anning. It was addressed to me and my state counterpart. The gentleman, whose name I won't share with you, said:

I've rarely had the courage to say more than a few words to you in person but I'd like to say thank you for your contributions. I'm writing because I am getting worried about the rise of the extreme right parties in Australia. I am concerned about the increasing use of the nazi vocabulary. The casual racism that came from the mouths of people getting on the train at Clyde on the weekend, well dressed, implying that they had been enjoying the races … The Nazi-imitating groups plastering their stickers around Sydney. I hope the toxic press and the political point scoring that is happening around Victoria (as well from federal parliament) regarding people of African background does not show up here in Parramatta, when your respective elections come around.

He goes on to say that he is filled with dread about what may happen in Australia over the next five to 10 years.

Last week's hate-fuelled comments by Senator Anning in his first speech were reprehensible. I, like the majority of our federal parliamentarians, was appalled by what Senator Anning said. Australia has had a racially non-discriminatory immigration policy since 1973, to the benefit of us all. I add my voice to the recommitment to an immigration policy that does not discriminate due to race, faith or ethnic origin. We are a nation built on migration. At Federation, in 1901, one in four people was born overseas and it's around that now. As Bill Shorten said last week:

… the simple truth is this: we are a stronger, better country because of all those who've come across the seas and joined their story to ours.

People in my electorate have been raising this issue with me and raising their concerns that the fear politics of racial division, trussed up as law and order policy, will flow into our community in the lead-up to the next federal election. The corrosive debates about Sudanese gang related violence and misconstrued typecasting of Muslim members of our community—the debates that we have seen in Victoria—will spread to our community, and members of my electorate are genuinely concerned that real damage will be done.

We are better than this. Our community is successful because of its very nature—its vibrancy and its multicultural roots. In Parramatta, 99,444 people were born overseas. That's 53.4 per cent. Their country of birth may not have been Australia, but their country of choice is. We are Australians. We speak English, Arabic, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi, Korean or one of the many other languages of the world but we are one people. If we stick together, if we support each other, we will be stronger together. My community rocks.