House debates

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Matters of Public Importance


3:30 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable member for Scullin proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The failure of the Government to stand up for Multicultural Australia.

I call upon those honourable members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

3:31 pm

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Cities and Urban Infrastructure) Share this | | Hansard source

'All of us know how to hate, but not all of us know what it's like to be hated.' With these words the former Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, opens his book On hate. This is a call for empathy, and it's also an urgent call to action, because more and more Australians are being subjected to the hate that is racism. We, in particular those of us who have the privilege to serve in this place—more so, those who serve in Australia's government—need to think more about the effect of our actions on others.

Australians are rightly proud of our multicultural society, but we can't take it for granted. On this side of the House we most certainly do not. It is under threat, in particular from the insidious force that is racism. While the work undertaken by the Scanlon Foundation shows us that this year 85 per cent of Australians believe that multiculturalism has been good for Australia, this survey also identified some worrying trends. People's sense of belonging in Australia is in decline, and more people have been reporting discrimination based on their skin colour, ethnic origin or religion. This has more than doubled in the decade from 2007 to 2017.

The truth is that racism is on the rise in Australia. In particular, we are seeing a rise in race based violence. Recently, we have seen some shocking incidents of anti-Semitism, in particular the display of Nazi flags in Victoria and also in northern Tasmania. We have seen shocking and repeated incidents of Islamophobia, including this summer, with the dreadful, unprovoked attack on a heavily pregnant Muslim woman by a stranger in Parramatta.

I'm afraid to say that we are witnessing a creeping normalisation of hate. One attack on an Australian because of who they are, how they worship or how they look is one too many. I'm sure we all agree on this, but there is so much more to be done by those who have the power to make a difference. Let me be clear: the vast majority of Australians abhor racism, but we need national leadership, setting the standard and leading by example. This has been sadly missing in this place.

In relation to the coronavirus, I note the bipartisanship that's characterised our public health response. I note that we saw a wide range of responses from government ministers highlighting aspects of this disease and our response, in particular going to the risks to our economy, but I heard nothing about its impact on multicultural communities. Our response and bipartisanship here should extend to tackling the racism that Chinese Australians and Asian Australians more generally are being subjected to.

When I've been out and about I've heard awful stories of racism and exclusion at what is a terribly difficult time, with businesses closing and people losing hours in their jobs as well as worrying about friends and family overseas. Last night, Chin Tan, the current Race Discrimination Commissioner, said there had been a spike in race related reports and complaints to the Human Rights Commission.

There's another way to deal with this, to show leadership. In New Zealand, the response to coronavirus shows us the path. 'Coronavirus is not an excuse to be racist and xenophobic' was the clear message of their Give Nothing to Racism campaign. It's a message we should heed here.

By way of contrast, this week the position of the assistant minister for multicultural affairs has been described as untenable by a range of multicultural groups, following a social media post. We remember that that minister, the member for La Trobe, has form on using inflammatory language about African gangs to feamonger and divide, but he has said nothing to correct the record here and neither has the Prime Minister stepped in to stand up for Australians who are feeling pressure and feeling anxiety. It is yet another failure of leadership. We also heard the disrespectful remarks to our Hindu community made the Treasurer in this place. We on this side of the House know two things about the member for Kooyong. We know that he has a sense of self-confidence that is almost inversely proportionate to his achievements in this place, but we also know that he is a decent man with a consistent record in standing against race. That's why his comments were so disappointing. Meantime, Labor has been listening, and we have been acting, too. We have been calling for a new national antiracism campaign to be funded. The Federation Of Ethnic Communities' Council of Australia has strongly supported this call, as have other multicultural representative groups. On 13 February I wrote to the acting minister, seeking his support for such a campaign. As of today he hasn't bothered to reply.

None of this takes place in a vacuum, of course. We see that tomorrow Stirling Hinchliffe, the Queensland Minister for Multicultural Affairs, has convened a ministerial council on multicultural affairs, the first in nearly a decade. The federal government won't be participating. Back in October, I wrote to the minister and asked if he would—

An opposition member: Why not?

'Why not?' I'm asked. I wrote and suggested that the minister should attend. I haven't received a response, six months on. That shows this government's priorities when it comes to standing up for multicultural Australia. The Queensland government and other states, including Liberal states, are leading the way, but this government is blind to the insidious forces that are undermining our multiculturalism. We note under this government the successive machinery of government changes that have devalued multiculturalism within national government. We note the cuts to settlement services. Anyone who's read the Shergold report sees what a damning indictment it is of this government's approach to everything that's about supporting new migrants and supporting new and emerging communities—indeed, even on Liberal terms, on encouraging economic participation and entrepreneurship, which have been such a feature of first- and second-generation migrations.

There is also a failure to take on those who seek to undermine our multiculturalism. I think of the speeches given by former Prime Minister Abbott and former Foreign Minister Downer last year, speeches given overseas that talked down Australia. They were speeches that should have been held to account by the Prime Minister or a minister in this government, yet these attacks on multicultural communities were left to stand. Of course, the Abbott government proposed changes to the Race Discrimination Act to weaken protections against hate speech, and the then Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, said, 'Everyone's got the right to be a bigot.' He should have listened to the words written by Tim Soutphommasane. He should reflect on that contribution. More recently, this parliament was disgraced by the vile speech of former Queensland senator Anning, who called for a 'final solution' to what he described as Australia's immigration problem. This was followed by coalition senators voting for Senator Hanson's infamous 'It's okay to be white' motion in the Senate.

It's now been more than seven years since Prime Minister Julia Gillard funded the 'Racism. It Stops With Us' campaign. This campaign helped raise awareness of racism in the community and galvanised action across Australia. Across Australia today people and organisations are doing good things to reduce and prevent racism, particularly following the high-profile Adam Goodes documentaries, which highlighted the continuing racism directed against our First People. But all of us in this parliament, and especially those in government, those who hold the responsibility for these issues, must demonstrate the leadership that these times require.

The ASIO director-general has said that far Right and neo-Nazi groups are emerging as one of Australia's most challenging security threats. The latest report from the Global Terrorism Index says there has been a 320 per cent increase in far Right terror in the past five years, and of course we approach the anniversary of the Christchurch massacre, that awful day when an Australian killed 51 people at worship. We saw news out of New Zealand overnight that police in Christchurch have the home of a man they believe could be linked to a threat in one of the mosques involved in last year's terror attack. The Australian parliament then came together in sorrow and respect. On that day, the Prime Minister did speak for us all. He said:

At the heart of all extremism … is the inability to tolerate difference, a hatred of difference, and a hatred about the choices of others. We must strive to see the 'us' in our national life and to celebrate it …

He was right. He's still right. But we must do more. These fine words have been belied by action and by inaction.

We can't forget the horror of that day. We must not. We must do more to foster respect, to build solidarity. In the Prime Minister's terms, to see the us, not reinforce a sense of us and them, which is so present right now and which is undermining all that is good about our multicultural society, is modern Australia's greatest achievement. One year on, we must ask ourselves: have we learned all the lessons of this tragedy, this awful massacre? Have we done all that we can do to stand up for our multiculturalism, to understand what it's like to be hated, to demonstrate a zero-tolerance approach to the corrosive poison that is racism? I fear that we haven't. Today, I call on the Morrison government and every member of it to stand up for multiculturalism and to stand up for every Australian.

3:40 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

The government does indeed join with the opposition in standing up to racism and the targeting of people by race in our country and acknowledging that we do in fact live in the greatest multicultural society on earth. We have welcomed more people from more places to Australia and integrated them seamlessly into a culture based on fairness and freedom.

While the member for Scullin has raised this matter of public importance today with a negative tone, in many cases about the government's performance but also about the state of our society, I take a different tone in relation to multiculturalism in Australia. I think the cohesion of our society is as strong as ever. I think that the integration of people from around the world is going better than ever. I think almost all Australians, with the support of our state and federal governments, believe more than ever in the integration of people from around the world into our society—probably stronger than they ever had in modern Australian terms.

The government overwhelmingly recognises that migrants have made the most substantial contribution to this country. Think about how in the last census 49 per cent were either been born overseas or have a parent born overseas. It's probably 50 per cent by now; it's probably over half. It's all of us. It's probably most of us here in this chamber right now. Most people listening have probably had a parent or been born overseas.

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Not most of this chamber; let's be frank!

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, myself. When the member opposite likes to cite her diversity as something better than other people's diversity, she ignores reality. When you say it's not you and not others—

Dr Aly interjecting

Ms Kearney interjecting

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would ask that this debate be conducted in a civil manner by all sides. This is obviously a very serious matter and—

Dr Aly interjecting

After further consideration, I ask the minister to withdraw.

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

If I've offended you, I withdraw, but your tone and the words that you take in this House—

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister will make his comments through the chair, not directly to other members.

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | | Hansard source

Certainly. The member for Cowan should reflect that people have come from all parts of the world to Australia over many years and, just because you're a migrant from one country, that doesn't make you better than another. The tone that you take when you enter that debate—as if, somehow, just because you've arrived more recently or you have more chips on your shoulder, you're better than others—is exactly the essence of what has happened in this debate from the member for Scullin.

The reason I raise this is because there's nobody in this chamber who doesn't resist Nazism. The idea that somehow we have one or two idiots out there who want to fly a Nazi flag represents a lack of cohesion in our society is absolutely false, and I reject it. Almost every Australian rejects Nazism and the premise of Nazism. In fact, my own grandfather was a resistance fighter in Greece against Nazis. I hate Nazis. As you said, we have the capacity for hate; yes, we do.

We do hate evil and we do hate Nazis and we do hate people who engage in those terrible ideologies. But we shouldn't seek to divide people because we have people who sometimes make statements that we disagree with. That is not a question of threatening our entire cohesion. In fact, almost every Australian agrees on these things. If you bring a matter for public debate into this House and say that the government is failing on something as essential as multiculturalism, you are ignoring reality. Australian governments of all persuasions have been committed to this kind of social cohesion for a long time. We know the modern Labor Party seeks to try to create a wedge or division on these issues from time to time.

The member for Scullin quotes the Scanlon report. I will quote the Scanlon report. Let's quote the facts in the Scanlon report. The facts are the facts: 90 per cent of respondents in the Scanlon report expressed a sense of belonging—90 per cent. Eighty-five per cent of respondents agreed that multiculturalism has been good for Australia. These are historically high figures. All governments are committed to them increasing further. All governments are committed to integration of people from all over the planet into the great Australian values of freedom, fairness and the Australian life that we have.

When you bring a matter like this to the House and attempt to say that somehow we lack social cohesion or we are facing an unprecedented—the argument that we are facing an unprecedented threat from racists is not correct. Of course there are people who engage in this behaviour in our society today. Our agencies, rightly, raise that they will take those threats, whether they are from the right or whether they are from the left, just as seriously. Extremists from either end of the spectrum threaten our cohesion. But they are very small and they are very narrow, and they ignore the fundamental story of this country's great success.

This is a government that believes in our country's success—where we have been, where we are now and where we are going in the future. We have one of the most comprehensive yet one of the most disciplined immigration programs on the planet—acknowledged even by President Trump in his first State of the Union address. It was acknowledged by the United Kingdom, who have attempted to remodel their immigration program on our own. It is looked at by countries in Europe as the envy of the world, because we do bring people here. We do have a system that identifies people who want to come here and makes sure they fit in with Australian values and brings them here and integrates them seamlessly into our society, our land of opportunity.

The reality of modern Australia is that we bring people from all over the world who want to come here and contribute. I say to the members opposite: never forget that's the prime reason people come here—for the opportunity to have a go and, certainly, to do the great things that they have done since the great waves of migration that we've seen. How does that translate, mostly? That translates, mostly, into that great Australian identity of opening up your own small business—mostly a family small business. That's what most migrants do when they come to Australia.

Opposition members interjecting

I hear groans opposite, but I say to those members opposite: there are more migrants employed in family and small business than you would imagine. Eighty-three per cent of those business owners start their first business venture after moving to Australia. They employ more than 1.4 million people. This is the golden scene of Australia. People come here for that opportunity. It doesn't matter what part of Sydney you go to, which community you talk about or whether it's recent migrations or migrations from years ago—you can go into your corner shop, your market garden or any small business across Sydney and find people from different parts of the world working in small and family business.

While the Labor Party continues to reject this, while they continue to not understand that that's one of the most important things that migrants come here for—those opportunities to work hard and take care of their families, and the importance of the family unit to migration—they have a fundamental lack of understanding of what happens in migration and what makes cohesion.

Opposition members interjecting

Yes, I know you don't understand. I really do. And I think it's not understood in terms of your policies. If you say that the Australian government's failing in multiculturalism, if you don't understand that most people who come in migration waves work in their own businesses and start up their own businesses and take an opportunity, then your policies reflect that. The Australian government's policies are geared towards promoting small business and an environment for people to open and start their own small business. Why? Because we know when you enter here and you've got nothing and you've come from a place which is in a very difficult part of the world, one of the greatest features of this country is that you can create your own business. You can start up your own enterprise. You can make something of yourself for your family, so that your kids can then get that university degree and get that qualification. That is the real story of migration. For those opposite to ignore it in policy is a real failure. The government will never fail our migrants, because we understand they come here for those opportunities—to unlock opportunity for them, their children and grandchildren.

That's why Australia is one of the greatest places in the world. People used to say it was America, but more people come here and share more wealth than in any other society on earth. We have a more even and fair society than any other in the world today. More people share more wealth here than in any other society. We have more opportunity here, and long may it remain the case.

The government's got a suite of policies that understand all this. We understand enterprise, opportunity and, of course, the need to access education for children. While the members opposite want to sit there and lament about the negative features of life—there will always be negative features of life—it's the role of governments and leadership to promote the right policies that enable opportunity and people to get ahead in life. It's up to the authorities to deal with those extreme elements that take the wrong tack in life.

But we shouldn't be pessimistic about what a great country this is, filled with great people with great hope and opportunity, who have come from all corners of the world and made something of themselves for them and their family. Australia is overwhelmingly a great success story. It's a great place, and it's evidenced by the fact that more people want to come here than any other country on Earth today. We're a country of choice. So, please, let's not be negative. Let's be positive about our country, let's be positive about our future, let's be positive about the great integration story Australia represents. (Time expired)

3:51 pm

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I must say that feeble contribution by the last speaker merely proves the point of this MPI. But rather than respond directly to that, I'm going to do what Michelle Obama does when they go low. My family, on 9 June 2019, celebrated 50 years in Australia, and the Australia that they came to was a very different Australia to the Australia that we have today. It was an Australia that had just opened its borders to non-western European immigration and an Australia that was awakening to the diversity of our world. It wasn't actually until the early eighties that my family stopped being called aliens—and not the aliens that built the pyramids, but a different kind of aliens.

I grew up in a family that wasn't very political. We hardly talked about politics; it wasn't something that we spoke of over dinner. We weren't members of any political party, and we didn't get involved in elections—none of that. But we always knew, my family always knew, and my parents always said that a Labor government was the kind of government that would look after us. It was a Whitlam government that removed the final vestiges of the white Australia policy, which meant that we were no longer aliens. It was the Whitlam government that introduced a policy of multiculturalism to Australia that gave us SBS and language services and spoke to us about the importance of cultural and language retention—institutions that have lasted for decades and that Australia is very proud of.

It was the Hawke and Keating governments that made education available for my parents and for their children. It increased funding for schools, it gave us universal health care and Medicare and dental insurance and legal aid and rights at work. It was the Gillard and Rudd governments that gave us the NDIS, the NBN, the apology and Work Choices. Successive Labor governments gave my family aspiration, as they did to many of the other families of people here in this House and out there listening to us now. They afforded us the opportunity for social mobility.

I remember as a young kid my mum and dad always saying to the three of us, my brother and sister and I: 'We came to this country for you. We gave up everything for you.' Back then I thought it was cringe-worthy, and as teenagers we would rebel and we say, 'We never asked you to.' But now I understand the meaning of those words, now I understand what my parents gave up to come to this country and now I understand what this country, through successive Labor governments and through Labor policies, gave back to my family and enabled my family to do. It is through those policies that afforded my family's social mobility that the daughter of a bus driver from a town called Mansoura can stand here in this place today. Let me say, Labor continues to be the party for a modern multicultural Australia—and you don't need any more proof than the previous member's contribution to this debate.

We're not just for those who came here 50 years ago, 40 years ago or 20 years ago but for their children and their children's children—second- and third-generation migrants. We're for my children, who don't speak Arabic, don't listen to Arabic music—but, when we're having guests, I cook an Arabic meal every time. And we're for their children, who likely won't speak Arabic and who likely will be half Egyptian and half something else in origin. What more describes a modern, multicultural Australia than the intercultural, interfaith children we see today, who are products of an Australia where multiculturalism is such a centrepiece of our identity and who we are?

Labor will continue to be the party for multiculturalism. Labor will continue to be the party that stands up for a multicultural Australia and that delivers policies that enable social mobility for so many people who are making their way here right now or who have made their way here last week, last month, last year or five years ago for a better life for themselves and for a better life for their children. Labor, and the policies that Labor has put in in the past and the policies that a Labor government would bring in the future, is the party for those people, for the modern, multicultural nation that we are. (Time expired)

3:56 pm

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I've been here for six or seven years. In politics, you get used to the opposition—and maybe it's the nature of opposition—in that they'll draw a long bow on different topics to make a point. One that springs to mind is that, even if you're increasing spending on something, they'll say things like you're cutting spending on it, to make a political point. They'll exaggerate different things. I have to say, I am actually really disappointed in the member for Scullin for bringing this MPI to parliament today. I don't think I've ever seen such a grubby suggestion. If you read this MPI, he is saying:

The failure of the Government to stand up for Multicultural Australia

What he is, in default, saying is that we're not standing up for a multicultural society.

I think that this country—and it has been said before—is the most successful multicultural society in the world. That hasn't happened by mistake. We don't have a proud history in this. Neither side of politics has a proud history in this. Pre-World War II, if you look at both the major sides of politics, they both stood by the White Australia policy. I think we would all look back now and say that our predecessors in this sphere were far from perfect. But what we have had since World War II—and I haven't heard anything in this chamber in the six years I've been in here like this—and what I've always heard in this chamber for the last six years is bipartisan support on this issue. We have sat here and asked how we can be better. What have we done well, what are both sides of politics supporting—

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Cowan and the member for Mitchell will desist with their argument across the table.

Photo of Kevin HoganKevin Hogan (Page, National Party, Assistant Minister to the Deputy Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I may have missed it, but in six years I have never heard racism or multiculturalism framed in as partisan a way as it has been today. It has been worded to wedge our success and the fact that since World War II both sides of politics have been working for the same outcome. I think we have succeeded in great ways, in the fact that we are such a successful multicultural society.

The way this is worded by the member for Scullin—I have a personal like for the member for Scullin, which is why this matter of public importance surprises me. What this says is a personal insult to people on this side of politics. To say that they are a member of a government that is not standing up for multicultural society is an insult, including an insult to the member for Chisholm, who's going to be up next. It's a personal insult to her to say that she is not, as a first-generation Australia, standing up for multicultural society. Again, it's very disappointing.

Even the member for Cowan—Member for Cowan, what a wonderful story you tell. What a wonderful story you tell in the context of your family. I acknowledge you, I acknowledge your family and I acknowledge your wonderful story. But I too could, in a partisan way, stand here and go through the initiatives of the Menzies government, Harold Holt's government and every Liberal or National government since World War II that have made us a successful multicultural society. I acknowledge all the points you made about Whitlam and I acknowledge the points you made about Hawke and Keating—great initiatives. It's a shame that you can't see that on this side of politics, because both sides of politics have made this happen. Multiculturalism has been a very bipartisan issue for many, many decades.

Again, I understand that we need to have robust debate on certain things and that we do disagree on things. I haven't seen it on the issue of national security because the major parties have tended to agree on that; in the defence of our nation and for the safety of our citizens, we tend to agree mostly on that. But this is another issue that I have never seen debated in this manner in this parliament in seven years. While we might disagree at the edges or say, 'We can do a bit here or do a bit there,' it has always been in a bipartisan manner. The member for Scullin's matter of public importance today is grubby and should stand as that.

Photo of Llew O'BrienLlew O'Brien (Wide Bay, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I call the next member, I'm just going to state that members need to direct their remarks through the chair. This is quite an emotional and emotive type of subject matter. So please direct your remarks through the chair. Let's debate this like we are the Australian parliament.

4:01 pm

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The simple truth is that, other than First Nations people, in this country we are all either immigrants or descendants of immigrants. There is no greater story in Australia than our pattern of immigration. The more immigrants I get to talk to, the more I know they have come here for the same two reasons. It is always for a better life for themselves and for a better life for their families. Australia's development has been based on that. But the criticism I make of the government is that I think they have taken multiculturalism for granted. Sure, they'll be at the Tet festival , the Moon Festival, the Chinese New Year and every other event there is out there. But can I put this from a personal perspective.

I have the honour to represent one of the most multicultural communities in the whole of Australia. People in my community come from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Turkey, I have many Uighurs from China, and many Chinese as well; and, more recently, people coming from Iraq and the Middle East. We are, quite frankly, a successful example of multiculturalism and of how people can live together and work together in harmony. But the point I want to make is that this doesn't just happen by chance. We have a strong, successful multicultural community because we work at it. You cannot take this for granted.

I've heard what other speakers have said in terms of the attacks on the mosque in Christchurch and, similarly, the Muslim woman who was attacked in Parramatta. I employ two Muslims on staff, one who wears the hijab, and they have reported to me how they've also been singled out. They don't decry the fact that their religion or anything else distinguishes them. They are also very, very pleased that they work and live in a multicultural environment. Now, we can all go and find problems in it, but the thing is that you've got to work to make it happen.

More recently, we have had many, many migrants come in as refugees from the Middle East. As a matter of fact, we supported Tony Abbott's plan to take 12,000 immigrants from Syria under the Special Humanitarian Program intake. Of those 12,000, as the minister is aware, 7,000 came to my area of Fairfield—7,000. My area is not hostile to refugees or hostile to immigrants, but we do expect a fair go. I would like to think that, because we accept the majority of refugees coming to this country under a special humanitarian intake, we would get some form of special weighting when it comes to allocating the finances to resource their settlement. Settlement is so critically important. It's not just getting a kid to school or getting someone into a house; it's inculcating becoming part of community.

As a matter of fact, the police spoke to me about this. They said that one of the things we have in common, not that I necessarily follow it, is soccer, and their suggestion, particularly for the Middle Eastern enclave coming here, was that maybe we should get more kids from there into playing soccer, because they are passionate about it. They thought that, by doing that, their families would get involved in getting kids to training and taking kids to matches and they would become part of the community—they would have something in common. That's why I got really upset when I saw the San Souci soccer club getting $50,000 awarded to it for a building that was already not only built but also officially open in San Souci—which is hardly the multicultural capital of New South Wales—when we didn't get anything for any of our local clubs that are doing things with kids from multicultural backgrounds.

If we want to get serious about settlement, it doesn't mean just pushing pieces of paper around; it means getting people focused on becoming—and being allowed to become—full members of our community. And it's not just about jobs and housing; it's also about providing kids with the opportunity to advance. This is something that the government have seriously missed in the way they went about the allocation of money, particularly with the sports rorts. We can do those things better. We have an obligation to do those things better in a country that we can proudly say is the most multicultural country in the world. And no greater successful multicultural example of that is my electorate of Fowler.

4:06 pm

Photo of Katie AllenKatie Allen (Higgins, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to resoundingly reject the premise that the member for Scullin has put to this parliament in this matter of public importance that there is a failure of the government to stand up for multicultural Australia. I find it quite shocking, actually, because, when I speak to members from the other side when we are at community events or citizenship events, we are all in it together. It is amazing how people are very happy to stand with us on a stage and hold hands and fly flags—and we're all in it together—but then we come to this chamber and it just disappears. I really can't understand it. I do realise that the opposition find it difficult to find gaps in what we on this side of the chamber are doing, but I cannot understand why they would choose this particular topic.

We have heard from the other side how successive Labor governments have done things for multicultural Australia. And I too can talk about a long list of things that our side has done for multicultural Australia. In fact, I am incredibly proud that the very first member for Higgins, Harold Holt, who was also Prime Minister, was actually the architect of dismantling the White Australia policy. There are many things that we on this side of the House can list. But we in fact believe that there should be a bipartisan approach to multiculturalism. We believe that it is very important that we all stand for all Australians. It is wonderful to hear some members on that side who actually agree and understand that premise. In fact, as the member for Scullin actually said, the Prime Minister articulated that it's important that we see Australia as 'us' and that we are not divided in that.

As a paediatrician who has worked in the community for a long time, for many years—I hate to admit how long, because it suggests how old I am—I know that it is always important to see everyone based on their merit and to understand that everyone is equal and that we're all in this together and that we should all be supporting each other. But I do need to point out that, unfortunately, at the last election, there were migrants within my community who said to me that they didn't believe in the policies of Labor. So we're talking here about a policy concept that was not helpful to those who've come to this country for a better life.

A man from a Greek background said to me—just like one of the previous speakers said—that, in the past, they felt that Labor was there for their family because they believed when they came to this country that Labor would give them a good start to life. But they said to me that, at this last election, the policies that Labor was presenting to the election would actually work against their ability to get a go and get ahead. They said, 'We have a long line of Greek migrants who have come to this country to have a better life, and all of us are going to vote for the coalition at the 2019 election.' They said this is because the Labor government believes in a housing tax, a retiree tax, a tax on trusts, a tax for those who work hard and want to get ahead. They said, 'The reason we came to this country was for a better life for ourselves, for our families, and we weren't going to see that with the policies that were on offer by those on the other side.' And they did believe—and I believe that they believe for the right reasons—that our way of governing is to help those who want to help themselves.

As I go about my business in the community in Higgins, I'm always delighted to be involved in so many different multicultural events. I go to every single citizenship ceremony that I can possibly attend when I'm not here in parliament. That includes four different councils. The citizenship ceremonies are one of the most wonderful things you can do as a local member. At citizenship ceremonies I always start by welcoming everyone who is here and celebrating those who have had the long journey to get here to Australia. I can see in the gallery people from various backgrounds who I'm hoping are supportive of a multicultural, diverse and tolerant Australia, but I always say to them, 'Please, we welcome the cultures, the faith, the families, the values that you bring to our country, because we think Australia is a better country for the richness, for the diversity, for the tolerance that you bring with you when you come to our country.' I think Australia is without doubt, having lived and worked overseas in many different country, the best country in the world with regard to multiculturalism, to religious diversity and to acceptance of the diverse and varied nature of humanity. (Time expired)

4:11 pm

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Multiculturalism isn't just a quaint term for trendy lefties or woke inner-city hipsters. It's a term that describes the reality of modern-day Australia. We are a country with an ancient Indigenous inheritance and a contemporary multicultural society built on waves of migrants who have come here and continue to come here as part of our nation-building enterprise. We can't just, therefore, pay lip service to multiculturalism, because it's about real people, and real people have needs and aspirations. We can't get away with telling or multicultural communities how great we think they are and how much we value their contribution each time we visit their festivals and then come up here and fail to do anything meaningful beyond that.

If we're a successful, cohesive democracy today, it's because previous governments have shown leadership on multicultural policy. They have shown leadership and enacted reform in policy areas around social inclusion, tackling racism and aiding the integration process through the appropriate settlement policies and equal access to citizenship. It hasn't always been the case, however, in recent times. The coalition government in the last seven years had adopted policies that have failed multicultural Australia, especially around citizenship and immigration policies that have created divisions in the community, making people feel alienated, excluded and not welcomed.

The Scanlon Foundation in their 2019 survey indicated to us all that 85 per cent of Australians agree with the proposition that multiculturalism has been good for Australia. Why then can't this government and this Prime Minister adopt and champion what the people of Australia are saying? As a community we've had to step up to fill the void created by lack of government leadership. But it's not enough. Australia needs the leadership of this government to protect the social cohesion of our community.

All you have to do is ask my local community. I know too well the pressure my local Muslim community has been under in the last 18 years—the racist abuse and the taunts they have suffered, their loyalty to Australia questioned. Young Muslim Australians have said to me that they feel as though they have grown up—and indeed they have—in the shadow of Islamic terrorism and they have been stigmatised by it almost for life.

In the last parliament the Joint Standing Committee on Migration conducted an inquiry into migrant settlement outcomes. The government chair chose to try and make the inquiry about African gangs instead, specifically targeting the Sudanese community. The Labor members on this committee issued a dissenting report because we were more concerned about examining the settlement needs of young people and how we can best shape them to assist young people from emerging communities find their way and develop a sense of belonging instead of being marginalised and stigmatised.

In my electorate, I have the largest settlement of refugees from Iraq and Syria, so it's imperative for our settlement services to be directly relevant to their needs. In fact, I've spoken many times in this place about the problems that they are facing in relation to their settlement experience.

Despite what it says, this government has failed in this very critical policy area, time and time again, by responding with programs that just don't work and that are a significant cost to the Australian taxpayer. The Shergold report itself highlights the concerning failure of important programs, such as the Adult Migrant English Program, and jobactive services in supporting social and economic participation. I've got countless examples in my electorate of the effect of this failure.

A highly trained Iraqi facial-reconstruction surgeon who resides in my electorate was sent by jobactive providers to stack shelves in Coles—in the fridge section—much to his dismay. This is just one example. In a room with 500 Iraqi and Syrian constituents, I asked if any one of them had been placed in a job to put up their hand. Not one person put their hand up. If this doesn't concern us I don't know what will. They continue to tell me that the demands of the Adult Migrant English Program are always clashing with the demands of jobactive to attend interviews and to basically get themselves ticked off for jobs that they will never, ever get. There is no flexibility.

The new business model introduced by the government in 2017 for the Adult Migrant English Program was found by the Scanlon Foundation— (Time expired)

4:16 pm

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to thank the member for Scullin and the rest of the Australian Labor Party for their sudden interest in multicultural Australia. I honestly do welcome their input, but I do find the timing of their interest curious. Not too long ago, after an election loss, the ALP released a review into their electoral fortunes. Headings like 'Engagement with voters from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds' are used to discuss how they can win more votes. Let me put it plainly for the opposition: multicultural communities are more than voting blocs; they are unique communities with their own ambitions, worries and backgrounds. My message to the ALP is simple: treat these communities like people, not like votes.

I'm fortunate to represent the division of Chisholm, which is home to many different multicultural communities. I love spending time with community leaders and their organisations, and putting in the work listening to their needs. This local, on-the-ground, face-to-face work is what is needed to stand up for multicultural Australia. The ALP can grandstand and move all the motions they like on this issue, but until they do the work they simply won't get it.

Migrant communities have added so much to Australia. In times of need, like the recent bushfires, these communities stood side by side with other Australians. Buddhist monks gave massages to exhausted volunteers; Sikhs delivered food, water and other essentials; the Ukrainian community raised over $60,000 for the Red Cross; the Islamic Museum in Victoria donated 10 per cent of their ticket stubs to the CFA—and the list goes on and on. It is these communities that Labor ignores and, even worse, attacks, and I'll tell you how. When our multicultural communities are going through a tough time, as many Chinese Australians are now, what do the Australian Labor Party do? They waste time on political stunts and talking about issues that are only important to the Canberra bubble.

These communities are worried about their businesses or going out and having a meal, and Labor simply doesn't care. The Morrison government stands up for multicultural Australia every day in this House. When the Morrison government extends the instant asset write-off, it is the small mum-and-dad businesses run by immigrant couples that benefit. Our local Chinese restaurants can now buy the new equipment they need. When the coalition government overseas the creation of 1.5 million jobs, it makes it easier for an immigrant to find their first entry-level job. When the Morrison government provides tax relief, it is the hardworking multicultural Australians who benefit. We are reducing tax on small businesses to 25 per cent, and this is standing up for multicultural Australia. What does Labor want to do instead? They want to tax these communities into the ground. One-third of small businesses in Australia are the owned by migrants. When Labor attacks small business, they attack our multicultural migrant communities.

The Australian Labor Party, as we all know, are in lockstep with the union movement. The Australian union movement isn't renowned for their welcoming attitudes to migrant communities. If Labor wants to start standing up for multicultural Australia, they can start by standing up against the union movement, something we all know they are incapable of doing. Labor has some great advocates for multiculturalism, like Senator Tony Sheldon from New South Wales. Prior to entering parliament, he warned companies not to Asian-ise their workforces. His comments were so good that Labor made him a senator. Labor will hide their true feelings about multiculturalism in the Senate and grandstand in this House. It is the Morrison government standing up for— (Time expired)

4:22 pm

Photo of Josh BurnsJosh Burns (Macnamara, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

In the late eighties it was John Howard who suggested in this place that Australia should reduce Asian immigration, and the Prime Minister at that time was a man by the name of Bob Hawke. Bob immediately went on the attack, because in Bob's Australia racism was called out each and every single time it reared its ugly head. Before Bob went on the attack, he was advised by one of his political advisors who said: 'Maybe the Australian public is actually with Mr Howard. Maybe the Australian majority is actually with Mr Howard, and we should think about whether or not we support Mr Howard's suggestion that we should restrict Asian immigration.' Bob said: 'Then tell me what I need to say to correct the record and to make them believe that we shouldn't do this. Tell me what I need to say to turn the Australian people around.' That was Bob Hawke's Australia. That's the Australia that I was proud to be brought up in, and the minister for multicultural affairs couldn't clean the shoes of Bob Hawke, with his latest attitude and the way in which he's handled multicultural affairs.

Bob Hawke would never, in this environment and in this time, put a Facebook post up saying that disgusting Asian markets are somehow to blame for the current predicament we're in, and, 'When will they learn?!' 'When will they learn?!' says the minister for multicultural affairs. 'When will they learn?!' says the man who is meant to protecting the multicultural fabric of our nature. Bob Hawke wouldn't have done that. Bob Hawke would've called it out and said, 'In this time it is our responsibility to lead; it is not our responsibility to divide Australians.' But that is what this minister for multicultural affairs does. In an MPI, he couldn't even do the decent thing and turn up to talk about why his portfolio is important and about what he's doing to protect the multicultural fabric of our country.

Instead, the minister for multicultural affairs ran a whole campaign about African gangs. I know it because we fought it in the last Victorian election. He took sides with the Victorian leader Matthew Guy to run a law-and-order campaign, not about crime and crime statistics, but about demonising minorities in Victoria. That's what the history of the minister for multicultural affairs shows. That's what is continuing now with his divisive Facebook posts.

Unfortunately, it's not just the minister for multicultural affairs who has a record in this place on that side. During the previous parliament, while I wasn't a member in this place, I watched it carefully. The record of those opposite was not something to be proud of. When Fraser Anning gave his 'final solution' speech on immigration, he wasn't greeted with boos and denied by those opposite. Each and every Liberal and National senator shook that man's hand and said, 'Congratulations.' Congratulations for his filthy speech! I understand that perhaps they then went on to say, 'It was a mistake to vote with Pauline Hanson's "It's okay to be white" motion,' but what a mistake that was. What a mistake it was to not have the absolute automatic instinct to say: 'Under no circumstances would we put our name to a motion that says "It's okay to be white". Under no circumstances would we even comprehend that we may vote for something like that.' What a mistake that was!

Of course, it continues. Only last week, almost a year since the Christchurch massacre, the director-general of ASIO got up and made a speech that I think was an important speech in this nation. He called out and said that we face the rising threat of far-Right extremism in this country. Instead of acknowledging that threat, instead of standing by the director-general of ASIO, what did the Minister for Home Affairs do? He said, 'Well, there's right-wing extremism, but then there's also Islamic extremism, which is left-wing extremism.' Senator Fierravanti-Wells said it offends conservatives. Damn right, it should! It should offend conservatives because in this nation we have a growing tide of anti-Semitism and of Islamaphobia, and they need to call it out.

It is times like this in this country when we need a multicultural affairs minister who is not here to demonise African gangs, who is not here to pick on defenceless young man who need support. We need a multicultural affairs minister who, like Bob Hawke, calls it out at every single term. We need a multicultural affairs minister who doesn't put up Facebook pages ready to divide the nation. We need a multicultural affairs minister who acts like one.

4:27 pm

Photo of Tony PasinTony Pasin (Barker, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As the son of proud Italian migrants, amongst my first words in this place was an opportunity to quote a migrant himself, Nick Cater. Nick Cater in his publication The Lucky Culture talks about deliverance. He said, 'Migrants come to the country not for deliverance but to deliver.' What I get really upset about in this place is the propensity for those opposite to think they have a monopoly on two things. One is compassion. They're the party of compassion, as if they have some sort of lock hold on that. The other thing is that they're the party of multicultural Australia. Rubbish! I'm not saying it's rubbish; the people of Australia said it was rubbish at the last election. Don't take me as an authority on this. It speaks to why we are having this MPI today.

Many multicultural communities drifted to the coalition last year, forcing Labor to rethink its multicultural policies. That's what's happening here. Labor has established, under the leadership of the member for Cowan, a new Labor caucus committee focused on rebooting their efforts in multicultural Australia. As someone who comes from multicultural Australia, whose parents don't speak English that well and who has lived in a community that doesn't have English as a second language, can I tell you: we're Australian, we want to be treated as Australians and we know what is important. Our aspirations are important, and we don't want to be lectured about what it is to be Australian by those opposite. We don't want to be told that the only great prime minister for multicultural Australia was Bob Hawke. I remind those opposite that I think he would hang his head in shame with respect to the current membership of the Australian Labor Party.

I'm not the only one who has come to this view. George Lekakis AO, who is the former chair of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, was scathing in his attack on federal Labor's absence of a multicultural policy at the last election. I think his comments are very pertinent. He said:

Federal Labor lost its way with multicultural policy …

… … …

Photo opportunities with electorally important communities prior to elections are the order of the day …

A leader in the multicultural community in Australia is saying: 'Look, you've lost your way. Photo opportunities with multiculturally significant communities seems to be what you're about.'

We're not about that. We are about the aspirations of everyday, ordinary Australians: parents, people, citizens like my parents, who come to this country to deliver, not for deliverance. I could spend time talking about the grants that we've provided under the $71 million social cohesion package, the Fostering Integration Grants, which saw in my electorate a multicultural soccer festival and artworks at the community migrant resource centre. Can I say to those opposite: don't go hunting for votes in multicultural Australia. Work with them. Don't go fishing.