House debates

Monday, 15 June 2020

Private Members' Business

Chinese Australians

11:01 am

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

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises:

(a) the significant contribution made by Chinese-Australians to Australia;

(b) that all people in Australia, regardless of their ethnicity, cultural or religious background, deserve to be respected in our society;

(c) that Australia is the most successful multicultural society in the world and that Australia is strengthened by our diversity; and

(d) the important role our multicultural communities have played in stopping the spread of the coronavirus;

(2) notes that the COVID-19 crisis has seen a number of appalling racist attacks on Chinese-Australians;

(3) condemns these shocking racist attacks; and

(4) supports promoting a zero tolerance approach to racism in Australia.

Australia is the world's most successful multicultural society and the vast majority of Australians abhor racism, but this cannot mean ignoring it when it happens. On the contrary, those of us who believe in our multiculturalism must be prepared to fight for it and show unequivocal leadership in standing up for our diversity, including through a zero-tolerance approach to racism. Right now, this is of particular importance, especially for the Chinese-Australian community. This crisis, the coronavirus pandemic, has affected everyone, but some have had to shoulder additional burdens—additional, unwarranted and unacceptable burdens: racist taunts, vilification and even physical assaults. Rejecting racism is everyone's business and it has to be a bipartisan concern. While there may be differences in how we work to achieve this objective, let us make clear in this place today that we share it and that our parliament is committed to tackling racism. I am pleased to move a bipartisan motion today supporting the Chinese-Australian community. I thank the member for Reid for agreeing to second this motion. I look forward to her contribution.

I acknowledge, too, Minister Tudge and the dialogue that we have enjoyed in bringing this motion before the chamber, in putting before the parliament a clear statement expressing our shared solidarity and our shared resolve: our solidarity with members of the community who feel threatened and singled out because of who they are or how they appear; our resolve to secure a society in which everyone is afforded respect and everyone is able to fully contribute, absent discrimination—a society where our diversity is not only celebrated but harnessed. Racism threatens this and it undermines our social cohesion. It's important that we recognise the extraordinary contribution of Chinese Australians to our nation, including through the pandemic, where community leaders have come together. It was the Chinese-Australian community that first felt the waves of this coronavirus crisis. They felt it affecting their communities before it affected the wider community. The leadership that they have shown is something that I am deeply appreciative of, and I'm sure all members who represent Chinese-Australian communities would share that sentiment.

The motion before the chamber makes clear that racism has increased during the course of the pandemic. We have to acknowledge this and the reports of the Human Rights Commission, Commissioner Tan, to this effect, amongst others, including civil society organisations, which have shown such leadership in holding unity and prioritising social cohesion through this challenge. We have to recognise too not just the numbers but the harm that these incidents have caused in themselves, directly and indirectly. I'm very concerned that people in our community feel unsafe and people have modified their behaviours. I want to bear witness to some of the conversations I have had with Chinese Australians and, indeed, Asian Australians not of Chinese ethnic background, who have told me about their anxiety, whether it's about catching public transport or even being in public places because of their fear of racism. This is something we have to unequivocally rule out. We have to work together to make sure that all of our spaces are equally open to people. We have to recognise that our social cohesion and our sense of unity is not something that we can ever take for granted, particularly when we read reports of right-wing extremists seeking to exploit anxiety and racism against Chinese Australians.

We also need to clearly distinguish between warranted criticisms of the Chinese government on the one hand and mistreatment of Chinese Australians on the other. Of course, Australia is a safe and welcoming place for international students. The cynical and exploitive posturing of that government, or elements of it, in recent days must be seen for what it is. We mustn't answer it with our words in this place but our actions. We must demonstrate, as more than 80,000 people have called for, unity over fear in our response to this. We must demonstrate our ability to listen when we talk about social cohesion, understand the impact of racism on people's lives and give voice to their experiences as we come together to build a stronger society.

I want to thank all members who are participating in this motion. I want to thank particularly the government members, because this does need to be a bipartisan concern. In tackling racism and adopting a zero tolerance to it, we commit to a shared objective. We will work together and sometimes have disagreements about how we get there, but today the parliament stands united in standing up for Chinese Australians and rejecting racism.

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Scullin. Is the motion seconded?

11:06 am

Photo of Fiona MartinFiona Martin (Reid, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion put forward by the member for Scullin. Australia's record of successful migration and multiculturalism is something to be celebrated. It has underwritten our economic success and our cultural achievements. At a time when we need to come together to face the challenges the coronavirus pandemic poses, we have instead seen some people use this crisis to incite vile acts of racism against Chinese Australians. Racism occurs on a spectrum. Its earliest symptoms are ignorance or avoidance. It can quickly escalate into verbal abuse or physical violence. Sadly, the coronavirus pandemic has seen the full spectrum of racism rear its ugly head here in Australia. From as early as January, fake reports targeted Sydney suburbs such as Burwood, Rhodes and Eastwood because of their large Chinese-Australian communities, discouraging people to visit these suburbs or Chinese-Australian owned businesses. Since then, many Australians have seen images and footage of Chinese Australians or international students being verbally or physically assaulted. I will put it as bluntly as I can: racism has no place in our society—not now, not ever. There is never an excuse for racism. Thankfully, these acts have been isolated incidents which have been widely condemned by the Australian people and also by our Prime Minister.

Most Australians are horrified by such appalling displays. We are a nation with a proud migrant history. We hold the reputation of being the most successful multicultural country in the world. In my electorate of Reid, over 18 per cent of my constituents have Chinese ancestry. They form a community that demonstrates strong family values, a high work ethic and a desire to contribute to society more broadly. Many others are international students who have chosen to better their lives by seeking a world-class education. The majority of Australians, over 85 per cent, believe multiculturalism has been good for Australia. In the last budget, we committed $71 million to a social cohesion package aimed at bringing Australians together. This package invests in programs that embrace Australia's multicultural diversity and is aimed at enhancing the everyday experiences of Australians: how we communicate, how we live and how we engage with each other. The most recent department of education survey of 80,000 international students found that 95 per cent of students listed personal safety and security as one of the top reasons they chose to study in Australia. The satisfaction levels of living in Australia were above that of other similar countries, at 90.4 per cent. As the Prime Minister has said, it was our Chinese-Australian community that acted as our first line of defence against the spread of the coronavirus.

The coronavirus outbreak coincided with Chinese New Year celebrations at the start of the year, when many Chinese-Australians were returning from holidays in China. Our returning citizens and permanent residents voluntarily took up self-isolation. As a result of their actions, our whole community was sheltered from the earliest wave of the pandemic. It brought us valuable time to prepare our health system, close our borders and implement plans to mitigate the spread of the virus. People are entitled to have their grievances with the World Health Organization or to express their frustrations towards the Chinese government's response. One of the strengths of our democracy is that we can have such debates in a respectful and productive way. What is never acceptable is when members of our community take out their grievances on their fellow Australian citizens of Asian descent.

I would certainly be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the recent refocus on the rights of our First Nations people, who continue to face disadvantage and discrimination as a result of Australia's colonial history. As I said earlier this year in response to our Closing the Gap statement, we need to have an honest reflection on the significant work yet to be done. We will only be able to close the gap if we draw on the insights, knowledge and lived experiences of our Indigenous Australians. I know that we need to do better by our First Nations people in a goal shared by those on the other side. Australians overwhelmingly recognise that our multicultural communities have added to our nation, and our government is committed to supporting all communities to ensure that they succeed both economically and socially.

11:11 am

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

I will start with a quote:

My dream would be a multicultural society, one that is diverse and where every man, woman and child are treated equally. I dream of a world where all people of all races work together in harmony.

Those are the words of the late Nelson Mandela, a global human rights activist, but his words put in perspective the struggle for equality faced by many minority groups around the world. Furthermore, I reaffirm the importance of taking action to protect the social harmony of our diverse communities and, in doing so, reflect on the success of our democracy, which is so important to that. I have the honour of representing one of the most multicultural communities in the whole of this country, one that is made up of a very diverse range of people from diverse cultures and religious backgrounds. I've witnessed firsthand the benefits that come from multicultural communities.

All Australians should be able to go about their lives free from discrimination, vilification and hate motivated violence. We must support zero tolerance when it comes to any approach dealing with racism in this country. I'm certainly concerned about the incidents that have been reported more recently concerning racial abuse directed to our Australian-Chinese community as we grapple with the health and economic crisis brought about by the coronavirus. I fully support the position of the Australian government for a full and independent inquiry into this pandemic. Despite the sabre-rattling of the Chinese Communist Party, we must stand in full support of our successful diverse society. Perhaps China might care to reflect on its own treatment of the Uyghur minority before casting aspersions elsewhere. However, this discussion must also extend to many other minority groups, both here and abroad, who are subject to disadvantage and inequity. At the forefront, I would certainly suggest, must be our own First Nations people.

Whilst it may be politically beneficial for the American President to refer to COVID-19 as the 'Chinese disease', clearly it has absolutely nothing to do with the Australian-Chinese community. I take this opportunity to draw on the significant contribution of our vibrant Chinese community within my electorate, drawing on examples from some notable individuals, namely Harry Hunt, James Chan and Dr William Trinh. All are of Asian heritage and they have all proven themselves to be great Australians and have been recognised as such by the awarding of the Order of Australia for their outstanding contribution to our society. Harry Hunt is synonymous with the success of Liverpool, both in economic and charitable terms. He's a successful businessman, including a hotel owner. He's President of the South West Sydney Tourism Taskforce, a former president of the Liverpool chamber of commerce, Chair of the Salvation Army Red Cross Shield Appeal and a regional ambassador for the Red Cross. Harry continues to make a such difference to our local community and to the lives of many that live there. Most recently, he offered his hotel, free of charge, to any person that was impacted by the horrendous bushfire season earlier this year.

James Chan is a leader of the Chinese community in my electorate. James is a very successful business owner and operates a very popular Chinese restaurant. James is also a foundation member of the Australian Chinese Buddhist Society and currently serves as its chairman. Under his leadership, the society has held many fundraising events for the Red Cross, the Queensland flood appeal and the 2004 tsunami. Most recently, it raised over $80,000 for bushfire affected communities. I'm very proud to call James my Chinese brother.

William Trinh, who is a very successful optometrist, with his practice in Cabramatta, is also the chairman of Australian Health Humanitarian Aid. He serves as a university lecturer and is certainly committed to the training of the next generation of optometrists. As the chairman of AHHA, he regularly travels overseas with over 300 health professionals to provide cataract surgery, dental procedures and medical health assistance to those less fortunate, particularly in countries such as the Philippines, Nepal, Vietnam and Cambodia.

It is people like these that exemplify what it is to be a great Australian and who demonstrate the significance of our multicultural community. We must stand united against all forms of discrimination in our community, including any misguided judgement directed against our Australian Chinese community. Any such discrimination stands in stark contrast to our values.

11:16 am

Photo of Tim WilsonTim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to begin by thanking the member for Scullin for bringing this motion to the Federation Chamber and the parliament and the member for Reid for seconding the motion—

Government members: Hear, hear!

I would hope that opposition members would 'Hear, hear!' that statement as well, because this is a motion that is designed to be bipartisan, to bring together the parliament and to set the standard and tone for the type of country we want to be. Make no mistake: it's not just that racism has no place in Australia, and that's true; as members of parliament we have a responsibility as leaders of our community and our country to call out the vile scourge for what it is—a learned bigotry towards others simply through a lack of understanding or respect. It is a vile scourge, with all forms of bigotry against other human beings dividing us against our common humanity. Racism has no place in our country. It doesn't matter who you are or what your circumstances are. We should not be afraid to call it out, particularly when there is any increase in it against a subsection of the community such as the discrimination or harassment against people of Chinese origin because of a health crisis that could have started anywhere in the world. We should stand up and be proud. To call out racism is one of most foundational reasons I'm such a strong supporter of free speech. We need to know who the people are who have hatred in their hearts and hold them accountable. There is no place for racial harassment in our country. When it comes down to it, we have so many people who are prepared to call it out. I congratulate the Prime Minister and other parliamentarians who have stepped up at this important time.

The Goldstein electorate does not have a particularly large Chinese community, but that does not negate the need for us to show solidarity with others. We have a very high percentage of people with Jewish heritage, and they know firsthand in Goldstein the consequences of racial and ethnic bigotry—how it can corrode that sense of social solidarity, compassion and respect around our common humanity. It all comes from the same basic origins: ignorance and a lack of respect and understanding, and seeing points of division, rather than our common humanity. So, whether it's anti-Semitism, or bigotry and racism towards people of Chinese heritage or any other type of heritage, we stand proud and strong.

We do this now against the backdrop of the challenges of the COVID-19 virus. We're in an environment where people have been impassioned in their criticisms of China and, particularly, the Chinese Communist Party, but that is not a licence to justify the condemnation of, or racism towards, the people of China or Chinese Australians. They are not responsible. The people of China have never had a vote on the Chinese Communist Party and whether they're the legitimate government of their nation.

There's a reason why the Chinese Communist Party are using racism and pointing their finger at us and other countries. It's because they want to shut down debate. They want to deny speech and respect to free people everywhere and use it as a form of weapon. So, we must call that out as well. I know they've made a series of allegations about our country to dissuade students and tourists from coming to Australia, alleging that there is a scourge against Chinese people and racism against Chinese people. But that is not who we are as a country. That is not who we are as a people. It is not the type of community or country we want to be.

One of the most beautiful things about our country is that it's open, tolerant and respectful towards others. We are, of course, a country on a journey towards a greater sense of perfection, but at least we are open, inclusive and respectful towards each other's common humanity. Maybe one day the Chinese Communist Party might be able to say the same, but not now.

11:21 am

Photo of Clare O'NeilClare O'Neil (Hotham, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Innovation, Technology and the Future of Work) Share this | | Hansard source

I think perhaps more than at any other point in my life I'm so incredibly grateful to be living here in Australia. We have a lot of issues in our country—I don't pretend anything otherwise—but our democracy is largely peaceful. Our government works; we have actually seen that very evidently in the last couple of months. Our elections are fair and democratic. Most importantly, I think our country is capable of being proud of what we have and what we are, but also capable of talking about the areas where we need to make improvements. That is the quality of the very best democracies and the very best countries around the world.

The motion today is about racism, and I want to be really direct. We are most peaceful and successful multicultural country in the world, and I couldn't be more proud of that. I'm so lucky to represent a community and an electorate which is more representative of that than most in the country, and it is absolutely thrilling. It is a huge part of the richness of life in Hotham that this is a community of people which have come together from 150 or so countries around the world, and we all benefit from that. The multiculturalism that we celebrate in this parliament and that we celebrate in my community is not about tropes, it's not about being able to go to a different restaurant each night and it's not about talking about dancing and traditional dress. It is the great richness and the great beauty of living in a community where everyone is different. We learn from each other and we grow from that. We grow from that exposure to people having different points of view about things. I'm lucky also in my electorate to represent the largest university in the country, Monash University, and that's a community that is highly engaged with students from every country around the world. We have a vast number of international students living in my electorate, so I want to say something about the experience that they're having too.

Australia is a welcoming and safe place. I truly believe that. But I also truly believe that there has been a clear connection to rises in racism against Asian Australians during the COVID-19 period. It's absolutely clear when you look at the evidence and the reporting on this subject. If we want to be honest and true about how proud we are to live in this multicultural country, we need to be honest and true when we're not living up to Australian values. Australians of Asian background have been abused, they've been assaulted, they've been spat on, they've been targeted with racist graffiti. The ABC recently asked residents to share some of the experiences they've had during this COVID period, and the response they had was pretty overwhelming. They talked to people who were too frightened to go shopping and too frightened to walk around the block in their own neighbourhood. That's not Australia living up to its potential.

I get to engage a lot with leaders in the Chinese-Australian community, and I had a really good roundtable with them over Zoom, as we've all shifted our activities in recent months. I just want to share with the parliament a couple of the things that came out of that discussion. The first thing is that the primary concern of the Chinese-Australian leaders on that call was what they can do to contribute to what's going on in our country at the moment. Anything that they can do, they are striving to do, not because they feel guilty or embarrassed but because they're Australian and they want to make a contribution to their country. The second thing was the enormous hurt that many of them are facing when they're exposed to this type of conduct. I say that because some of the people on this phone call, some of whom have been subject to racist abuse themselves, have been living in Australia for 30 or 40 years. They've made their entire career here and raised their family here. Then to have an incident like this happen that makes them feel on the outer—it's incredible how much of a betrayal that is to them. It's important that we speak for them. We've heard of young people who've been badly affected. We see, particularly in the Chinese-Australian community, young people being teased at school and the like about these sorts of incidents.

How can we help? I think by acknowledging the reality. Racism does exist, and it's not in concert with the Australian values that we like to celebrate in this parliament. We need to be clear that we condemn it and we need to speak out against it when we see it. We want the government to tackle this head-on and to address it in a systematic way. Part of that is actually measuring and tracking how much this is happening, because one of the things this has shown is that we actually don't have a handle on that. Racism's not okay. It's never okay. I stand with my Chinese-Australian residents so say we're here for you and we want to defend you.

11:26 am

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I also would like to commend the member for Scullin for the motion. I'm going to talk specifically on my own electorate. We start by saying no to racism. I have to say that in my electorate of Leichhardt we have a very significant Chinese population that basically has been there since the first population. When the British arrived up in our region, so did our Chinese, looking for the goldmines, et cetera.

An honourable member: And the bananas.

And bananas and market gardens, et cetera. And they have been absolutely loved and embraced, and they are absolutely 100 per cent part of our community.

Moving forward into recent times, as we've developed as a tourism destination, first of all, a large visiting population came from Japan. Whilst many in our region sort of looked with a level of curiosity at these new visitors, they certainly very quickly embraced them, and we've now had a very large Japanese resident population living in Cairns for many years. As you go down and see the shops, you see a lot of Japanese shops, sign-writing in Japanese language, et cetera. They're now part of our community. In fact, we have one of the few regional consuls, a Japanese consul that's based in Cairns. The Australia Japan Society is well and truly embraced.

When you look at migration more broadly in our area, first came the Europeans. Very closely, almost at the same time, the Chinese came in. Postwar migration was from Eastern Europe, the Italians and the Greeks and large numbers of populations from that area, who were broadly embraced and are very much part of our society and our community. In more recent times, we've had a whole group of people coming in here. We've had the Hmong community from Cambodia, who are now well and truly established. We've had the Bhutanese more recently. We now have quite a significant population of Congolese. Again, all of these populations are being embraced. I have to say, you just don't see the racism that we're talking about—possibly in metropolitan areas. Certainly in our regional areas we are fighting very hard to keep these populations there.

Now we move onto the Chinese. After the Japanese visitors, we then started to come into the Chinese. And I've got to say that, without the Chinese, our economy would not have grown to the extent that it has. As they formed a larger portion of our community, of our visiting community, suddenly all of these shopfronts changed from Japanese to Chinese. They were welcomed, they were embraced, and through the whole process we have continued to welcome them. As a community, as an electorate, I see very little evidence of racism against a particular group—and that's the way it should be.

When we talk about our First Australians, let me tell you that I am very proud to boast, with all the controversy that's happening with Captain Cook and the statues at the moment, that, from our perspective, our Indigenous people in Cooktown acknowledge Captain Cook as the first European to embrace reconciliation. In fact, the first act of reconciliation happened in Cooktown with Captain Cook and the local Indigenous population. That should be celebrated; it shouldn't be whitewashed. And to suggest that we should be removing that because of history suggests that we should be flattening the pyramids; Angkor Wat in Cambodia should be destroyed; so should the Mayan temples. Goodness me, what about the arena in Rome where all those slaves lost their lives? It's just an absolute nonsense. I would say to you that I am absolutely committed to fighting against racism, and in my electorate we have been very, very proud of the multinational content of our community. We love, irrespective of what culture you come from. It enriches our society, and I think that we must continue to make sure that we send that message out there. We say the same to our Chinese friends. Let me tell you, our tourism economy was the first to fall over the cliff when the Chinese flights stopped. We are really looking forward to those flights recommencing in the near future. (Time expired.)

11:31 am

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm pleased to speak in support of the motion moved by the member for Scullin, and I thank him for the great work that he's doing in this area. I also thank the member for Scullin for appearing in a recent Zoom visit in Queensland to speak on much the same matters that were raised in this motion.

I've stood here many times to talk about racism, as have members on both sides of the chamber. It is something that the Parliament of Australia has been very strong on more recently. Each time I talk about racism, it gets me thinking: what will it take, what will it actually take? Unfortunately, fear is a great driver of our emotions and our actions. Why are we afraid, and what are we actually afraid of? The reality is that each and every one of us is exactly the same: when we bleed, our blood is red.

In the first weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, all across our nation, we saw behavioural change. We saw fear spread and manifest itself in some very unexpected ways—the hoarding of large packs of toilet paper was certainly a surprise; hoarding tins of tomatoes and all the pasta in the world—and for weeks we were all stuck at home with growing anxiety and, in some cases, for some people, anger and bewilderment. We were looking for some sort of answer to blame the unpredictable and frightening circumstances that come with a global pandemic. This is not a good mix, because it means there is a large audience out there who are vulnerable to misinformation as they spend their time online looking for answers that will give them certainty. Unfortunately, the mulga wire has become a vulgar liar.

Only last week ASIO issued a warning that the far Right is using COVID-19 as a cover to push its dangerous ideas and recruit new members. This means that right-wing rhetoric is now reaching the unprecedented audience of those stuck at home, increasingly socially isolated and spending time online because of the pandemic.

According to Deakin University's Matteo Vergani, an expert in countering militant extremism and hate crime, 'COVID-19 has created fertile ground for extremists to spread their rhetoric'. And ASIO's assessment, as reported by ABC's Background Briefing is:

We assess the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced an extreme right-wing belief in the inevitability of societal collapse and a 'race war'.

ASIO's report suggests:

Messages have been posted on burgeoning COVID-19 conspiracy forums, providing links to white supremacist forums which promote violent extremism and often blame China and Chinese people for the virus.

Unfortunately, this calculating and destructive behaviour is a threat to our social cohesion and national unity. We should all be alarmed about recent reports that in Brisbane earlier this month neo-Nazis flew swastika flags from my Story Bridge, from Brisbane's Story Bridge. These groups are online and are actively recruiting locally, and we need to stand up to them.

The Australian Chinese community in Moreton recognised the potential danger of the coronavirus immediately. They were fearful and they were cautious. On returning from overseas, they were isolating well before the time when there was any suggestion of overseas arrivals doing this. They supported each other online, in isolation, and they closed down their new year celebrations. It was the right thing to do, and my waistline thanks them I guess. Their instincts were to protect Australia. In other words, they were thinking about the safety of this nation before others started to act on this.

Since the start of the pandemic, Asian Australians have been verbally and physically assaulted, refused service, received death threats and their property has been damaged. Are we going to accept this as the experience of others in our community? Are we going to accept that there are some in our community who think it is okay to behave towards other human beings in this way? No, because Australians are so much better than that, as the member for Scullin has called out so often. The majority of Australians know that Asian Australians did not cause this pandemic. The majority of Australians know that we are all in this together.

Let me go back to where I started this conversation, talking about fear, because we are all vulnerable to extremist groups spreading conspiracy theories to scapegoat certain groups like the Chinese people. These groups try very hard to prey on and exploit the fears of some for the sole purpose of increasing their power and recruiting new people to their sorry, spiteful, very cruel and, as ASIO has said, very dangerous cause. These are the people who hate on others. We will not let them divide our Australia, and we cannot let their voices be the only voices. We must stand together and eradicate racism from our country. We call on the Morrison government to attack racism head-on and introduce a new national antiracism campaign. And to the Australian Chinese community of Moreton, let us stand against racism together or 'rang women gongtong fandui zhongzuzhuyi'. I apologise for my pronunciation.

11:37 am

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

I have been deeply saddened by reports of Asian Australians being the target of racist attacks and abuse, and I condemn this behaviour in the strongest possible terms. The actions of a few cowardly idiots do not reflect the overwhelming views of Australians, nor this government. Australia is the most successful multicultural nation on Earth, where every person has the right to feel safe regardless of their ethnicity or country of origin. Racism simply has no place in Australia. As Australians, we are proud to welcome people from all backgrounds, and we give everyone a fair go regardless of where they come from.

When those who choose to make Australia their home, they usually find that they've made the right decision. The 2019 Scanlon report Mapping social cohesion found that 90 per cent of respondents expressed a sense of belonging, and 85 per cent of respondents agreed that multiculturalism has been good for Australia. As a migrant myself, I agree with these respondents. I came to this country as an international student 35 years ago, and I'm glad to know that many international students that come to Australia usually find that they have made the right decision too. The Department of Education conducted a survey of 80,000 international students. Ninety-five per cent of students listed personal safety and security as one of the top reasons they choose to study in Australia, with over 90 per cent of them being satisfied.

As the member for Chisholm, I represent quite a diverse electorate, and regularly I meet constituents who share encouraging stories of how they came to Australia and how they have embraced the Australian way of life. Chisholm is also home to Deakin University and their international students. It is the coalition government that is backing these students and welcoming them to Australia. The coalition government is committed to keeping it this way. In last year's budget, we committed $71 million to a social cohesion package aimed at bringing Australians together. The government's investment in social cohesion is one of the four key pillars of the future population plan. Australia's future social cohesion is not only the responsibility of the government; it is the responsibility of all of us. Whether you are a new arrival eating your first Tim Tam or a longstanding citizen, we are all responsible for the cohesion we enjoy. The social cohesion package builds interfaith and intercultural understanding through sport, in classrooms, in cultural institutions and through community driven programs and outreach. This government will continue to encourage a diversity of perspectives in the public debate and promote resilience against harmful and divisive messages—particularly those that promote violence.

I'm very proud of Australia's migrant community and their social, cultural and economic contributions to Australia. Personally, I know my fellow Australians of Chinese descent are proud Australians who love this country and its values. Many parliamentarians have been vocal in their opposition to the racism that has occurred, especially during COVID-19. This is an issue that crosses party lines, and I thank those in parliament who have stood in solidarity on this issue. As the Prime Minister said in May, we have to call these sorts of things out. It's not on. Now is the time for our nation to unite and defeat this challenge which is facing all Australians. The coronavirus does not discriminate, and neither should we. By coming together, based on mutual respect and tolerance, we can move forward as a nation to overcome this difficult time.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for the debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.