Thursday, 9 February 2006
Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
Debate resumed from 10 November 2005, on motion by Senator Crossin:
That the Senate take note of the document.
I rise to speak to the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs annual report for 2005. The area of immigration regularly gets a lot of commentary in the political arena. Sometimes, despite it attracting a lot of controversy, the understandable focus on some of the many stuff-ups and injustices in recent times tends to distract from what is also very important, which is a wider debate about immigration policy in this country. A few different events in recent times have reinforced the importance of paying more attention to the settlement side of our immigration program and the settlement aspects of the immigration department. In addition, linked to that is a focus on multiculturalism and the multicultural aspect of the department.
I note that, following the latest reshuffle, this department no longer has Indigenous affairs to deal with, nor does the minister. I hope that at least means there is even more opportunity for a focus on some of those areas where more needs to be done. There is quite a significant overhaul of the approach of the immigration department under way at the moment. That is important. I hope that a focus on promoting, strengthening and implementing multiculturalism as a policy is a key part of that revamp of the department and the role of settlement services.
I note a report in the newspaper today that I found disturbing. At least three backbench members of the Labor Party in the state parliament in Queensland have called in various ways for an end to multiculturalism, making comments like it had served its purpose or it was past its time and that we needed to refocus back onto promoting the single values of Australia. I do not in any way suggest that reflects the official policy of the state Labor government. Indeed I know of some very good work done by one of the previous parliamentary secretaries in this area, the member for Algester in the state parliament. Those sorts of comments nonetheless reflect some views that still have currency in the wider community and they get reflected by some commentators in the mainstream media. I believe it is important to strongly and overtly counter those.
They are in part based on a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation of what multiculturalism is about. The suggestion that multiculturalism is somehow allowing people to live in ghettos or allowing people to ignore the core values and core institutions in Australia is simply not the case. That has never been part of what multiculturalism is about. A key part of multiculturalism, if anything, is an enhancement of the old policy of integration—making integration work more effectively by enabling people to be comfortable and supported and by making use of their history, heritage and language whilst encouraging and enabling them to participate effectively in the wider Australian community.
Settlement services is obviously a key part of that as well. The more people are assisted when they first arrive here the more they are able to work effectively to live within the Australian community. Extra attention needs to be paid to people on temporary residency visas, who are not normally given settlement assistance because obviously they are not settling here. But these are people who are living here for two, three or four years and who often end up going on to become permanent residents. They are a key part of our society; they live and work amongst us. We need to take another look at the special needs of that group of people as well. The more people-to-people contact we have with people in different parts of the world the better chance we have of overcoming some of the divisions that still pose a serious danger to harmony and prosperity on the global stage. It is not just a feelgood thing; it is a crucial part of strengthening Australia’s future. I think there needs to be more focus on it. That does not mean we ignore the stuff-ups but we need to focus on the key areas of what the department is about. I seek leave to continue my remarks.