I am very proud to be able to stand here today in support of the member for Chifley’s matter of public importance on the need for a non-discriminatory immigration policy.
Given recent comments by some in this parliament, the symbolism of the member for Chifley moving this motion will not be lost on this House—nor, indeed, do I suspect that it will be lost on the public. Let me therefore say at the outset that I am proud to stand in this chamber with the member for Chifley. I know him to be a strong and effective advocate for all people in his electorate, regardless of their background, their religion or their race. I am proud to serve with the member for Chifley as, indeed, I am to serve with all members of this chamber—each of us with our unique backgrounds. I thank the member for Berowra for his comments, but I think it would be really nice if his leader actually reiterated and underscored his views.
I believe these unique backgrounds contribute to and enhance our decision making in this chamber. Diversity helps in every way. That is why it is good to have people from different backgrounds and of different sexes on boards: it gets rid of group think, which is absolutely lethal for innovation and creativity and a nation’s future. And the diversity of cultures in Australia contributes to and enhances our nation. So it is not just on boards, it is not just in the chamber; diversity contributes to and enhances our nation. Apart from our Indigenous brothers and sisters, everyone in this chamber and in this country has an ancestor from somewhere else. We are all migrants.
In my own case, my father’s family came out from China in the 1850s to work in the gold rush. Members of the family on my father’s side also came from Germany in the 1850s, when there was a huge diaspora of Germans coming to Australia. My mother’s family came out from Ireland and Scotland in the late 1800s. What is interesting about that melting pot of family history is that during the First World War a number of my relatives had to be interned but, also, one of my relative was Albert Jacka, Victoria. He fought for Australia in the First World War and won the first VC for Australia, fighting in Turkey, and in another part of the world I had relatives in Germany who were out getting photos with Kaiser Bill. So that is an interesting example of the diversity of Australia but also of how quickly people who come here and decide to make a life here will sign up to our values, call themselves Australian and be willing to defend the nation. In this light I would like to congratulate the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship for last week’s release of The People of Australia: Australia’s multicultural policy. It reaffirms the government’s view that multiculturalism is not just desirable but essential to this country; that multiculturalism is strong because it gets people to sign up to our values, our rule of law, our democratic principles, our rights and responsibilities and also the equality of sexes, races and religions.
I was asked yesterday by a journalist if we should have a debate about multiculturalism in this country. I believe we should have a debate and, in the process, celebrate the fact that our multiculturalism has been a great success and is a great example of national cohesion. We are the envy of the world. You only need to look at what is happening in Europe, and we have seen the comments from Angela Merkel and David Cameron about what is happening there. I believe what has happened there is that communities, rather than integrating and working together, have been ghettoised. You get examples in East London and in Paris of what is happening there, where it has created social disorder, whereas here we have had cohesion ever since the original settling of this country. And that is because most Australians are tolerant, and they have been tolerant for many years, if not 150 years. The working class of this country has also tended to be at the vanguard of this tolerance and this melting pot, and my own family attests to that. You get families these days throughout Sydney and throughout Australia where all sorts of races and religions marry and work together in a cohesive pattern. It is not just because of the tolerance of Australians; it is also because leadership has been shown on this issue over many years and by Liberal and Labor governments. We have heard about the contribution of Menzies and the contribution of Fraser and we all know about the contribution of Labor governments over that time.
For the debate on multiculturalism to be useful, leadership is required to ensure discussions are constructive, productive and acknowledge the significant contribution made by all Australians, no matter what our backgrounds. The debate needs to be one that acknowledges diversity and the benefits of diversity. And I am not just talking here about food and the fact that you can go to 10 different restaurants over the course of two weeks and have interesting meals. I am talking here about diversity of skills, diversity of culture, diversity of language, diversity of trade with other parts of the world.
However, if members of the opposition had their way the debate would focus on the most base of propositions. We have had the comment from Senator Bernardi that Islam is the problem. Further to this, the alleged comments in shadow cabinet by the member for Cook deliberately play to Islamophobia. What is worse is that the Leader of the Opposition has refused to discipline his members. In a way, he has been boxed into a corner, and the only response is to play the race card. It is the lowest form; it is incredibly base. What can we draw from this refusal? Either that he is not in control of his party, or that the cuts he was suggesting to foreign aid were suggested by One Nation, or that he or his office had advance warning of Mr Morrison’s comments about the funerals, or that he or his office had sanctioned Senator Bernardi’s regular attacks on Islam. I am glad that some in the opposition have the moral strength to stand against this and I particularly congratulate Senator Moylan.
While I am a strong supporter of this discussion brought forward by the member for Chifley, I am extremely sad, disappointed and even somewhat ashamed that it is necessary for us to reaffirm our commitment to a non-discriminatory immigration policy. I am disappointed because I thought that, at least in the parliament of Australia, the White Australia policy was dead. I had thought that this parliament was of the view that it was immoral. However, it would appear I was wrong.
Sadly, I am a member of parliament where some think it is not just tolerable but desirable to deliberately play to certain fears in the community as a political tactic. That is an outrage. Last year the Prime Minister acknowledged those fears, which is the responsible thing for a leader and member of this parliament to do. However, it is one thing to acknowledge that these fears and attempt to ease them; it is another, entirely different, thing to fan these fears and use them for political gain. The fact that such a thing is not just openly canvassed but actively endorsed by senior members of a major political party is truly abhorrent. It is the basest of politics. It is not befitting a member of parliament.
We are privileged to be in this chamber and it is our role not simply to represent those in our electorate but also to show leadership. We must be a unifying force in our communities and for our nation. We come to this place in Canberra to do this task and to lead our country to a brighter and better future—a future in which all Australians regardless of background, origin, race or religion are considered of equal worth as people. It is not our role to take the fears of our communities and then use them to gain political advantage. It is not our role, and it is beneath us as parliamentarians, to take the fears of our communities and then use them to drive a wedge between Australians.
I call upon those in this House to show the leadership appropriate to their positions, to reaffirm their commitment to a multicultural Australia, to reaffirm the fact that diversity is important to this country and to reaffirm a non-discriminatory immigration policy. I call most importantly on the Leader of the Opposition to repudiate the views of some in his party. I call upon the Leader of the Opposition to stop showing even tacit support for the wedge politics of race and immigration. It is beneath this parliament; it is beneath this nation. We are all better than this and I call upon this chamber to support this matter of public importance of the member for Chifley.