I am pleased to rise tonight to speak against this motion by the member for Fadden because, text aside, this motion is not really about defence housing. It is a proxy debate. It is a base attempt by the opposition to play wedge politics and pit one section of the community against another. It is a continuation of the strategy we have seen from the coalition that has seen them propose stripping millions of dollars in funding to schools in Indonesia, which is against our national and economic security interests, against the future interests of thousands of Indonesian children and against the right thing to do.
This short-sighted approach to foreign aid and defence policy is truly gobsmacking because it overlooks the fact that we are a wealthy nation. It overlooks the fact that, as a wealthy nation, we can support those in need in Australia and we can support those in need in our region. It also overlooks the fact that poverty breeds terrorism. And what is the best way of eliminating poverty and the cycle of disadvantage? It is education. Education is the great empowerer. It opens up opportunities like nothing else. It builds self-esteem and it provides choice— not that this message is particularly dear to the coalition’s heart given its track record in education when it was in government.
I would also like to use this opportunity to congratulate the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship for last week’s release of The people of Australia: Australia’s multicultural policy. The policy includes the following four key principles: that we as Australians will celebrate and value Australia’s cultural diversity within the broader aims of national unity; that we will strengthen the government’s commitment to social inclusion, social cohesion and responsive government services; that we welcome the trade and investment benefits of diversity, and these have been significant over the years and will be significant in the future; and that we promote the understanding and acceptance of cultural diversity while responding to attitudes and actions of intolerance and discrimination with strength. The policy also outlines rights and responsibilities that are enshrined in our citizenship pledge —loyalty to Australia and its people; the need to uphold our laws and democracy; and the need to respect our rights and liberties.
Tonight when I was on ABC24 I was asked 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 we have been a great success in national cohesion. You only need to look at what is happening in Europe to compare how we have gone on multiculturalism. I think that is because most Australians are tolerant, and that is because we have managed our migration policy very carefully. We have not ghettoised populations. We have social cohesion and national cohesion. That is because it has been very carefully managed and because Australians are tolerant.
It is also, most importantly, because leadership has been shown on this issue over many years and by successive Liberal and Labor governments. The Prime Minister was today lauding the achievements of the Menzies government and also the Fraser government in showing leadership on this issue.
Mr Robert:—You missed the Howard government.
Ms BRODTMANN:—Because I did not see much leadership happening there. That debate requires leadership to ensure that discussions are constructive, productive and acknowledge the significant contribution made by all Australians, no matter what our backgrounds are, because apart from our Indigenous brothers and sisters we are all migrants. My father’s family came out from China and Germany in the 1850s and my mother’s family came out from Ireland and Scotland in the late 1800s.
However, if members of the opposition had their way the debate would focus on the most base of propositions. Some have stated that Islam is a problem and, if reports out of shadow cabinet are to be believed, there is a genuine strategy and a genuine attempt to play to Islamophobia. I am glad that some in the opposition have the moral strength to stand against this and I would be keen to know the member’s thoughts on this matter. This is an attempt to play a very nasty game of politics in this House. It has nothing to do with Defence housing. It is not an attempt to show genuine leadership or to deal with genuine concerns.
I refuse to play this game. I do not agree that moving families to more appropriate accommodation is a soft option. I do not agree that showing compassion is the same as showing weakness. This is pure rhetoric. This is the most base of politics. No member of the Defence Force is without a home because of the decision to use some sites to accommodate asylum seekers. The Gillard government has a deep commitment to those men and women who serve in the Defence Force and it will not overlook the need for homes for defence personnel and their families. It is a government priority to house members of the Defence Force, and I have just been advised that we are building more Defence housing throughout the nation. It is coming on at a great speed, isn’t it?
As the member has noted, Defence Housing Australia is the dedicated manager of housing for Defence Force personnel and their families. It is also important to note that they provide homes for the members and families of the Customs service office as well as for employees of the Maritime Safety Authority. However, the Department of Defence retains ownership of houses on military bases or in remote locations. Those houses intended for Defence Force personnel and their families are all managed by DHA.
Defence Housing has a very high standard for homes intended for defence families and it has come a long way since the days when my husband was an Army brat and his dad was in the Army in the sixties, seventies and early eighties. In the sixties things were pretty basic, and his family of eight—six kids, a mum and a dad—were often crammed into small houses with just a few rooms. I have seen some of those that still exist. They have now been extended and renovated and are up to scratch. Things are very different today. We have a number of friends in defence. Their housing has been incredibly comfortable and it gradually improves as they work their way up the ranks. They do not have any complaints about it except the usual complaints about bits and pieces here and there. Generally it is comfortable and decent. It is like an average suburban home. The places that do not meet this standard are handed back to Defence and those surplus to requirement are also handed back and are then refurbished or demolished.
The houses in Inverbrackie were found not to be suitable for DHA purposes; that is why they went back into the system. In the first instance, the housing was used for a community group and then, late last year, the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship announced that the housing would be used to accommodate up to 400 low-risk asylum seeker family members. This announcement was in the context of the government expanding its residence determination program to move significant numbers of children and vulnerable family groups out of immigration detention facilities and into community based accommodation. I want to commend the government and the minister for this decision. I understand that by June-July this year the bulk of the 1,000 or so unaccompanied minors and vulnerable families will be moved out of detention. In making the decision on housing, the government made sure there would be no impact on defence families. Not one member of the Defence Force missed out on a home because of this decision—not one. All this information would have been available; it is easy to find out.
So I return to my original point: what is this motion actually about? I ask the member to come clean on what he really wants to do with this motion, because it is not about a lack of housing for defence personnel, it is not about a concern that Defence cannot manage housing or a challenge to the DHA over its management and it is not about any actual attempt take a home from a defence family. This is absolutely about wedge politics. This is absolutely about lowest common denominator politics.
I would love to live in a world where these sorts of measures were not needed; however, we do not live in such a world. Therefore, we must have an approach to this matter that protects our national sovereignty and meets our obligations to the international community. I believe that we as a nation are capable of showing compassion without showing weakness.
This motion is just glib. It does not address any actual problem, nor does it show leadership on this issue. I call upon the opposition to stop playing these games. I urge them to treat asylum seekers with some degree of compassion and not to look to score political points on what is a difficult and complex policy issue. That is why I am speaking against this motion.