Matter of Public Importance
February 22nd, 2011
Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (4.12 pm)— I’ve often said that if you want to see some of the proudest Australians, take yourself to a Citizenship Ceremony.
On those days, when families are brought together, seeing others take the pledge to their new nation, you see some of the happiest faces in the country.
I have to admit my own heart bursts with pride watching the smiles, the looks that are exchanged, the arms on another person’s shoulder.
And every moment the bond between new citizen and new home deepens.
It is among the moments I live for as a Member of Parliament – and I share in that joy as people feel the uplifting power of a second chance, sensing a brighter future ahead.
Our new citizens feel they can grow in a nation free of persecution – one where democracy, freedom of thought, freedom of religion are core values, held dear by the nation – and expected to be cherished, nourished and protected by its citizens.
So many of us have shared those experiences in electorates across one of the greatest nations on the planet.
It’s a powerful experience because we are inspired by the outward demonstration of unity and commitment to common good.
But a commitment to a united and common good cannot be found upon divided ground.
Those before us – in this place – had the wisdom to recognise this.
Over the course of a quarter of a century they worked together to peel away a policy we rightly shun today – the White Australia Policy.
The policy had its birth in the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, but in 1949 Minister Holt of the Menzies Government took the step of releasing the grip of this policy by allowing non-European refugees from World War II to remain in Australia – followed up by a decision in 1957 to allow certain non-Europeans with 15 years residence to become citizens.
The Menzies Government ditched the ‘dictation test” which had applicants undertake tests in languages they had no hope of knowing, such as Latin.
In 1966 then Minister Opperman announced applications would be received from non-Europeans.
Significantly, in 1973 the Whitlam Government introduced a specifically non-racially based immigration policy. It has been a cornerstone of policy for 38 years.
Until last week.
When three distinct events combined to create a firm image in the minds of many that levering off religion for political advantage is something not being pursued by a fringe group – but by a major party in this country.
The first event was the revelation that a Liberal Senator would table a petition signed by all of three people, calling on the government to prevent the immigration to this country of people who were of the Islamic faith.
Then the revelation that the Opposition’s Shadow Cabinet had put before it – as a discussion point – the issue of Muslim integration. The interpretation of Shadow Cabinet colleagues, as passed on to the media, was that the Member for Cook sought to capitalise on the issue.
And finally the Leader of the Opposition’s own Parliamentary Secretary Cory Bernadi went on radio and declared: “Islam is the problem.”
And as if to comfort those alarmed by this statement he went on to say: “It’s not Muslims. Islam is a totalitarian political and religious ideology.”
There is a tangled logic there that only the brave or idle would seek to unravel.
I ask the Leader of the Opposition, who seeks high office which comes with the responsibility to protect and advance the unity of a nation he seeks to lead, how the comments of his own Parliamentary Secretary reflect upon him?
He is yours – you chose and keep him for that position.
When he speaks from that position, it’s as if he makes his comments within earshot of you.
How do you think this does not impact upon you?
When pressed on radio, Senator Bernardi says he has not been prevented by the Leader of the Opposition for expressing these views: “Well no, he certainly hasn’t. I’ve been in contact with Tony. I’m his Parliamentary Secretary.”
Importantly, these events all occurred in the space of a week.
Unlike the events of 1996, we are not prepared as a Government to let these matters hang in the air, smothering relations between us within this country – and affecting the relations with those outside our country.
This Matter of Public Importance is necessary to immediately deal with this matter.
The Leader of the Opposition has the opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to a non-discriminatory policy and bring to a head this subterranean contest within his side, where these comments are deliberately floated in the public domain for political advantage – and to the shock and dismay of those within the Liberal Party.
I have sought for sometime to put a spotlight on those extreme elements of the Liberal Party that have sought to divide on the basis of religion.
Their continued fascination within this form of political campaigning – stretching over elections held in 2004, 2007 and 2010 – is a blight on a party of liberalism.
Why is the senior leadership of the party unable to deal decisively with this extremism? What inferences are to be drawn by this?
It is clear there are those within the party that seek no association with this sentiment – yet the extremists continue to crowd out common sense and decency within the Coalition.
The events of the last week are staggering, because the advocacy of a discriminatory immigration policy seeks to tear at the combined efforts of our respective parties over 60 years.
Worse still, the events of the last week suggest to me that elements of those opposite are perpetuating a fraud – leading on those who seek to tread a path that is truly beneath them, suggesting this is something the Opposition wish to potentially translate as official policy.
For political gain, elements of the Opposition harvest support from dark ambitions – nurturing hope in the minds of the extreme that their divisive wishes might just become policy.
What desperation drives people to this point, people who put themselves forward as able to meet the responsibility of leading the nation?
For us, the imperative is to demonstrate to those that take comfort in this backward policy, that this is a false comfort that will eventually work against their interests and the country’s interests.
That it will sap our ability to express ourselves as a country united, that values diversity of opinion, thought, expression and faith.
As I stand here today, I think of the mums, dads, students, small business people, professionals, community workers, sportspeople – those drawn from the Islamic faith, who are trying to do their best to contribute to the betterment of our nation.
What are those people meant to feel when they ponder on how they were admitted to share the richness of life here, but others of their faith have been locked out.
I still hear from refugees who’ve escaped war torn nations, the expression of guilt and shame – that they survived and prospered while others less fortunate suffered. Or perished.
And we would then – by the operation of a discriminatory policy – seek to place on our own citizens the weight of that guilt. To enslave them to that shame.
Once we put up that barrier, how are those that live here supposed to feel? We would give comfort to those who would seek to prey on fear and anger – setting us back from where we want to be.
What does this do to the strength of the nation’s unity and purpose, when we enslave our own to the burden of this shame?
We have as a nation learned from our mistakes, yet we have a party where elements therein are ready to walk headlong into another mistake.
How is this leadership? How does this advance our nation?
And how does this help us internationally?
Let me take the House in broad terms through the value of our exports to the following countries during 2009-2010:
• Indonesia $4bn
• Malaysia $3bn
• United Arab Emirates $2bn
• Saudi Arabia $1.5bn
• Pakistan $600m
• Bangladesh $400m
• Turkey $300m
• Jordan $150m
• Iran $150m
• Lebanon $25m
Just out of those countries, during that time, we earned a shade over $12bn in export dollars. Nations with over 50% of people who consider themselves Muslim.
Don’t forget the other $18bn we earned from countries with sizeable Muslim populations in our region – India, the Phillippines and the Russian Federation.
If we were to regress to a discriminatory immigration policy we would effectively say to those countries – we’ll take your dollars, but not your people.
Do people believe those countries would not react?
Do we think that governments in some of those nations would be mute while their local citizens ask why their governments tolerate a policy of discrimination by our government?
Remember through the 1970s and 1980s we placed massive international pressure on countries that abided and supported discrimination.
Given this proud history, what then would this do to our ability to advocate – on the world stage – the need for countries in other corners of the globe to embrace liberal democracy, tolerance and fairness?
We would be hamstrung.
Utterly and completely crippled in our ability to get others to do something which we are unable to do ourselves.
I do not ignore that there has always been concern about the ability of migrants to settle within our land. Wave after wave of migrants has encountered this.
And without doubt, there are always the misguided that walk among us, on the fringe as they peer disdainfully at us, distancing themselves from the common decency and respect that holds us together as a vibrant, progressive community.
But we must acknowledge that we have settled 7 million people in this great country of ours since World War II.
And as reflected on by the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, in a powerful speech he gave last week to the Sydney Institute, we have succeeded where other nations have failed – because of the genius of our multiculturalism.
He puts down our success to three key principles:
• Respect for traditional Australia values
• Our citizenship centred multiculturalism
• Finally, political bi-partisanship – which I reflected on earlier.
In particular I draw this House to the quote that stood out in my mind:
“If Australia is to be free and equal, then it will be multicultural. But if it is to be multicultural, Australia must remain free and equal.”
Our immigration policy and our approach to multiculturalism are intrinsically linked. And they are underpinned by how we see ourselves as a nation, celebrating values of respect, acceptance, liberty.
On Australia Day, I had the pleasure of participating in a Citizenship Ceremony held at Blacktown Council’s Bowman Hall.
The special guest for the day was Todd Greenberg who was the there in his capacity as Australia Day Ambassador. He is the CEO of the Bulldogs NRL Club (I suppose we can’t all be perfect).
He related to the audience the story of he and his wife inquiring of their son, who had only recently started school, about who his new friends were. His son mentioned one boy in particular.
“Where’s he from?” asked his parents. “I don’t know,” the reply.
“Has he got brothers and sisters?” “I don’t know.”
“Where do they live? Where are they from?” The response: “Dad, I don’t know – he’s just my friend. He’s my age, speaks like me, he’s my friend.”
All the questions of a regular parent – along with the dismissive, sometimes irritated, responses of their child.
When Todd and his wife got to finally meet their son’s friend at a school function – they discovered he was of Chinese background and it reminded Todd of how children don’t put barriers in the way of their friendship with others. They just get on with things.
And I remember in Minister Bowen’s speech to the Sydney Institute where he recounted growing up in Western Sydney, going to school at St Johns Park High School. As he says:
“When I was at school, I didn’t sit around with my mates from Vietnam, Iraq, Bosnia and Croatia and talk about the genius of Australian multiculturalism. We had much more pressing teenage matters to occupy us. Rather than philosophising about multiculturalism, we lived it.”
Again, the clear sight of the young at work.
Back in January, the US was shocked by an event that would resonate with many here. We did not necessarily pay as much attention to this event – understandably so, because our friends and neighbours in Queensland were battling some of the worst events that nature could throw at them.
Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was holding – in effect – a mobile office (called “Congress on your corner”) outside a local shopping centre when a gunman opened fire. Six people lost their lives, including nine year old school girl Christina Taylor Green – who was born on September 11, 2001.
The incident triggered nationwide discussion about the incitement of hate and violence that was creeping into national political dialogue.
Republicans had honed in on Congresswoman Gifford during the last year’s mid term elections by – controversially – marking her position graphically with a gun-sight target.
About a week later, President Barack Obama’s spoke to a stunned and grieving nation. It was an incredibly moving speech – where it was as if, through his words, he took the hands of the grieving and led them somewhere better.
With indulgence I wish to quote in part that speech, because so much translates so neatly to our own experience across the Pacific. He said:
We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another is entirely up to us. I believe that for all our imperfections, we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as those that unite us.
That’s what I believe, in part because that’s what a child like Christina Taylor Green believed. Imagine: here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation’s future. She had been elected to her student council; she saw public service as something exciting, something hopeful. She was off to meet her congresswoman, someone she was sure was good and important and might be a role model. She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted.
I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children’s expectations.
Mr Speaker, our nation’s children would not expect us to throw up stark barriers to divide us from others – are we without the ability or strength to summon up what is required to lead this country and meet the expectations of the youngest among us? I think not.