Bill's Speeches

RACIAL TOLERANCE MOTION - HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CANBERRA - MONDAY, 10 OCTOBER 2016

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I thank the Prime Minister for his words – and for agreeing to my request to introduce this motion.

Often in this place, we disagree – on matters of principle and questions of policy – in everything from Medicare to how to keep manufacturing  jobs.

That is as it should be – ours is a system built on the contest of ideas.

But this is an issue where we genuinely have a shared interest, the national interest.

Because attacks on minorities are always weaker when we in this parliament set a better example, and show the way.

In this place we should stand always up for our values – and our national identity – in its most generous and fullest sense.

Not on the basis of history, or faith alone.

Because our collective and individual identity, is the sum of a long list of attributes.

-       Our views & ideas

-       Gender

-       Faith

-       Ethnicity

-       Disability

-       Family

-       Sexuality

-       Education

-       Community

 

But we take these attributes and many more as a whole; we do not use one feature to exclude others. We do not use one feature to entirely describe ourselves.

In this parliament, we must make that choice.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to unite – not divide.

To reject the falsehood of a strong man or strong woman imposing simple ‘us versus them’ solutions, which only lead to bleaker outcomes.

To reject the false choice between faith or nation, between a person’s heritage and their hopes for the future.

Instead – with this motion today we say to all Australians – no one part of you defines all of you.

And it should not define your destiny.

Importantly, this motion rededicates this house to the pursuit of reconciliation, alongside respect for migration.

As the great Gough Whitlam said, when he introduced the Racial Discrimination Act into the House of Representatives in 1975.

‘the main victims of social deprivation and restricted opportunity’  have been the ‘oldest Australians, and the newest’.

And as long as the gap in life expectancy, health, education, employment and justice stands between Indigenous Australia and the rest of Australia – then there is unfinished business for us to resolve.

Constitutional Recognition is certainly a very important part of this – but it must speak for a broader effort.

Not just making peace with the past – but ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a full and equal share in Australia’s future.

This must begin, as all great enterprises do, with a sense that it can be done.

A belief that we can strike racism from the pages of our Constitution – and the hearts of our people.

A faith that a place in our national birth certificate will be matched by economic and social progress.

The hope that historical justice in the document which forms the basis of our laws, will be paired with real justice in the courts of this land.

Mr Speaker much of this motion – the text identical to that authored by Kim Beazley and John Howard 20 years ago – is as timely now as it was then.

But, there is one word whose meaning, the way we understand it, I believe has changed – the word ‘tolerance’.

The word ‘tolerance’ doesn’t do justice to the society we treasure.

We tolerate traffic jams, we tolerate flight delays, we tolerate headaches.

We tolerate brussel sprouts – we embrace diversity.

The Bible does not tell us to ‘tolerate’ thy neighbour.

Diversity is not a minor inconvenience to be endured, it’s not a artifice of political correctness, it is the collective power of our nation, of all of us.

We know today’s immigrants and refugees are tomorrow’s community leaders, business leaders, doctors, nurses and teachers.

We know inclusion, openness, cohesion are universal values to build upon.

We know multiculturalism is not a passing fashion – it is at the very heart of our national identity.

A national identity that is proudly complex, and all the richer and stronger because it is diverse.

Mr Speaker of the 226 members of this place, all but five of us are exclusively migrants or the descendants of migrants.

We swore a common oath, on different texts from different faiths.

I stand in this place as Labor – but also as a father, a husband.

I am a proud Victorian, a proud Australian.

Some of my Mum’s ancestors came here at the firm suggestion of the British justice system, others as underqualified and subsequently unsuccessful gold miners.

My Dad was a Geordie, a seafarer who came ashore here in the 1960s.

Australia was for him – as it has been for so many – the home of a second chance. 

But the fact that the first of my ancestors got here in 1831 off a convict ship does not make my citizenship better than someone who has just arrived.

Our obligation in this place runs deeper than a few nice sentiments on holy days or at the beginning of a cultural new year.

We need to do more than mouth words of respect –we must thoroughly and publicly reject racism where it occurs or who says it.

There is no place in Australia for extremism, no matter the party, no matter the agenda, no matter the importance of their vote.

And as leaders, we cannot choose to pass by on the other side of the road.

We are our brother’s, our sister’s keepers.

We have to call out prejudice whenever we see it: in this parliament, in the workplace, on the sporting field and in the media.

And, Mr Speaker, the way we do this matters – the tone we take, matters.

Hateful words, appealing to the very worst aspects of our national character may prompt strong emotions in us.

But we must guard against the temptation to respond with uncontrolled anger – breeding resentment and division.

Or with an aggressive contempt that only hardens attitudes.

We must be calm, clinical.

Rationally, relentlessly, tackling baseless falsehood with fact.

Because when people are informed, when we can appeal to their essential decency with the truth – that is how we bring people together.

Mr Speaker, the facts are these:

In 2016 in Australia, we are not being ‘swamped’ by anyone.

Migrants are not filling our dole queues, or taking our jobs, or clogging up our highways – or doing all three at the same time.

Migration is not a cost, or a burden.

It is a powerful force for our continuing economic growth and future prosperity.

Migration boosts productivity, participation and population.

It enhances and complements the skills of our workforce – and it adds new knowledge to our national understanding.

In their first year of arrival, migrants contribute a net economic benefit of around $880 million. 

Ten years later, the same group will contribute around $2 billion to our national economy.

And as for the idea that migrants are bludging on welfare, within six months of their arrival, migrants have a workforce participation rate of nearly 80 per cent – compared to a national average of 65 per cent.

Sometimes this means taking on jobs other Australians are simply not prepared to do.

Working late nights, early mornings and long weekends. Stacking shelves, cleaning offices and driving taxis – working the backshifts of our factories.

Setting out in the pre-dawn, knowing their sacrifice will give their children the chance for a better, more rewarding life.

Children who, even now, are winning prizes in our schools, excelling in our universities.

Of course, for every generation there are obstacles and barriers, irrational slights and indignities in the way.

60 years ago, my own Mum was turned away from working in a supermarket for no other reason than she was a Catholic.

-       It’s a story familiar to the Greeks, Italians and Eastern Europeans in the 50s and 60s.

-       The Vietnamese boat people of the 70s.

-       And the new wave of arrivals from Africa and the Middle East

Mr Speaker it is never easy to leave behind the land of your birth and the home of your ancestors.

Inevitably, the people who make this journey are resilient, courageous, self-starters.

That’s why so many migrants set the entrepreneurial example in this country.

-       15 out every 100 people born in Australia are self-employed.

-       But of Australians born in Asia, it’s 17 in every 100.

-       Born in Europe, 23 in every 100.

-       And from the Middle East, 25 in every 100.

Australians taking risks, launching start-ups, opening businesses.

From law firms, restaurants and newsagents to corner shops, market gardens and childcare centres.

Diversifying our economy, as well as our society.

And just as migration adds to our skillset, it helps shift our national mindset. 

Increased migration from Asia has given Australia greater confidence in Asia.

The confidence to seek security in our region – not from our region.

Let’s tell it how it is.

Coded statements about preserving ‘community harmony’ are not an argument against migration.

They are a reminder that Australians by birth have a responsibility and an opportunity to embrace Australians by choice.

Fearmongering about terrorism is not an argument against migration.

Countering extremism depends on building cohesion.

And this is the problem with the bizarre unity ticket between Daesh, other extreme Muslim fundamentalists and the extreme right.

Both argue that it is not possible to hold Western liberal democratic values – and be Muslim.

Both say, somehow, you cannot be a good Muslim and a good citizen.

This shows no understanding of Australia – or the remarkable contribution our Muslim community makes.

People need to realise when they set up this false choice – or allow it to go unchallenged – they are doing the work of extremists.

Complaining about traffic on the roads, or crowded trains is not an argument against permanent migration.

It is proof of the need for improved infrastructure processes, better planning and stronger leadership.

Economic transition is not an argument against permanent migration.

It is proof we need a government serious about creating and upholding decent jobs.  

One of the most effective things the government could do to counter the fallacy that migrants are taking Aussie jobs - is clean up exploitation and corruption in 457 and temporary work visas.

Because the unfair power structures arising in our system, exploiting new migrants, to undercut Australian wages are undermining faith in open markets and international labour. 

Mr Speaker

We live in a time when people are being forgotten by change, when people feel afraid of change, unrepresented in decision-making.

That can lead to a low road – blaming others, demonising minorities, lashing out.

Or we can take the high road – skilling our people, investing in education, rewarding hard work with decent wages, including more Australians in opportunity. 

The unfinished business of Australia is to summon our principles, our values to share prosperity with all who help to build it.

To choose inclusion over exclusion, understanding over ignorance, hope over fear.

To embrace the stranger in our midst as our neighbour.

To make ordinary citizens our partners in politics.

To build a country where everyone has a seat at the table.

An Australia where everyone is welcome, and everyone is equal, under our Southern Cross.

ENDS


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