Feb 28, 2006

Adjournment Speech – Multiculturalism

Adjournment Speech


28 February 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (9.00 pm)—In 2006, we have seen the government return to its true form. We have seen a return to the era of dog-whistling. Today in the House, the Minister for Health and Ageing said:

"I read in the Australian last Friday that he still has the Greek branches but he has lost the Spanish branches, the Vietnamese branches as well as the Cambodian branches. I could not help but think, ‘Are there any Australians left in the so-called Australian Labor Party today?’"

For the benefit of the Minister for Health and Ageing, I remind him that, unlike the Liberal Party, in order to get a vote in the Australian Labor Party you have to be an Australian citizen. We only have one class of citizen in this country, not two, and it does not matter whether your name is Smith, Abbott, Albanese, Panopoulos or Wong—we are Australians all. It took a number of interventions before the Minister for Health and Ageing eventually withdrew his remark . But that is consistent with what must be the government’s polling led push. Last week, in an attempt to appeal to the right wing of the Liberal Party, the Treasurer gave a speech in which he spoke of ‘confused mushy misguided multiculturalism’. He said:

"Before becoming an Australian you will be asked to subscribe to certain values. If you have strong objections to those values don’t come to Australia."

No-one is suggesting that extremists of any sort—Islamic extremists, Christian extremists or Judaist extremists—should be tolerated. But the fact is that there is a pattern which is consistent from the top down. The Prime Minister is of course the king of dog-whistlers. We all remember the ‘children overboard affair’. The Prime Minister wants to write a different version again. He has now fashioned a new line to cover the ‘children overboard affair’. He said, just this week, in an interview with the Age:

"… I did think that if somebody had done that, it was a pretty bad thing to have done—and they did after all sink the boat, didn’t they?"

No, they did not, Prime Minister. The Olong—a barely seaworthy, leaky fishing boat with 223 people on board—struggled back towards the Indonesian coast after being turned around by HMAS Adelaide. Its engines failed and, on direction from the government, the Adelaide towed the boat around the Indian Ocean until it started to sink. Only then did any of the refugees jump into the sea and only then were they rescued. The Prime Minister knew 48 hours after his original children overboard claim that it was not true, yet he held out until after election day a month later. The Prime Minister has known for years that the Olong was not sunk by the refugees aboard it, yet he continues to try and cover one untruth with another—one dog whistle after another.

We record that on 2 March 1996 the Howard government was elected—and so was Pauline Hanson elected as member for Oxley. We remember well what the Prime Minister said when the member for Oxley gave her infamous speech in which she sought to divide Australians from one another. He said it was about free speech. He said it was a lifting of the cloak of political correctness. He was prepared to go out and press those buttons. That is the consistent form that this government has had.

This year, some in the government will speak about 10 years of leadership. But it is not leadership to be prepared to divide the community—people against people. It is not leadership to be prepared to appeal to the base considerations of prejudice and discrimination. Yet this government is continually prepared to do this in order to seek political advantage.

This government’s overriding objective is its own political interests rather than the national interest. When you look at the pattern that has emerged over recent weeks—the Prime Minister, the Treasurer and the Minister for Health and Ageing, all senior members of the government, all pushing the same line—it is clear that their polling is once again telling them what they should be saying. What we need in this nation, particularly at this time of insecurity, is leadership that unites the nation, not divides it. (Time expired)