Federal Parliament - Multiculturalism

March 05, 2020

Dr ALYI must say that feeble contribution by the last speaker merely proves the point of this MPI. But rather than respond directly to that, I'm going to do what Michelle Obama does when they go low. My family, on 9 June 2019, celebrated 50 years in Australia, and the Australia that they came to was a very different Australia to the Australia that we have today. It was an Australia that had just opened its borders to non-western European immigration and an Australia that was awakening to the diversity of our world. It wasn't actually until the early eighties that my family stopped being called aliens—and not the aliens that built the pyramids, but a different kind of aliens.

I grew up in a family that wasn't very political. We hardly talked about politics; it wasn't something that we spoke of over dinner. We weren't members of any political party, and we didn't get involved in elections—none of that. But we always knew, my family always knew, and my parents always said that a Labor government was the kind of government that would look after us. It was a Whitlam government that removed the final vestiges of the White Australia policy, which meant that we were no longer aliens. It was the Whitlam government that introduced a policy of multiculturalism to Australia that gave us SBS and language services and spoke to us about the importance of cultural and language retention—institutions that have lasted for decades and that Australia is very proud of.

It was the Hawke and Keating governments that made education available for my parents and for their children. It increased funding for schools, it gave us universal health care and Medicare and dental insurance and legal aid and rights at work. It was the Gillard and Rudd governments that gave us the NDIS, the NBN, the apology and Work Choices. Successive Labor governments gave my family aspiration, as they did to many of the other families of people here in this House and out there listening to us now. They afforded us the opportunity for social mobility.

I remember as a young kid my mum and dad always saying to the three of us, my brother and sister and I: 'We came to this country for you. We gave up everything for you.' Back then I thought it was cringe-worthy, and as teenagers we would rebel and say, 'We never asked you to.' But now I understand the meaning of those words, now I understand what my parents gave up to come to this country and now I understand what this country, through successive Labor governments and through Labor policies, gave back to my family and enabled my family to do. It is through those policies that afforded my family's social mobility that the daughter of a bus driver from a town called Mansoura can stand here in this place today. Let me say, Labor continues to be the party for a modern multicultural Australia—and you don't need any more proof than the previous member's contribution to this debate.

We're not just for those who came here 50 years ago, 40 years ago or 20 years ago but for their children and their children's children—second- and third-generation migrants. We're for my children, who don't speak Arabic, don't listen to Arabic music—but, when we're having guests, I cook an Arabic meal every time. And we're for their children, who likely won't speak Arabic and who likely will be half Egyptian and half something else in origin. What more describes a modern, multicultural Australia than the intercultural, interfaith children we see today, who are products of an Australia where multiculturalism is such a centrepiece of our identity and who we are?

Labor will continue to be the party for multiculturalism. Labor will continue to be the party that stands up for a multicultural Australia and that delivers policies that enable social mobility for so many people who are making their way here right now or who have made their way here last week, last month, last year or five years ago for a better life for themselves and for a better life for their children. Labor, and the policies that Labor has put in in the past and the policies that a Labor government would bring in the future, is the party for those people, for the modern, multicultural nation that we are.