11 December 2019


SUBJECTS: Launch of Labor’s Multicultural Engagement Taskforce; NSW bushfires; Peter Dutton’s blowouts in citizenship and partner visa processing; religious discrimination.
PETER KHALIL, MEMBER FOR WILLS: Good morning everyone and welcome to the electorate of Wills. My name is Peter Khalil, and I am the Federal member for Wills. Wills which is Brunswick and Coburg and Pascoe Vale and Glenroy and Faulkner. The northern suburbs of Melbourne is one of the most multiculturally diverse electorates in this country. Around 48% of people are either born overseas or have one parent born overseas and of course with the second and third generation migrants, you're looking at over 60-70% of this part of Melbourne being so culturally diverse. So it is a great pleasure and an honour to be able to represent this wonderfully diverse community. Because the cultural diversity not just of wills, but about nation Australia is our strength. And the wonderful thing about Australia's multicultural model is that we don't have to choose between our identities, we can be proud to be Australians and proud of our cultural heritage, proud of my Egyptian heritage, or if you're Irish, or you’re Italian, or you’re Greek, or you’re Indian or any of the wonderful, diverse countries that we've come from. You can be proud to be Australian. That's what it means to be an Australian. We've all come from somewhere else and built this country and the foundation of Australia’s success is based on our migration, and this wonderful multicultural country that we share. And so it's such a great morning this morning because we've had an opportunity to consult with some of the leaders in the multicultural community and I've had the honour to host in my electorate. Kristina Keneally, the Shadow Minister for Home Affairs who has come all the way down from Sydney. And also Andrew Giles a Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs. And we've engaged with leaders in this space to talk about multicultural Australia, talk about how we as a party, the Labor Party can do better in developing policies that will serve the multicultural communities. And we've got an exciting announcement which I'll leave to the Shadow Ministers to make about how we're going to move forward and the initiative that we're going to take as a party to engage with the community. So I want to thank everyone for coming today, and particularly thank Tina and the team at Pronia for hosting it, for hosting us here. They've done a wonderful job with the Greek Australian community, which is one of the early migrant communities in this part of the world. And they've provided services for the Greek Australian community for over 40 years. So thank you for having us. And I'll hand over to our wonderful guests, Kristina or Andrew.
ANDREW GILES, SHADOW MINISTER FOR MULTICULTURAL AFFAIRS: Thanks, Peter. Look, it's great to be here in Brunswick this morning. Great to be here at Pronia with you and Senator Raff Ciccone. Two Labor success stories and two great multicultural success stories as well as a great friend from Sydney, Kristina Keneally and another migrant Labor success story. We're here today to launch Labor’s Multicultural Engagement Taskforce. And this is an important occasion. It shows that we recognise in the Australian Labor Party, that we are the party of modern multicultural Australia. And that our multiculturalism is something that we should be proud of, but that we can't take it for granted. And when I think about my role as Labor’s Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, I like to think of it in this way. Not to speak for multicultural Australia, but to ensure that multicultural Australia's voices are heard. So today we're establishing a taskforce which will be very ably led by Peter here, along with Anne Stanley, the Member for Werriwa in Sydney. The purpose of this taskforce is to reach out to Australia's multicultural communities to ensure that all of their voices are featured in our policy making concerns.
So today we've heard about a number of issues and Kristina will touch on these. Our concern is not to tell multicultural Australia what we're doing for them, but to make sure that their concerns are reflected in the approach that Labor takes to government. This builds on a number of other steps Labor has taken in this area, ensuring that we continue to be the party of modern multicultural Australia. We have already established a Multicultural Caucus Policy Committee. This is a body that will ensure that every issue that goes before us in the Parliament reflects the concerns of modern multicultural Australia. And we know that there are so many things the Morrison Government is doing which is not valuing our diversity. SBS research has shown the cost for the Australian economy, for not being fully inclusive is about $12.7 billion dollars. We still see racism. We still see exclusion. We still see services that aren't designed to meet the needs of every Australia. So today, the Australian Labor Party takes a big step forward. We're opening the door to multicultural communities to tell us what matters to them, and what we could and should be doing about it. Kristina -
KRISTINA KENEALLY, DEPUTY LABOR LEADER IN THE SENATE AND SHADOW MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS: Thank you. Thank you, Andrew. Thank you, Peter. Thank you, Raff, and particularly, thank you to the community leaders who are here today who have engaged in this first meeting of Labor's Multicultural Engagement Taskforce and I will speak about that in a moment. But as I begin my remarks today, while I am in Melbourne, I want to send my thoughts back home to my hometown of Sydney and to the people of Sydney in New South Wales who are suffering quite significantly as a result of these extraordinary bushfires. This is as many people said not normal. It is quite horrendous. The smoke in Sydney itself yesterday was quite devastating and quite hazardous and the impact of these bushfires across the state is going to be significant. And so my thoughts and prayers and good wishes and determination that we will as the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, do everything we can in a bipartisan way to support our frontline responders, our firefighters in particular and to work to a healthier climate. No one bushfire is the result of climate change, but it is undeniable that our climate is changing, bushfire season is growing hotter and more intense. And that is something as a Federal Parliament, we need to take very seriously. 
When it comes to the meeting to I am here today with great gratitude to the multicultural community leaders who have joined us, you have enriched our conversation. You have given us important feedback. You will talk to us about the issues that matter to your communities and to you, as our fellow Australians. This was a meeting of modern Australia. It was a meeting where we discussed the issues and the opportunities that present themselves to a modern multicultural nation and we considered some of the important issues that are facing our country right now. I want to highlight two that came out in the conversation today amongst the many that no doubt this taskforce will continue to work here in Melbourne, and right across Australia, with multicultural communities on.
One is the extraordinary blowout in processing times that we are seeing for citizenship applications and partner and parent visas. These are Australian families who are being impacted by the go slow, incompetent management in the Department of Home Affairs. Just to put this in context- at the last Federal election, 210,000 Australian permanent residents were unable to vote because the Government had failed to process their citizenship applications. That is two Federal electorates worth of people who did not get to have a say in the last Federal election. These people “had a go” but they didn't “get a go” in voting in the last Federal election.
Why are we denying people the opportunity to take up Australian citizenship when they have come, where they've had a go, where they built families, they built careers, they are part of communities, they are permanent residents and yet they are being denied the opportunity to become Australian citizens by this go slow approach in the Department of Home Affairs? Adding to that, the blowout in partner visa processing times. As we approach the holiday season, we are going to have families who are physically separated simply because the Department of Home Affairs hasn't processed partner visas; in some cases taking over two years. Two years where grandparents will be separated from grandchildren because their Australian citizen child and their partner have to live overseas because the partner has been unable to get a visa.
Or where partners themselves have had to be separated because the Department of Home Affairs has been unable to process partner visas. The blowout in partner visas is alarming considering that the blowout, the wait time and the wait list, is growing larger each month. It is making it harder and harder for people to have their families together at any time, but particularly over the holidays and these issues were raised by the communities here today. I also want to thank communities for raising issues around temporary migration. This is something that Raff Ciccone as the chair of our newly established Senate Select Inquiry into Temporary Migration will be looking at. Here's what's the big challenge for multicultural communities and for governments in relation to an increase in temporary migration.
We do not have the legal and civil infrastructure to support a growing population in Australia of temporary migrants and it will change fundamentally how we do settlement services. It is going to be community organisations like those here today, who are going to be confronted first with that challenge. We heard stories today of community organisations being approached by temporary migrant workers who are being exploited at work, seeking help, seeking assistance and yet our legal and social infrastructure is not set up to support that. So these are some of the issues that we'll be talking with this Multicultural Engagement Taskforce, but they are not limited to those. Peter has opened up for submissions to Labor’s Multicultural Engagement Taskforce and we will be looking to hear from groups like these who are here today on the issues proactively, as we formulate policy, so we are responding to issues that they are confronting, to opportunities they see are going missed and working alongside multicultural groups in order to uphold, celebrate and take every great advantage of being this modern, multicultural nation. I'm happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: So I mean Labor says it's the natural party of multiculturalism. You think that perhaps it has taken that vote for granted? I guess given the recent Federal election?

KENEALLY: Well if dwell upon for a moment the review that was done into the Federal election result, what it did show that there were more likely to be economic issues that were in play in terms of deciding people's votes than any other. However, as the alternate government, we take seriously our responsibility to work with communities, particularly when there are changing challenges. We want to go to the next election and will go to the next election with policies that help encourage jobs and opportunity that celebrate the opportunities that multiculturalism bring, and that respond to the growing and continuing challenges that communities face. The example I gave today regarding temporary migration and some of the challenges that's presenting. Another issue that was raised today was in relation to when new migrants arrive - the way the current Government approaches is to require them to learn English to a high proficiency before we put them in contact with employment services. Now, the Shergold report that came out last week, it said that's not necessary. We can do two things at once. If there are opportunities to get people into employment when they first arrive, even if their English is not perfect, we should be taking that. The groups here today echoed that back to us and said that was their experience of what has worked in the past, and we seem to be moving away from it. We know it'd be better for newly arrived migrants to get into work as quickly as possible so it's about finding ways in a policy sense to realise those opportunities.
JOURNALIST: And how will this inform Labor’s decision on issues like on the Liberals’ religious freedom legislation?
KENEALLY: Well I must say while I invited the groups here today to have comments on the religious discrimination draft exposure bill, it wasn’t the main issue of discussion that was brought forward today. That’s not to say there won’t be submissions and other opportunities for people to raise those issues. What I will say about the draft exposure bill is the first version of it was friendless. You would be hard pressed to find a business group, a multicultural group, a religious organisation, an equality group that had much to say that was positive about it. So the Government has done the right thing in listening to over 6,000 submissions that were made to that draft exposure bill. It remains to be seen if the government has delivered a bill that could be supported by the community and by the Parliament. Labor will do its own consultations on the draft exposure bill. No doubt this group will have some role to play, but I do want to emphasise that multiculturalism and religiosity are not synonyms. We are talking often about and we shouldn't be, we should not use them as such as interchangeable. That's not to say that there isn’t crossover and commonality. But the issues that the government seem determined to address and their religious discrimination legislation are really for the government to explain A) the problem they're trying to solve, and B) the remedy by which they think that was that this legislation solves it.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that the Federal Parliament particularly the makeup of the Federal Parliament truly represents the diverse and multicultural nation of Australian society?
KENEALLY: It's getting there. Well, we do have right here - Peter Khalil and Senator Ciccone, who do represent multicultural communities. You know, I myself am a seventh generation Australian but also a migrant to this country. Thanks to be the quirks of citizenship law that operated at the time of my birth, and however, one of the comments made today was that the challenge for many multicultural organisations is that we have a multicultural society, but too often a monocultural regime in government. And, you know, I'm very proud of the fact that the Australian Labor Party has taken the steps it has to ensure that we are preselecting people from a wide range of backgrounds in the community. You've got an Anne Aly, you've got Ed Husic. you've got Peter Khalil, you've got Raff Ciccone, you've got Linda Burney, you've got Pat Dodson, and Malarndirri McCarthy. The determination by the Labor Party to represent diverse communities, and to have gender diversity as well as one that we take very seriously and we're very proud of and of course, we are led by Anthony Albanese. You know, a man who has his own connection to multicultural communities both his in his personal life and obviously as the member for Grayndler one of the most diverse communities and electorates in New South Wales.
JOURNALIST: Kris, I guess your reaction to this policy, or this launch today of the multicultural engagement committee and I guess, generally, what's your reaction to this?
KRIS PAVLIDIS, ETHNIC COMMUNITIES’ COUNCIL OF VICTORIA: As the Chair of the Ethnic Communities Council of Victoria, I applaud the Shadow Ministers who are here with us today and the Labor Party for undertaking this very significant initiative in establishing this Taskforce. As we know, the Federal Government has progressively and increasingly watered down multiculturalism as we know it, as we live it, and as we celebrate it, and I think being part of - this is a privilege - to be part of this exercise with all these colleagues around me here who are champions in their own right, in terms of what they deliver for multiculturalism in Australia. The strong message has to be that multiculturalism has been and continues to be a strength and it's a strength-based approach that we work from. There are benefits, economic benefits, social benefits that we all have to gain from. And I congratulate everyone who's been part of this initiative.
JOURNALIST: What do you think are some of the key issues? We heard some in there, obviously. From your perspective, what are perhaps the issues that aren’t being heard?
PAVLIDIS: Some of the cases that have already been tabled and the Shadow Ministers have spoken to, but I'd also like to add the other end of the spectrum and talk on behalf of the established communities in Australia and particularly in Victoria. We are a nation a modern nation. It's been built on immigration and migrants and we mustn't forget that with respect to our First Nations people. Progressively, we are all immigrants. And I think the Shadow Minister, Kristina Keneally, made that point quite eloquently. We must remember that the 60s and the 50s the strong waves of migrants that came from Southern Europe - who really built this nation in many respects, the so-called factory fodder, the industry was in its infancy and needed to be built up. So migration was then encouraged, and it was welcomed in a way I suppose that isn't being experienced and demonstrated today. So there's a lot to be gained from the lived experience of the established migrant communities in working very closely with the new and emerging communities. That's something that we try and advocate and encourage progressively and increasingly for obvious reasons.
JOURNALIST: And does your organisation have a particular view on the religious discrimination legislation that the Government has formulated?
PAVLIDIS: Again, I think Shadow Minister Keneally made a pointed point in saying that they're not synonymous - racial affiliation and practice with multiculturalism, there's certainly a synergy there. But we can't excuse one at the expense of the other and I think the Federal Government has had a strong shortcoming in doing that.
KENEALLY: Any other questions? Great. Thank you all.