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Transcripts from the Prime Ministers of Australia

Transcript 7167

ETHNIC COMMUNITIES MEETING MELBOURNE - 26 APRIL 1987

Photo of Hawke, Robert

Hawke, Robert

Period of Service: 11/03/1983 to 20/12/1991

More information about Hawke, Robert on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 26/04/1987

Release Type: Speech

Transcript ID: 7167

PRIME MINISTER
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY EMBARGOED UNTIL DELIVERY
ETHNIC COMMUNITIES MEETING
MELBOURNE 26 APRIL 1987
Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow Australians, friends.
Some forty years ago, in the aftermath of war, the Labor
Government led by Ben Chifley took a visionary,
compassionate and historic decision.
It opened the doors of Australia to a great wave of
migration. That was a decision that offered new opportunities in a new
society for a generation of people weary of the warfare and
privation of Europe.
It was a decision that allowed old cultures to flourish
again in a new land, enriching and diversifying the
Australian society.
It was also a decision that provided a great new engine of
manpower, a mass of workers whose energy, experience, and
expereise helped build Australia's post-war prosperity to
new levels.
A generation later another Labor Government the Whitlam
Government expunged the last traces of ethnic preference
from our migration policy.
It is with that great Labor tradition behind me that
tradition of vision, compassion, courage and fairness -that
I speak to you today
Now I know some of you have come here today to register your
concern about the SBS. I have some important comments to
make about the SBS but let me return to that topic later.
At the outset I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm
the principles and policies which my Government has
developed to guide its hand in the field of ethnic and
multicultural affairs.
We believe that all Australians, irrespective of their
ethnic background, their cultural heritage or their
linguistic tradition, should be able to exercise their
rights and obligations as full and equal members of the
community.

We hold that belief not as an empty rhetorical device to be
endorsed in isolation, but as the basis of a real commitment
to ensure those rights and obligations can actually be
exercised. So we believe all Australians should be able to develop
their skills and abilities without discrimination or
prejudice. We believe multiculturalism is central to any commitment to
social justice.
We believe all Australians should have equitable access to
government services.
We believe all Australians are entitled to a fair go.
These are goals for which we strive despite the difficult
economic climate and in the face of an exhaustive and
continuing search for savings in Government expenditure.
Despite the restraint imposed on us by the economic
environment, we have taken important steps to achieve those
goals. Today let me outline some of these initiatives for you.
We have for example provided funding to a large and diverse
number of community groups through the Grant-in-Aid program.
These grants are intended to help those groups in their work
of easing the difficult years of transition of newly arrived
migrants into the Australian society.
Over the four years in which we have been in office, the
number of grants has increased by 40 per cent, to just over
200. Since we came to office we have more than doubled
total spending on the scheme.
At the same time, we are studying the way the grants are
administered, and Mick Young is now arranging for closer
co-ordination between his Department of Immigration and
Ethnic Affairs and the Department of Community Services.
This process has already yielded fruit.
We have already approved a number of funding proposals for
ethnic groups under the Home and Community program of the
Department of Community Services.
This will allow the provision of nursing home, hostel and
other facilities to care for Australia's growing population
of elderly people born in non-English speaking countries.
In other words, we are endeavouring to meet the needs of the
ethnic communities through the broader programs of all
relevant departments.

Another significant development towards the achievement of
our goals is the recent establishment of the Office of
Multicultural Affairs and the Advisory Council on
Multicultural Affairs.
These two bodies will enhance our capacity to bring into
being a truly multicultural Australia.
The Office of Multicultural Affairs is located within my own
Department. This ensures it will have an input at the
highest level of government.
In fact, the Office is able to be involved in each and every
proposal that comes before the Government in terms of its
impact upon Australia's multicultural society.
The Advisory Council on Multicultural Affairs is just as
important. Its diverse and highly skilled membership is a true
reflection of Australia's multicultural identity.
I want both the Office and the Advisory Council to work
actively at keeping open the channels of communication
between my Government and ethnic communities.
I do not want them to be token bodies. I want ideas from
them, not platitudes realistic options, not rhetoric.
In particular, I have asked the Advisory Council to
formulate a National Agenda for Multicultural Australia
that is, a program of specific priorities that will
translate the philosophy of multiculturalism into a series
of long-term, concrete initiatives.
The National Agenda will give definition, direction and
drive to the policy of multiculturalism.
I am looking to all ethnic communities to contribute to this
process so that the National Agenda truly reflects realistic
and genuinely held priorities.
Let me turn to another initiative of my Government in which
we have demonstrated our commitment to advancing the cause
of multiculturalism the implementation of a national
policy on languages.
Our linguistic richness is a rare and valuable resource
which we should develop to advance the domestic and external
interests of the nation.
People who lack an adequate command of spoken and written
English are inevitably disadvantaged in our society.
English must remain the national language.
But there are also sound reasons why the many languages used
in the Australian community today should be maintained as a
legitimate part of the Australian heritage.
I I

There are equally sound reasons why English-speakers should
learn some of the languages now spoken every day by their
fellow Australians.
Knowledge of another tongue promotes tolerance and
understanding across cultural differences.
And in a world where Australia's economic and political
destiny lies with people who speak Japanese, Chinese, Bahasa
Indonesia or Arabic as much as English, we would be foolish
to place ourselves at a disadvantage.
As ' The Age' newspaper commented only on Friday, the onus is
now on us to speak the languages of our trading partners,
rather than the reverse.
The Government commissioned Mr Joe Lo Bianco to prepare a
report on a national policy on languages.
The Lo Bianco report provides a blueprint for how Australia
can best use its language skills so as to reap some of these
benefits. The Government endorses that Report.
Accordingly I have asked Susan Ryan and Mick Young to
develop a detailed submission on this.
Let me take this opportunity to announce that we are
committed to fund an integrated package in the August budget
to implement a national policy on languages.
All of these initiatives, as I said at the outset, are being
undertaken in the face of Australia's dramatic economic
challenges.
When we came to office four years ago we had to reverse the
terrible effects of the Fraser/ Howard recession.
We did reverse that recession and we were rebuilding
national economic growth.
But then the collapse in the prices earned by many of our
primary commodities presented us with a new challenge a
challenge to restructure the economy, a challenge to become
more innovative and competitive in the way we earn our
national income, a challenge to build sustainable economic
growth for all Australians.
I am totally confident in our capacity to overcome these
challenges. That confidence is based on the belief that the
Australian people will accept the short term sacrifices
which are necessary to achieve our goal.
I do not want to pretend that our economic problems are
solved. Indeed, Paul Keating will next month bring down a
May Statement in which we will be continuing our tough
approach to finding new spending cuts.

But I do want to say very positively that the curbs on wages
and government spending have a definite purpose: long-term
prosperity for all Australians.
At the same time, we have also taken pains to ensure that
the burdens those curbs impose have been shared as fairly as
possible. The Government has ensured that the momentum of growth in
central social areas has continued.
Employment, for example, remains the key to economic
well-being and individual fulfilment.
Under my government, more than three quarters of a million
new jobs have been created.
Migrants have reaped the benefits of this growth.
In 1983 overseas-born Australians from non-English speaking
countries had an unemployment rate one-third higher than
that of native-born Australians. Today that rate has been
reduced to one-quarter. That is still too high, but it is
real progress nevertheless.
And women in particular have benefited from the growth in
jobs including many migrant women and women of migrant
descent. Again, in meeting the challenge of restructuring our
industries, we are making sure that workers, including
migrant workers, are protected.
Restructuring is necessary to make our manufacturing sector
more competitive and less cocooned from the stimulus of
international competition. The depreciation of the dollar
has opened up great new vistas for our manufacturers.
The burden of restructuring must be borne equitably. In
devising a new plan for the textiles, clothing and footwear
industry, for example, we were conscious of the large number
of migrant workers particularly women in this sector.
Thus the restructuring plan for this industry contains
special provisions for workers to acquire new skills, move
to other industries, widen their horizons, and compete more
effectively for other jobs.
Education, too, is a critical means for Australians of
migrant origin to achieve effective participation in this
society. Our policies are designed to help more young
Australians benefit from the education system and they are
bearing fruit.

More and more students are staying at school to complete
Year 12 and there is some evidence that students from
non-English speaking backgrounds are more likely than others
to be among those who complete secondary school. These
students also seem more likely to attend university.
These increases in retention rates have not come about by
accident. The government has provided improved income
support for students and is also endeavouring to increase
access to and participation in higher education.
Further we have chalked up some considerable achievements in
the teaching of English to adult migrants, through the Adult
Migrant Education Program ( AMEP).
We have developed a permanent teaching service for the AMEP;
we have provided childcare to some 60 AMEP classes
throughout Australia to ensure that women can attend the
classes; and we have increased funding for the Program to
some $ 50 million this year.
The quality of the service has been improved through the
establishment of new education centres, steady progress in
professional development, and the establishment of the
National Curriculum Resource Centre.
The recent independent review of the AMEP has confirmed the
value of the service and provided a blueprint for its future
development. My Government will continue to give high
priority to this program.
Now, finally, let me return to the immediate purpose of
today's meeting. I said at the outset that I have some
important news for you about SBS.
As part of our response to our national economic challenge,
my Government has made it clear that no area of Government
expenditure will remain immune from rigorous scrutiny.
AS part of that commitment, we made the decision to merge
the Special Broadcasting Service with the ABC.
That decision was made with the clear intention that SBS
would benefit, not suffer, from the amalgamation that is,
that while the amalgamation would produce some savings
through more efficient operation, it would also enhance the
SBS's ability to broadcast good quality radio and TV
programs. Indeed, I insisted that the Government receive formal
advice, before we took any decision on the merger, that the
SBS's capacity would be improved through its access to the
larger capital and equipment resources of the ABC.
The decision we took was thus consistent with our commitment
to ensure that taxpayers' funds are used in the most
efficient and effective way possible.

7
However the legislation we introduced into Parliament to
achieve these improvements through amalgamation was rejected
by the Opposition parties in the Senate last December.
That rejection has prevented us from making any savings for
the time being and has meant the advantages which we
intended to pass on to SBS have not been able to be passed
on. That presents the Government with two alternatives. We could
proceed with the amalgamation by administrative means a
course which we had rejected from the outset as
unacceptable.. We have decided therefore to take the other alternative: to
drop the legislation entirely and not to proceed with the
plans for the amalgamation.
We will however ensure that cost savings are made within the
publicly funded broadcasting sector to offset the savings
that had been anticipated.
I am well aware that the merger decision was not a popular
one with many of you though some of the criticism was I
believe based on a confused understanding of the proposal.
It is to end that confusion, and to clear up any
misperceptions that may exist about the Government's
intentions, that we have decided to take the proposal off
the Government's agenda.
The legislation will not be re-introduced.
And savings will still be achieved.
And let me make this promise: any future consideration we
may give to the Special Broadcasting Service will be on the
basis of full consultation with and understanding by the
ethnic communities. Should there be any such consideration,
our new Advisory Committee would have an important role to
play.
We are fully committed to ensuring that SBS effectively
carries out its role as a national broadcaster for a
multicultural Australia.
We remain equally committed to ensuring that the ABC become
more effective in dollar value terms, in the services it
delivers to all Australians.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I do not come to this meeting as a recent convert to the
benefits of Australia's migration program or to the cause of
multiculturalism.

8
For forty years now -since I joined the Australian Labor
Party in 1947 when I was a student at the University of
western Australia I have been utterly convinced that
Australia and Australians can only gain strength from the
influx of settlers from overseas.
Indeed one of the reasons why I joined the ALP was my sense
of excitement at the vast immigration program then being
initiated by the Chifley Labor Government a program that
laid the foundations for the enormous growth of the
Australian economy in the post-war years.
Later on as President of the Australian Council of Trade
Unions, I was closely involved in working with governments
of both political persuasions in implementing their
immigration policies.
So it is a particular source of pride to me now as Prime
minister that under my Government Australia's migration
intake continues to gather pace and that we are continuing
to build a truly multicultural society.
We are committed to maintaining the momentum of immigration
for we believe firmly that it brings not just economic
benefits but yields social and cultural and humanitarian
advantages for the whole population.
As proud as I am of Labor's special achievements in creating
the immigration program, it is important to understand that
immigration was, until very recently, a program which
enjoyed bipartisan support.
I readily pay tribute to the work of previous Liberal
ministers for immigration. one of them I believe stands
out Ian Macphee, a sensitive minister, an architect of
multiculturalism, a friend of many ethnic groups and a man
who still holds the respect of many individuals involved in
the field of immigration and ethnic affairs.
Mr Macphee's relegation to the backbench of his Party takes
place at a time when the would-be hijackers of the Liberal
Party the New Right are themselves becoming more
strident in their attacks not just on multiculturalism but
on many of the common decencies of Australian life.
So in closing let me express the wish that we might return
to the spirit of bipartisanship in immigration and ethnic
affairs. Together, let us continue building a better and
wiser Australia, committed in word and in practice to the
principle of equality of opportunity for all Australians.

Transcript 7167