25 August 1988, Parliament House, Canberra, Australia
In 1988 on the election trail, Opposition Leader John Howard said that it was possible historian Geoffrey Blainey was right, that it was quite legitimate to suggest Australia was being 'Asianizated' and to limit Asian immigration. Howard failed to retract this stance until he saw just how unpopular it was. Prime Minister Hawke responded in the House.
Resolution: That this House-
(1) acknowledges the historic action of the Holt Government, with bipartisan support from the Australian Labor Party, in initiating the dismantling of the White Australia Policy;
(2) recognises that since 1973, successive Labor and Liberal/National Party Governments have, with bipartisan support, pursued a racially non-discriminatory immigration policy to the overwhelming national, and international, benefit of Australia; and
(3) gives its unambiguous and unqualified commitment to the principle that, whatever criteria are applied by Australian Governments in exercising their sovereign right to determine the composition of the immigration intake, race or ethnic origin shall never, explicitly or implicitly, be among them.
Prime Minister Hawke's speech
One of the great and rare distinctions of Australian political leadership in the last generation has been its bipartisan rejection of race as a factor in immigration policy. This has been a triumph of compassion over prejudice, of reason over fear, and of statesmanship over politics. Twenty-two years ago my Party, the Australian Labor Party, disowned its own historic white Australia policy, and the Government led by Harold Holt, to its everlasting credit and honour, abolished the white Australia policy and began to dismantle the administrative machinery of discrimination.
This motion is before this House today because that great and rare distinction has been put in jeopardy by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Howard)-the inheritor of the role, but not the mantle, of Holt, Gorton, McMahon and Malcolm Fraser. I say this most sincerely to the Leader of the Opposition: this motion has not been brought forward in any attempt to drive him into the ground. It is not, because if he would retract his position then, as far as this side of the House is concerned, what has happened would be regarded as an aberration and would be forgotten. We would be pleased and proud to re-embrace once again an unqualified bipartisanship on this important issue.
Let us look at the statements of the Leader of the Opposition. On 1 August, in regard to Asian immigration, he said:
I do believe that if in the eyes of some in the community it - Asian immigration - is too great, it would be in our immediate term interest and supportive of social cohesion if it were slowed down a little, so that the capacity of the community to absorb was greater.
On 12 August the Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair) said that the figures showed that there were too many Asians coming into the country. On 9 August Senator Stone said:
Asian immigration has to be slowed. It is no use dancing around the bushes.
On 15 August, he also said that it will require a reduction in the excessively high proportion of immigrants from Asia. Those statements remain unretracted. The position of the Leader of the Opposition on 17 August was as follows:
I do not intend to alter one inch the stand that I have taken . . . I do not intend to alter my position on this issue.
The paragraph shuffling in the Party meeting last Monday has not changed anything. If, according to the Leader of the Opposition, in the eyes of some in the community Asian immigration is too great, he believes it would be in our immediate term interest and supportive of social cohesion if it were slowed down a little. The Leader of the Opposition maintains that position and, as I say, the paragraph shuffling of last Monday enables him to maintain that position. That has broken the tradition. It has broken the practice of the past and the Leader of the Opposition knows it, his colleagues know it, every commentator in the community knows it and, significantly, every Asian leader knows it.
He has not only broken the traditions of his predecessors but also unfortunately he has broken his own strongly asserted position in this House. Almost four years ago to this very day, on 23 August 1984, the Leader of the Opposition spoke on this issue and he pleaded eloquently for bipartisanship. On 23 August 1984 he advised that just two weeks previously he had successfully moved, with an overwhelming majority of the New South Wales convention of the Liberal Party, a motion on this issue. The Hansard shows that, speaking of that motion, he said:
It recalled amongst other things, that past coalition government policies were built upon a non-discriminatory approach to immigration and a level of intake and a pace of change. During that debate, which was reported fairly extensively by the media, I expressly rejected the proposition that the Liberal Party should take a stand against Asian immigration. I supported the policies of the former coalition Government which were humanitarian and liberal in the true sense of the word. We were prepared to take, with the Labor Party's generous support, people from war-torn parts of South East Asia.
Importantly he said:
We were prepared to persuade people around Australia to accept that policy.
In the course of his contribution-an eloquent contribution-he referred properly to the need to avoid any suggestion of racism. Those were eloquent words of the Leader of the Opposition in his then capacity in this House nearly four years ago to this day. He said that he and those around him were prepared to persuade the people of Australia. Implicitly in his statement he recognised the unfortunate truth; that is, that there is prejudice in this country on this issue. No sensible person can deny that. But he said then that the task of leadership was to persuade the people of Australia. But now, rather than leading, rather than-in his own words-persuading people around Australia to accept the principled and the unqualified position of his predecessors against any suggestion or possibility of discrimination, and instead of accepting that responsibility of leadership, he has unfortunately become the follower of the lowest common denominator.
Let me make it clear-and I want the Leader of the Opposition to know this-I do not accuse him of racism or of being a racist. In a sense, sadly, I make the more serious charge, I make the more damning indictment, of cynical opportunism, in a cynical grab for votes. His polling shows that there is this prejudice in the community and he has unleashed within his coalition and within the wider community the most malevolent, the most hurtful, the most damaging and the most uncohesive forces. Far from `one Australia' he has guaranteed a divided Australia. Far from guaranteeing one Australia, he has guaranteed a divided Australia; a hurtfully divided Australia.
One of the most disquieting aspects of the Liberals' new confected policy on immigration is their slipshod and deceptive use of the English language. When the Liberals initiated the breach of bipartisanship, their language, for all its ugliness, was clear cut. No-one could doubt that the Leader of the Opposition meant what he said when he explicitly called for a slowdown in Asian immigration. Nobody could doubt the meaning of the Leader of the National Party of Australia when he said that there were too many Asians coming into Australia. Senator Stone was clearly understood when he said that the excessively high proportion of immigrants from Asia should be reduced. But now the Opposition is operating under what I referred to as the policy by code word. Now the Opposition refers to changes in the composition of the immigration flow `to protect social cohesion'. Let me make it crystal clear that we in the Government repudiate the Opposition's position. We repudiate it on moral grounds and we repudiate it on grounds of this nation's economic self-interest. This is one of those occasions when moral and economic interest coincide.
Let me deal briefly with the moral issue. I can do it in terms of some of the recent language that has come from the Leader of the Opposition and others. Honourable members will recall that honourable members opposite in talking recently about a great Australian referred to the fact that he was an atheist. Presumably, they were implying for themselves, as they are properly and legitimately entitled to do, that they embraced the virtues of the Christian position. If there is one fundamental aspect of the Christian position, it is the belief and faith in the fatherhood of God. There is one thing which follows as a matter of logic and faith from that position; that is the belief in the brotherhood of man. Any suggestion of antagonism or discrimination on the grounds of race repudiates and is repugnant to that fundamental position. Let me say, for those who do not in any formal sense embrace the Christian position but who are driven by the compulsion of compassionate humanism, that belief in the brotherhood of man is just as fundamental.
To make the point of the morality of the issue, let me ask every member of this House to think of those 350,000 Asian born Australians together with their Australian born sons and daughters. I just ask honourable members to think of them. I have been in close contact in the last three weeks with representatives of community organisations. I am saddened beyond measure by the acute anguish and fear that has been engendered in the community following the statements of the Leader of the Opposition. Today we heard my colleague the Minister for Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs (Mr Holding) give further evidence, eloquently, of that. If the Leader of the Opposition doubts that his remarks have had any adverse impact on these people I say to him: talk to these kids in their schools; talk to those who have received hate letters in the mail over the last three weeks; talk to the people whose homes and cars have been attacked; talk to those who have been forced to read disgusting graffiti about themselves; and talk to those proud Asian Australians who have been here for many generations and who now feel they are seen as some sort of threat to the social cohesion of the country of which they are proud.
Like all members of this House, today I received a communication from the Uniting Church in Australia. I will read it. I knew nothing about its preparation. The letter stated:
The national Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia is strongly opposed to the use of race or country of origin as a criterion in the selection of migrants to Australia. We believe it is ethically unacceptable to use such criteria.
The offence and pain caused to Australians of Asian origin by the debate of the past month is very serious.
On behalf of the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, I urge you to take a strongly moral and principled stand on the issue and to support the motion to be introduced today by Mr Hawke in support of an absolutely non-racial policy.
That letter is signed by John P. Brown, Acting General Secretary of the Uniting Church in Australia.
I turn quickly to the economic implications of what has happened. Honourable members will know that, following the period when we were in economic recession at the beginning of the 1980s, we have turned increasingly to seek enmeshment of the Australian economy in that of the world's most dynamic and economically fastest growing region. It is clear that to do anything to turn our backs on or to prejudice our relations with that region would be against the economic interests of this country.
It is critical that we keep in mind the extent of Australia's economic ties with Asia. Five out of the top ten export markets of this country are in Asia. Half of our national annual exports are now sold to Asian countries. Some $17 billion per year-the national income equivalent of $1,000 for every Australian man, woman and child-goes in exports to Asia. India, China and Hong Kong have been the three fastest growing of our major export markets over the last five years. Japan is our largest export market. Our exports to China and Hong Kong have leaped by over 300 per cent in the last years. In the area of foreign investment, which we know is critical to this country, Asian investment in the Australian economy is worth around $35 billion. It is now similar to that from the United Kingdom and twice that from the rest of the European Economic Community. Asia is critical to the future of our fastest growing industry, tourism. One in four of our international tourists now comes from Asia.
Let me refer to some of the early signs that already make apparent the damage that has been done by what has been initiated by the Leader of the Opposition. Professor Helen Hughes, a regional economic specialist and a member of the Fitzgerald Committee to Advise on Australia's Immigration Policies, has suggested that Australia could already have lost billions of dollars in contracts in South East Asia. We are aware of the comments of Mr Lee Kuan Yew. This is confirmed by a cable received only yesterday from our High Commissioner in Kuala Lumpur which suggests that the money we could lose as a result of the debate could run into billions of dollars. Our important business migration program is being put at risk because three out of four business migrants in 1987-88 came from Asia, bringing three-quarters of a billion dollars into this country with them. The cable from Kuala Lumpur emphasised that if it is believed that racism is resurgent in Australia, intending migrants will take themselves and their money elsewhere. I will quote from the cable. It stated:
They don't read the fine print in political statements but act on the basis of an impression of the overall situation.
Those are the clear signs of the damage that has already been wreaked upon this country by the statements of the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the National Party and Senator Stone. The Leader of the Opposition and those supporting him have underrated, indeed insulted, the decency and intelligence of the Australian people. The Leader of the Opposition has repudiated one of the proud traditions of the Australian Liberal Party. In the process, I believe that he is rending the fabric of the Liberal Party. That is a matter for the Liberal Party, but the Leader of the Opposition is not going to rend the fabric of this great Australian society. That is a matter for me and for the Australian Parliament.
The remarks by the Leader of the Opposition and of his colleagues remain unretracted and publicly unrepudiated. This motion provides the opportunity for repudiation and retraction. The motion asserts that this Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, speaking on behalf of the people of Australia, repudiates explicitly, and by any implicit process of paragraph shuffling, the concept or suggestion that discrimination against any race has or will have any place in the immigration policies or the domestic policies of this great Australian nation.