Thank you, Madam Speaker. Today I wish to speak in support of multiculturalism. This isn’t merely an academic discussion for me. As a migrant from the Pacific Islands, multiculturalism in Australia is my personal, everyday, lived experience, and I’m thankful to be a part of this great nation.
The White Australia Policy, once described by Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes as 'the greatest thing we have achieved', was introduced in part to force people who look like me out of Australia. I’m proud to belong to the political party that completely dismantled this policy, making space for me and others like me in our vibrant multicultural society.
I’m likewise proud to sit on the only side of this chamber that actually reflects Australia’s current multicultural society, with three migrants, one a post-war refugee, serving as Canberra Liberal MLAs.
I know intimately what it is to be insulted and harassed because of my race, my language, and the colour of my skin. To share just one experience, when I was pregnant with my first child, a fellow passenger on a bus told me to go back to my country and then launched into a stream of racial slurs. I got off the bus, afraid for my safety and worried that this person would follow me and physically hurt me.
Did I feel offended and insulted? You know what? I felt more than that. To be offended means to feel upset, annoyed or resentful. That sugar-coats how I actually felt. What I felt was harassed. To be harassed means to feel tormented, disturbed persistently, or persecuted. Tormented, disturbed, persecuted – three powerful words that describe exactly how I felt being discriminated against because of my race.
But I also know what it is like to be politically discriminated against. I have been spat upon and sworn at for my political beliefs. Was I offended and insulted? Yes. Have I felt tormented and persecuted? A profound yes! It’s still tormenting me! But you know what? Having been persecuted for having different political views and having been threatened because of the colour of my skin feels exactly the same to me!
As one who has been insulted, offended, and harassed, I reject the idea that people should take offence simply because others have opposing views. Treating offence as a weapon that can be used to silence another person’s thoughts or expressions trivialises the experiences of those of us who have genuinely experienced racial harassment. I strongly suspect that people who talk about or use offence in this way have never actually been in the situations that I and my fellow migrants have been.
Migration is one of the great strengths of modern Australia. Those who come here as refugees have often faced the most harrowing of circumstances, but they push on with determination and almost incredible resilience. I honour their contributions. Those who choose to come here to seek a better life for themselves and their families demonstrate great courage as they walk away from what is familiar and comfortable and face the unknown. I honour their contributions as well.
We migrants often feel like foreigners in this new land, but despite the loneliness and hardship, we do not despair. Often under great hardship and feeling cut off from family and old friends, we take courage and put our faith in a bright future. When we are treated as second-class citizens, we rise above the hatred, choosing to fulfil our dreams instead of taking offence.
As a young migrant schoolgirl, I quickly learnt how to recognise and respond to bullying. In many cases, cheerfully ignoring the provocation can be the best course of action, thereby denying the one doing the provoking the satisfaction of the sought-after reaction. Dignified silence, however, can sometimes be misinterpreted as weakness, and so occasionally one needs to speak up for the sake of clarity.
I do so now in the hope that I may not be misinterpreted: Whether the issue is my absolute commitment to multiculturalism and racial harmony or any other matter, I have no intention, either now or in the future, of allowing myself to be intimidated by bullies. Thank you.