SPEECH - ADDRESS TO THE NEW SOUTH WALES JEWISH BOARD OF DEPUTIES - 14 JULY 2016

When I was researching this speech, I discovered the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies has an official policy on anti-racism.

What could be a more worthy goal than “working for the betterment of the community and all of humanity”?

Organisations like the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies play a critical role in our civil society.

 

Without strong organisations and institutions, our differences can act as points of division. 

 

Yet we are stronger because of these differences and the work your organisation does is testament to our great, diverse society.

I would like to discuss these themes in the context of the recent election.

 

While the results from 12 days ago are still being sorted through, there are some clear themes.

 

Normally when I talk about exclusion, my focus is on Australia’s diversity.

 

Being the Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism has provided me with a renewed respect about how migrants settle in Australia in the 21st century and what diversity means to our country.

 

But exclusion of anyone in our community can threaten social cohesion, not simply new or very well established migrants.

 

Exclusion and a sense of isolation people are the biggest threats to our diverse society.

 

This is a theme that with the benefit of hindsight, has not attracted enough attention over our decades of economic growth.

 

There are citizens who have been left behind by a changing economy. Yet economic participation and inclusion plays a direct role in support for our cohesive society.

 

Increasing isolation and exclusion breeds discontent and a backlash to prosperity.

 

What has happened?

 

Let me be clear - there is no excuse for racism and bigotry. No ifs, no buts.

 

As Labor’s spokesperson for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, part of my role is to demonstrate – not just with words but with action and policy – there is no right to be a bigot.

 

After the unsuccessful attempt to rip apart Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, Labor ensured that our election policy for multiculturalism would strengthen, not threaten, our social cohesion.

 

Continuing from this, we should not listen politely to calls for a Royal Commission into Islam, but rather show how they are divisive.

 

We should not give credence to unfounded claims about Halal certification.

 

We should never accept racial profiling as part of our immigration policies.

 

These policy positions are hurtful to millions of Australians.

 

They must be fervently argued against and rebutted and I am heartened to see this has already started.

 

In the wake of Brexit, British Muslims have been subjected to a massive increase in discrimination. People have been spat on, jeered in the streets, refused service and many feel unsafe in their own country.

 

Brexit has seemingly provided the social licence permitting overt discrimination.

 

This is unacceptable and points to a future Australia must guard against at all costs. 

 

However for people who have been left behind, we must provide an alternative future.

 

This does not mean an alternative built on fear and discrimination, but a future that offers hope.

 

I am convinced that the specific anti-migrant and anti-religious themes of various political parties which attract significant attention only explains a small fraction of their support.  There evidence to support this conclusion is compelling.

 

In early June, SGS Economics released a study showing economic growth by electorates across Australia for the period of 2014-15.

 

Across Australia, there were only 9 electorates total where the economy went backwards by more than 1 per cent.

 

5 of these were in Queensland.

 

These places are experiences shrinking family incomes and rising unemployment.

 

They see disproportional losses from trade, from labour market change and from demographic shifts. 

 

They don’t see free trade as an opportunity but as an economic force ripping their community apart.

 

Seats like Oxley, Herbert and Wright – divergent geographies from outer suburban Brisbane to regional coastland – the vote against the major parties is stark.

 

If we allow economic contraction, isolation and exclusion to gain a foothold, support for anti-migrant and anti-religious policies will increase.

 

This is why it is important to ensure economic growth is shared, why we must fight isolation and exclusion.

 

It is the job of all of us who believe in a diverse Australia to understand and address these core concerns, the sense of isolation and exclusion in our political system.

 

We cannot pit sections of society against each other.

 

Why has this happened?

 

A good starting place for this examination is the Scanlon Foundation’s world-class research into social cohesion in Australia.

 

This research tells us since the mid-1970s, support for whether there is too much immigration tracks almost perfectly with how many people don’t have a job.

 

As unemployment rises, people are more sceptical of the idea of new immigrants.

 

As the labour market recovers and more people are employed, people welcome more migrants.

 

Clearly, economic participation and economic security are critical to understand the fear people can feel in periods of labour market transformation.

 

While the economic changes over the last 30 years have left a strong positive mark and continuous economic growth at a national level, there are those who do not share in any optimism.

 

We must recognise this because it has critical messages for the future.

 

Let me give one example about how the public discussion has failed.

 

Malcolm Turnbull’s key message since becoming Prime Minister has been about there never being a more exciting time to be an Australian.

 

This sentiment was keenly welcomed by many searching for a more optimistic tone about Australian politics.

 

However on Election Day, this message did not resonate with millions of Australians.

 

I would go as far to say many voters were turned off by it.  And they told me so.

 

There is nothing exciting about a small business struggling with cash flow.

 

What is exciting about jobs disappearing from regional communities as urbanisation continues unabated?

 

How about manufacturing workers from Adelaide to Wollongong wondering whether this will be the month they get laid off, after years of forced redundancies have decimated morale?

 

There is anxiety, uncertainty, and in some cases genuine fear about the future.

 

When confronted with the most optimistic disposition about the period in which we live, the message repelled these voters.

 

A slogan of “Jobs and Growth”, in the absence of a genuine discussion about how either would be delivered to these disaffected voters, added insult to injury.

 

This does not mean politicians, nor any Prime Minister in particular, should not set a tone where the future can be a better place.

 

After all, generation after generation here in Australia has experienced growth in incomes, living standards and leisure time.

 

But we need perspective and context.

 

We also need to realise many people rejecting the major parties are not necessarily rejecting government. A small government framework does not help the person whose livelihood has been ripped away due to collapsing terms of trade.

 

Labor will not allow the protest vote to determine the future of how we debate multiculturalism in this country. We will counter the racism and the bigotry.

 

And just as importantly, we will work hard to create a brighter alternative. A future where economic opportunity is shared.

 

A future where prosperity is inclusive. Where social cohesion is maintained.

 

Addressing exclusion of diverse communities

 

I want to touch briefly on two different types of exclusion.

 

Electoral exclusion

 

During the election, I saw persistent and serious examples of electoral exclusion in how we communicate with diverse communities.

 

These examples reinforced to me that the path to engaging with our diverse society remains unfinished.  I can speak about this from personal experience.

 

In my electorate of Greenway, about four out of ten people speak a language other than English in their home.

 

The most common surname in the Blacktown Local Government Area is Singh.

 

However there is no singular “Indian community”.

 

I do not have a weekly chat with the leader of “the Indian Community”.  That person does not exist.

 

Instead, there are people who speak Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi and a number of other languages.

 

There are Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Jains, amongst others.

 

These people have their own aspirations, grievances and networks.

 

They are far from homogenous, and to treat them as such is an insult.

 

Yet this happens far more often than we like to imagine.

 

During the election campaign, I saw countless examples of commentary about “the Indian community” as if they were such a single, homogenous group, voting as a bloc.

 

In reality, any time you see terms like “the Chinese vote” or “the Arab vote”, beware:  this actually represents hundreds of thousands of individuals, citizens who are working hard, seeking a better future for themselves and their families.

 

While first-generation immigrants can share common traits – and I’ve found a yearning to see their children get ahead is very strong – the vast majority, regardless of where they are from, care about the same issues as most of us here today: health care, education, future jobs for themselves or their children, or the state of the economy, to name a few.

 

Grouping people exclusively by their ethnicity or their religion is the antithesis of what our society should be about.

 

It is the road to exclusion.

 

This does not mean ignoring communal aspects. I firmly believe we should reach out and communicate in as many ways as possible. This is to be commended.

 

Adverts and editorial coverage in community print media, community radio and social media is important to listen and speak to people who choose not to read the Daily Telegraph or Sydney Morning Herald.

 

Recruiting bilingual volunteers to speak and listen to people whose English is not their preferred language is not a choice, but rather a necessity. Attending community gatherings not because you have to, but because you want to, engage with those you represent.

 

There are many opportunities to talk with and listen to our diverse community.

 

But tapping a community leader on the shoulder and expecting gratification, taking for granted the individual voices of the community:  these are simply avenues of exclusion.

 

Labor market exclusion

 

Finally, I want to raise a type of exclusion occurring daily in Australia.

 

Australia has accepted a growing number of immigrants over the last two decades, often with great success.

 

Our diversity is most definitely our strength.

 

However, often unnoticed are the big trends occurring under the radar.

 

Perhaps the most concerning is exclusion in the labour market.

 

Many migrants to Australia are skilled, with research showing they fill skills shortages and help our labour market.

 

Yet there are others who are less fortunate. They may be skilled or just looking for an opportunity to get started but too often people are ignored because of discrimination.

 

We know this is a real phenomenon.

 

Economists at ANU, including Labor’s own Dr Andrew Leigh MP, found in a 2009 study that people without Anglo names had submit many more applications to get the same number of interviews as someone with an Anglo name. It found:

 

“To get as many interviews as an Anglo applicant with an Anglo-sounding name, an Indigenous person must submit 35 per cent more applications, a Chinese person must submit 68 per cent more applications, an Italian person must submit 12 per cent more applications, and a Middle Eastern person 64 per cent more applications.”

 

When a “foreign” name means you have to apply for hundreds of extra jobs, we need to recognise there is a level of inherent discrimination in the labour market. This should not be hidden away but discussed and redressed.

 

The first step to addressing this discrimination is to realise it exists.

 

This is why as part of Labor’s election package, we wanted to expand funding for the Racism. It Stops With Me campaign and highlight the specific issue of labour market discrimination.

 

We will continue to advocate for this as there are many consequences of this type of discrimination.

 

One is that our economy loses out because skills and knowledge is ignored due to discrimination.

 

Another is exploitation is allowed to fester unchecked.

 

I believe what occurred at 7 Eleven – the exploitation of thousands of international students – can be linked very closely to persistent discrimination in the labour market.

 

7 Eleven became a location of last resort in the labour market.

 

Despite the poor pay, unpaid overtime and mistreatment, it remained a job and a franchise willing to employ a new migrant.

 

International students are among an up and coming generation of highly skilled people, yet who so often they struggle to find a job to help them get by.

 

Too many people have been pushed into those jobs because other opportunities don’t exist.

 

There must be those who work at employment agencies and marketing companies who see this in their employment patterns and trends.

 

It is high time to think more about these issues, to bring them out into the light and work out how to best address them.

 

This will help utilise skills, build networks and enhance productivity. It will also help redress exploitation by providing people with a fairer playing field.

 

There are no easy solutions to this discrimination.

 

But by recognising this is a most serious issue for our labour market and beginning to think more deeply about how government can best tackle discrimination, the best pathway to mitigating this exclusion can be considered and acted upon.

 

Conclusion

 

There is no single explanation of exclusion in our society.

 

In Australia, we have been more successful at sharing the benefits of growth.

 

But since the GFC, incomes have stagnated. Sectors once dominant now struggle.

 

Rebutting racism and bigotry is necessary but far from sufficient to tackle underlying support for political parties who preach hatred.

 

There is a litany of issues to be addressed but employment and opportunities are first and foremost.

 

Those who feel excluded from our political system must be won over with honest engagement, not rhetoric and empty promises.

 

This means renewing investment in infrastructure. Supporting those who need it in the labour market. Making life easier for small businesses.

 

Labor will continue to build on this policy record this term - not simply in pursuit of a return to government, but because we know it is the right approach to maintain social cohesion, to give our citizens the opportunities they deserve, and ensure our political debate remains respectful and constructive.

 

[ENDS]