Maria Vamvakinou MP

Your Federal Member for Calwell



I want to raise two incidents regarding our multicultural community that show how those with extreme views on both sides of the debate often hijack the issue with their misguided words and actions. In yesterday’s Herald Sun, journalist Andrew Bolt delivered another instalment of his well-known views about this country’s diversity.

In his article ‘Diverse and Divided’ Bolt objects to passage of the Victorian government’s Multicultural Victoria Act supported by both the State Labor government and the Liberal coalition. Bolt cannot understand why ‘politicians are not game to say stop’ to what he describes as ‘taxpayerfunded golden air kisses of ethnic chiefs’.

For Andrew’s benefit, I am one politician who is willing to answer his question. I will not say ‘stop’ to multiculturalism because to do so would be to deprive this country of one of its greatest resources. To say stop, as Andrew suggests, is to deny our multicultural identity and to lay waste our multilingual capability and all that it can achieve for this country. Australia must compete in a global community. That is our future, and our efforts and successes will be greater if our citizens are well versed in the world’s languages and traditions. It is a real pity that Andrew’s parents made him ‘ditch the clogs’, as he says, and did not teach him the Dutch language. Perhaps that is the essence of his frustration. On the other hand, my parents insisted that I learn the Greek language and they passed on to me Greek culture and tradition as well as the values of the extended family. I am fortunate to be a bilingual Australian. My ethnic upbringing has made me a richer person, able to make a constructive and positive contribution to Australian society and to the Australian people I serve in this parliament as the member for Calwell. I am proof that ‘clinging to the culture of your foreign ancestors’ is not divisive nor is it ‘disdain for Australia’, as Bolt asserts. We are capable of managing our diversity; we are capable of being loyal to our Australian identity whilst maintaining our cultural inheritance.

At a time when civilisations and cultures are coming together in world social and economic forums, it is indeed a short-sighted mind that deems diversity as, ‘cultural engineering that so pleases the alienated’. Divisions are created by people like Andrew Bolt, who do not support multiculturalism, and also, ironically, by the wellmeaning but misguided advocates of multiculturalism who occasionally lose the plot. One such example is the recent decision made by the Orama Street Child Care Centre in Deer Park, Melbourne, to ban Christmas celebrations and Santa in the name of inclusion and respect. I received a letter from Alana Mascitti from St Carlo Borromeo Catholic Primary School in Greenvale in my electorate. Alana wrote to me on behalf of her grade 6 classmates protesting about the banning of Christmas and asked me to raise her concerns in parliament. I commend Alana for her initiative and I say to her and to her classmates that I share their concerns. Banning Christmas is a silly and dangerous action because it pits one faith against another.

Multiculturalism is not based on exclusion; it is based on sharing and learning from each other. Our multi-faith communities did not ask for Christmas to be banned. Certainly the large Muslim community I represent made no such request. In my electorate we are happy to partake in the celebration of the christmas and Christian traditions. I can tell you that the children and staff at my local Islamic school, Ilim College, share Alana’s concerns. As a result of this incident, the deputy principals of both schools have agreed to work together to dispel the resentment that is caused by such short-sighted actions.

Mr Deputy Speaker, diversity does not cause division. Division is caused by people who do not understand - people like One Nation, who once again have reared their ugly head. In their latest newsletter they have made despicable claims that the pornography industry is ‘being owned and run almost entirely by Jews’. In this country ordinary Australians - like me, my family and everyone else I know - have gone about their business for the last two centuries, quietly achieving and building what today is a great nation; a nation that is considered by the world community as a model of cohesion and tolerance. It is not perfect, but it is the best there is. So to Mr Andrew Bolt, One Nation and the others I say stop. To the agitators and the do-gooders who clearly know not what they are doing, and who clearly by their words and actions jeopardise the cohesiveness and productivity of this country, I say stop.