Page 1679 - Week 06 - Tuesday, 3 May 2005

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whether it be Vinegar Hill or the Eureka Stockade. There is a chapter in that book that details the struggle of indigenous Australians against the settlers and colonists. He outlines quite clearly the steps they took to defend what they saw as their territory—which was in fact their territory. In that he has also left us quite a remarkable record, a record that I think we will be examining longer and harder over the years to come.

I will leave it to Mr Stefaniak, who knew Mr Grassby and Ellnor far better than I, to make more comments on behalf of the opposition. On behalf of the Liberal Party of the ACT, to Mrs Grassby we extend our condolences. It is with some sadness but with great honour that we join in this debate today.

DR FOSKEY (Molonglo): The death of Al Grassby is a great loss for the Canberra community. I want to pass on the Greens’ condolences to his partner, Ellnor, to his daughter and to other members of his family. It is always wonderful when politicians and others who come to Canberra for work purposes decide to stay on after their term finishes. Mr Grassby came to the House of Representatives as the federal member for Riverina. I know that both Mr and Mrs Grassby played an active part in Canberra society generally and in the ALP in particular.

I was not lucky enough to meet Mr Grassby but, like many Australians, I appreciate and benefit from the work he has done in making our society a fairer place, especially for people of ethnicities other than Anglo-Saxon. Al Grassby himself was a fusion of cultures. Born in Queensland to an Irish mother and Chilean father of Spanish background, the family lived in Sudan, Italy, France, Spain and Scotland before Mr Grassby chose to return to Australia to live in Griffith, New South Wales, and work with the CSIRO.

First a member of the New South Wales parliament, Mr Grassby was elected to the federal parliament in 1969, where he served as a backbencher in the Whitlam ALP government, which was elected in 1972. As a frontbencher and member of Whitlam’s cabinet, Grassby was in an ideal position to introduce policies dear to his heart.

I see the 1970s as an era that saw the introduction of many changes that made Australia fairer for Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, for women and for people from other countries seeking a better life here. The Whitlam government was the catalyst for that, riding on the back of social justice movements, which laid the social context for these changes. Those were heady days for ministers, and Mr Grassby did not muck around. Imagine being involved in repealing the odious white Australia policy. For that alone, Grassby and his colleagues need to be thanked.

Al Grassby was the first minister for immigration to endorse multiculturalism. For him this meant allowing people to maintain their ethnic identity while being welcomed into the broad Australian community. According to Gary Johns, Grassby’s reforms as minister were a mixture of integration, antidiscrimination and multiculturalism.

Al Grassby repealed that section of the Migration Act that required Aborigines to seek special permission to leave the country. He secured the right of overseas students to remain in Australia when an Australian employer sought their services. He also removed limits for language programming on radio and television and established a series of migrant education centres.

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