Page 2116 - Week 07 - Tuesday, 21 June 2005

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scene. They introduced the new sports of soccer and basketball. They brought new vegetables into our markets and changed the menus in kitchens and restaurants. Coming from denser, more vibrant cities, they wanted different things from Canberra’s built environment to the suburbs that the planners of those times preferred.

Mr Smyth’s list of names tells the story. Canberra is now home to people from more than 200 different countries. Since 1970 there has been an increase in the percentage of migrants coming from Asia. The Whitlam years with Al Grassby as Minister for Immigration, someone who knew what it was like to come from a background other than Anglo-Celtic, made the definitive difference. Of course, the war in Vietnam created a situation where lots of people needed refuge, thus leading to the next wave of refugees who are primarily Indo-Chinese.

We saw an increase in ethnic community organisations arising spontaneously out of the new communities. As the number of new settlers increased, government looked to those organisations to provide the services at the grassroots level. In Canberra there were a number of ethnic community organisations that provided a welcoming place for new migrants and maintained cultural continuity. In the process, they also educated people from other ethnic groups about the culture of the diverse ethnic groups they represented.

The Ethnic Communities Council was founded in 1978 with delegates from 30 communities. In 1980 it had no permanent office and no funding. When it changed its name and adopted a formal framework as the ACT Multicultural Council in 1998 it had 168 member organisations. In 1983, the Migrant Resource Centre was established in the Griffin Centre, starting with a library with works in a variety of languages. Since then it has played a special role in building bridges between ethnic communities and between those communities in the broader institutions of society.

When we look back at how migrants and refugees have helped build Canberra, we must ask ourselves what talent and energy is being wasted in the detention centres where refugees now languish. It is amazing to think how far backward the policies of mandatory detention have taken us in our understanding of the needs of people from elsewhere and our own society’s need for the vitality that new people can bring. It is not just compassion that should guide our approach to refugees; it is investment in our future as a territory and a country.

Fiji cultural night

MR GENTLEMAN (Brindabella) (5.01): Mr Speaker, last Saturday night, I had the fortunate opportunity to represent the minister for multicultural affairs, Mr John Hargreaves, at the Fiji cultural night held by the Fiji Australia Association of Canberra. The Fiji Australia Association initiated the celebration as a means of bringing together the Fijian, Samoan and Indian Pacific communities to celebrate their culture.

Those members of the Assembly who stayed in Canberra the weekend just gone would have observed the less than inviting weather that fell on Saturday. Do not misinterpret me: I, like all, Canberrans, was and always am thankful for rain, but I was impressed to see 500 attendees brave the weather to come out and participate in this wonderful cultural event.

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