Page 2196 - Week 06 - Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . . PDF . . . . Video

the refugees’ new lives as well as their cultures. Refugee communities from around Asia and Africa shared their common passion for sport at the Cook oval, a few streets away from my home.

The ACT is home to several active emerging humanitarian and refugee communities. There are about 800 Sudanese, 500 Burmese and 100 from Sierra Leone as well as smaller groups from Liberia and Rwanda. Canberrans come from over 200 different countries. Approximately 22 per cent of people in the ACT were born overseas and 14 per cent speak a language other than English.

Race is a major feature of Australian politics. In the 2001 and 2004 federal elections, and still today, the hot issue is that of refugees arriving by sea. We hear the rhetoric about turning back the boats. We know that 55,000 illegal immigrants get here by plane and then overstay their visas. Yet we hear nothing about turning back the planes. Have Australians developed a phobia about sea travellers despite the fact that the majority of our ancestors got here by boat?

The answer is simple. Many of the people on planes are from North America and Europe. The ones in the boats are from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. It is as obvious as black and white. This is not an issue about how people travel to Australia. It is an issue about their race. We are all prejudiced about people who are different from ourselves. Prejudice is a simple unthinking judgement about another’s race, religion, sexual preferences, gender or other difference.

In the case of race, it is what we do about our prejudice that makes us racist or not. Revered and loved Australians like Cathy Freeman, Kamahl and Victor Chang show that we are able to embrace and respect those whose ancestors did not solely come from Europe. As well as this, our shared sense of appropriate behaviour demands that we are not racist, that we do not oppress or belittle people because of their race. The power of an implied racial message rests with the inability of most Australians to recognise it. The slogan of border protection pops directly into their subconscious and they react without thinking.

For the 10 per cent of Australians with ancestors from outside Europe, the racial message is as obvious as the nose on your face. Refugees have been a part of Canberra’s communities since its founding. The most obvious examples are the families who fled here after the Second World War building the Snowy Mountains hydro scheme and then settling in Canberra. Now we have people from Afghanistan and Africa.

The soccer tournament was organised by Companion House, which works with people who have sought refuge in Australia from persecution, torture and war-related trauma. It receives ACT and commonwealth government funding. I am aware that my colleague Minister Burch organised an event just a few months ago called the Global Cricket Challenge. From all accounts, it was an enormously successful day with dozens of young people from Canberra’s emerging communities taking part.

It was very clear to me from attending the World Refugee Day soccer celebrations on the weekend that sport can provide wonderful opportunities to engage with young people from refugee and multicultural backgrounds. This is why I have already had

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Debates(HTML) . . . . PDF . . . . Video