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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2015 Week 11 Hansard (Wednesday, 23 September 2015) . . Page.. 3442 ..

I am pleased to be an Australian as we are, on a per capita basis, one of the most generous countries in the world for resettling and providing permanent protection for UNHCR referred refugees. Under the federal Labor government in 2012-13 there were 98 Syrian refugees accepted as part of our offshore refugee program. Last year in 2014-15 under the federal Liberal government 2,232 Syrians were granted places, and that was ahead of the current people movement we are seeing across Europe. The government has pledged to permanently resettle 12,000 more.

Australia has a long and proud tradition of resettling refugees and vulnerable people in humanitarian need. Here in Canberra, according to Department of Immigration and Border Protection data, we welcomed 218 humanitarian placements in 2013-14, 204 in 2012-13 and 192 in 2011-12. Since the end of World War II Australia has welcomed around 7.5 million migrants, including nearly a million under our humanitarian program. Australia has consistently ranked in the top three resettlement countries, along with the USA and Canada. These three countries offer around 80 per cent of global resettlement places each year with the UNHCR. With one in four Australians born overseas, we are now one of the most diverse and accepting and prosperous nations on the planet.

Across our nation we share about 300 ethnic backgrounds, speak many languages and observe many of the world’s faiths, all within a cohesive and prosperous society. Some 45 per cent of Australians were either born overseas or have at least one parent who was born overseas. That is incredible when you think about how we were 100 years ago. The Australian government through the Department of Social Services will spend about $660 million on multicultural affairs assisting migrants to settle, social cohesion and countering extremism and assisting young people at risk.

Community cohesion does not happen by itself, and the ACT government commits some resources to assisting new arrivals, particularly the children of new arrivals in their school environment to be able to complete their homework and work their way towards a successful future in our nation. The ACT government also supports language education other than the federal program in order to assist people who arrive here to learn the language, which is so vital to accessing the benefits this country has to offer.

Australia’s successful multicultural society, as I said, did not happen by itself. The reason it works is the efforts of individuals and locally based Australians reaching out and vice versa. When my grandfather first arrived in Australia as a migrant, he had nothing. His neighbour, as I have mentioned in this place before, noticed that his roof was rusting, and he said to him, “Joe, I’ll help you paint your roof.” And my grandfather said, “I don’t have the money.” And he said, “Don’t worry about the money. You can pay me back later.” And the next day he turned up with ladders and buckets of paint and he said, “Come on, Joe, we’re going to paint your roof.”

These are the types of actions that have created the social cohesion we enjoy today in our country. It is up to each of us to play a part in strengthening this multicultural society that we are all so proud of.

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