Multicultural Recognition Bill 2016

Mr ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (3.34 pm): This afternoon I rise to speak about the Multicultural Recognition Bill 2015. Before I start, I congratulate the member for Brisbane Central not only on her elevation to the ministry but also on becoming the Minister for Multicultural Affairs. I know that she has a great passion for the portfolio and I know she will be a great minister.

 I have a bit of a problem with the legislation before us today. I do not think there is a person in this House who is not entirely committed to a culturally diverse Queensland or who is not entirely committed to making sure that every newly arrived migrant or refugee gets a start in our great state.

 To set the scene, at the moment the state of Queensland is made up of something like 200 different cultures involving people who speak about 220 different languages. There are 100 different religious or belief systems practised in the state. About one in five Queenslanders is born overseas. Sometimes I look around the parliament and think that it is a bit of a shame that the parliament does not reflect the diversity of modern-day Queensland, and I particularly include in that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

 However, today in my short contribution, I want to look at what are, from my point of view, some of the disappointing parts of the bill. My problem is that it says nothing of substance, it enforces nothing, it does not promote much and it does nothing to make better the lives of migrants and refugees in Queensland. When we were in government, we surveyed the sector pretty well and found no enthusiasm for legislation. As a matter of fact, this is the third time that this piece of legislation has come before the House. The first time was in the dying days of the Bligh government when the then multicultural affairs minister and now Premier introduced it. The parliament was prorogued and that was the end of the bill at that point. In the last parliament the now Premier reintroduced the bill as a private member’s bill and it was rejected.

 Today, we are looking at it again. In my travels around the state, I have spent a lot of time with newly arrived migrants and refugees. Some of the most worthwhile things that I have done are in association with those sectors across the state. They do not want a piece of paper passed by this parliament that says that we all believe in multiculturalism or a culturally diverse Queensland. All they want is a bit of a leg up, a job and something to aim for that in time will give them and hopefully their families a bit of a start.  

I refer members to clause 6 of the bill, which states specifically what the bill does not create. It does not create any new rights or impose legally enforceable obligations on the state, the minister, a member of the advisory council, a government entity or anyone else. It does not create a civil cause of action if a provision is contravened and failure to comply with the bill will not affect the validity of any decision. In other words, it contains a lot of goals and a lot of good words, but at the end of the day the legislation contains nothing, via the action plan that the government intends to bring in, that gives substance or teeth to enable the government to enforce the objectives of the bill.

 In essence, what this bill does is reinvent some of the things that are already in existence. It creates a new multicultural policy when a cultural diversity policy already exists. It creates a new multicultural action plan when a cultural diversity action plan already exists. It changes the name of the Cultural Diversity Roundtable to the Multicultural Queensland Advisory Council. One of the disappointing things with regard to the advisory council is that it meets only twice a year. If it has its first meeting in January then when it is due for its second one it is Christmas drinks time.  

The body that we had in government was a body that we brought in and it met on average about every six weeks. Robert Cavallucci was the assistant minister at the time. I pay due regard to Robert and the work that he did in this field. We sat down and spoke to and listened to the roundtable participants on all manner of things—government policy, grants, the whole lot. There is an opportunity for this round table to probably meet more frequently than is outlined and provide a lot more advice of substance to the minister.

The cultural diversity policy that I talked about is not a political document. I have a copy of it and the action plan with me. They do not enforce LNP policy in any way, shape or form. They are documents that came about as a result of an enormous amount of consultation across the state. They are documents that we were very proud of.

In the action plan there are something like 170 different actions that government departments are required to undertake and we intended to hold them to account if they did not do them. The point about the policy and action plan that I made very clear wherever I went was that it was a living document and a living policy. It was not intended that it would be bound in leather and put on a shelf somewhere. It was something that we would change as circumstances and time demanded.

 I want to spend a little time talking about the grants process. I heard the minister talk about one of the partnerships that she has formed with MDA, the Multicultural Development Association. Kerrin Benson is a fantastic woman. I had a lot to do with Kerrin in my time as minister. I congratulate the minister for coming up with the plan of having 500 trainees.

 The thing that we can do and the thing that we started to do pretty successfully in the last government was to forge partnerships, not so much in our case with trainees, with business and get them to sign on the dotted line. We had lots of agreements around the place that required businesses to take on refugees and put them into the workplace so that they could earn a dollar and start to make their way in life. Anything that can be done as part of that process—not just having trainees and traineeships but good solid jobs—should be done.

 I have looked someone from Afghanistan in the eyes who was working in the meatworks in Rockhampton and doing a job that most Australians would not even dream of doing and asked them how long they had been there and they said three or four years. I then asked where their wife and children were and they said that they were back in Afghanistan. Why were they working? They were working because they wanted to save money to reunite their family. They would continue to work in a job that I would not consider doing. Such is their commitment and that of many of their fellow employees in the meatworks that what happened as a result was that the number of job placements available in those meatworks was falling away to almost nothing because they had a very stable workforce.

 As I said, one of the things that we need to do is ensure job creation. Newly arrived migrants and refugees generally will not know that this legislation has even been passed. What they would know is if concrete steps were made by the Parliament of Queensland to give them a start in life. (Time expired)