Address to the House of Representatives

For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share.
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair

It doesn't take courage to stand and talk on this particular topic; it takes empathy, it takes humanity, it is being heartfelt, it is being decent, it is being honest. To the member for Maribyrnong: a fine motion and fine words. To the Prime Minister: you too. To the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection; to the member for Sydney, the Deputy Leader of the Labor Party; and to my great mate the member for Chifley: outstanding speeches.

This is an important motion. Combined, we are united to condemn those words that were expressed last night in the Senate, unfortunately, wrongly and disrespectfully. I don't even want to mention his name. We are better than that—we are. The things that unite us are greater than those that divide us, and you can see it today, right here, right now, coming together as the Labor Party, the Liberal Party, the National Party, and indeed the crossbenchers. The Greens—I'll even mention the Greens. You won't hear me praising the Greens too often, but thank you, Member for Melbourne, for coming in here.

I will just share with you a couple of little stories. One of the greatest things I like to do is talk to schoolkids. The other thing is to attend civic receptions—not just civic receptions but indeed civic receptions for people who are new to our country, who have contributed to our country—and, going a little bit further back, to attend citizenship ceremonies. At a citizenship ceremony in Wagga Wagga recently, a lady from South Sudan hugged me when we gave her her certificate of citizenship, and she wouldn't stop hugging me, because her partner had been in a refugee camp. I had worked hard, along with the wonderful staff at my Wagga Wagga electorate office, to get him over here, and she was getting her citizenship. I'm privileged to have been born in Australia, but she came here by choice, and we got him here through hard work and determination so that he could share a life with his beloved. The tears were rolling down her cheeks. She was so grateful that the love of her life was here, that they could be a family again. But it was also being acknowledged that she was now a citizen of our great country. The mayor finally said, 'If you two could stop greeting one another, we can get on with the ceremony!' To see the joy in her face and to know I had played a little part in that—that's what being a member of parliament is about.

I have to say that one day the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection phoned me about 55 homeless Yazidi families—250 people—whom we were going to accept as part of our refugee intake, the humanitarian program that is made possible when you have good border protections and security. He asked me: 'Do you think Wagga Wagga would take these people?' In a nanosecond I said yes. I rang the mayor and said 'We are going to get 55 Yazidi families,' and he said: 'That's fantastic. That is great.' Wagga Wagga is an all-embracing regional community, like so many others. I think regional Australia sometimes gets a bad rap for not welcoming people, but let me tell you that it does. In Griffith on Australia Day they fly 100 flags to represent all the people who make up that great multicultural city, and it is a fine city. It is in essence the cradle of multiculturalism. They don't all go there just to pick fruit. They go there to serve as our GPs, our lawyers, our nurses and our white-collar professionals. They go there to pick fruit, too, and the member for Watson knows this as he has been out there and he was greeted with great applause. We were there together, standing beside one another, protecting the water rights of that community.

Acclamation maybe, Prime Minister! But let me tell you that that is a great community, just like so many others in regional Australia, whether it is the Mallee or Wide Bay. No matter where it is in regional Australia, they are welcoming to the migrants of this multicultural nation that we've become.

When those 55 Yazidi families had settled in Wagga and were contributing to our city, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection visited. This is not always the most popular place for him to stand, right where I am now—and I see him, because I sit right behind him. I know that his words on this motion were meaningful and heartfelt and welcomed by those opposite. But when he came to Wagga Wagga—let me tell you, Mr Deputy Speaker—he was a rock star. They welcomed him with open arms, because he had given them new hope, a renewal. He had, as our nation had, given these people a new start in life, and they were so appreciative. He was there with his wife, Kirilly, and Wagga Wagga welcomed them. When that story came out in the local newspaper—the one I used to edit—I got a very good run, and so did the National Party, so did the Liberal Party and, I have to say, so did the Labor Party, Member for Sydney. They did. I was a very independent editor. I was a very bipartisan editor. When it was first announced that Yazidi families were coming to Wagga, there was only one letter to the editor which was condemnatory of that happening. Let me tell you: the people of Wagga roundly condemned that writer—rightly, because Wagga Wagga is an embracing community.

I know that each and every one of the people in this chamber and, I would say, just about every person in this nation today, is as one in condemning those words spoken with hate last night. To talk about the final solution—and I know the member for Isaacs would feel this particularly—was absolutely dreadful. I've just finished watching a documentary series on it. We've all watched The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. We've all watched Schindler's List, as the minister for immigration mentioned. Those atrocities that took place in World War II were not just felt then; they are still being felt today; and they will be felt for as long as decent humans walk this earth. It was atrocious. To even utter those words anywhere, let alone in this house of democracy, is dreadful. It is evil. We are a fine nation. We are the best nation on earth. The member for Chifley said: 'We don't need to make Australia great. We're already great.' This motion today proves that.

Sam Edwards