Federation Chamber 23/03/2021

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (17:34): The priority of any federal government, any Australian government, should always be the Australian people. We as parliamentarians are elected to serve the Australian people and are elected by the Australian people to do so. Every decision that this parliament makes should have the Australian people at its centre. That’s why I’m slightly embarrassed to be standing here speaking on the recommendations of the Joint Standing Committee on Migration’s interim report into Australia’s skilled migration program, which fail to put the Australian people first.

There are still two million Australians either unemployed and looking for work or underemployed and looking for more work, and this figure is only set to rise at the end of the month when the government ends JobKeeper. Despite this, we have this report which recommends a new migration plan that would prioritise foreign workers over Australians for jobs like hairdressers, carpenters, electricians, seafarers, cooks, motor mechanics and many more. These recommendations do not put Australians first. This will undermine the ability of Australians to get jobs by making it easier for businesses to bring in migrant workers. And the report recommends that the government weaken labour market testing and expand the number of occupations on the skills shortage list to include chefs, veterinarians, cafe managers, seafarers, motor mechanics, cooks, carpenters, electricians and many other hospitality roles, with no consideration of what this means for Australians looking for jobs now.

These recommendations also see the scarce quarantine spots and scarce spots on flights to Australia go to some of these migrant temporary workers. This is when there are still 40,000 Aussies stuck overseas trying to get home. In September, the Prime Minister promised stranded Australians that he would get them home by Christmas. That didn’t happen. It’s March and we’re still waiting. And now government MPs on this joint standing committee on migration think that it’s a great idea to start filling up those all-too-rare spots on flights and in quarantine with foreign temporary workers. It makes no sense. For the government to end JobKeeper and increase JobSeeker by a mere $3.57 per day and now place businesses and foreign temporary workers ahead of unemployed Australians and Australians stuck overseas—all in the same month—is really an insult.

The issue here is what we have as a vision for this country, with respect to our immigration program. As a son of migrants, the immigration debate does not offend me, and here’s why. I’m an Australian. I’m very proud to be an Australian. My parents came from Egypt 50 years ago to settle in this country. I think we have to have the debate about immigration and migration to ensure our best economic, social and cultural future. Prime Minister Morrison’s contribution to this debate is to make a virtue of reducing permanent migration. He stated back in 2019, before the pandemic:

… we brought the permanent migration rate down to its lowest level in a decade by focusing on the integrity of the visa system and prioritising Australians for Australian jobs.

That’s what the Prime Minister said in late 2019. I have a message for the Prime Minister: when I talk about Australian jobs, it’s about Australian citizens. I’m talking about people with Greek, Chinese, Vietnamese, African, Latin American, Lebanese, Italian, Irish and Indian backgrounds, and new Australians from every part of the world. That’s who we are as Australians. We’ve come from everywhere. That’s part of our permanent migration program. We’ve settled here, we’ve made a life here and we’ve contributed. When I talk about jobs for Australians, that’s what I’m talking about. Permanent migration has actually made us one of the most economically prosperous and successful multicultural nations in the world. The way the Prime Minister put it, he was proud to declare that he’d reduced permanent migration, as if this were a good thing. And here’s the rub: not only was he talking up the reduction in permanent migration as a virtue; while he was doing that, what was really actually happening under his watch, both as immigration minister and later as Prime Minister, was an increase to the numbers of temporary migrant workers into this country.

We, as a nation, have a history of welcoming migrants to this country, asking them to join us not just temporarily but as new Australian citizens. Like I said, immigrants like my parents from Egypt and millions of other Australians have been central to our cultural life, our social life and our economic prosperity. When our borders do reopen, I know, and my colleagues on my side of politics know, that we must repeat this success—the success that we saw, in particular, post World War II—and renew our commitment to increasing permanent migration post COVID-19. And this migration program must continue to reflect the principle that our acceptance of migrants is not based on their ethnicity, their faith, their place of birth or their gender. Of course, with that principle come proper stringent health checks, security vetting and so on that migrants need to meet to ensure that they can come into the country.

I want to make a point about the temporary migration that I touched on. It’s a stopgap. It’s there to fill skills shortages. It’s important to keep our economy ticking over—absolutely. When you’ve got shortages, you need those workers if you can’t fill them with Australians to do those jobs, but there are also a lot of problems, and we’ve seen this: wage theft, breaches of workplace rights and poor conditions for these temporary workers. That needs to be addressed. There was a 2019 report which suggested that as many as 50 per cent of temporary migrant workers may be underpaid in their employment. For eight long years, this coalition government has moved by stealth to what we would know in some parts of the world as a guest-worker model. The rise in the number of temporary work visas has been astounding. There are, I think, two million temporary work visas, mainly in Sydney and Melbourne. That puts a lie to the Prime Minister talking about congestion-busting when he reduces permanent migration. All the while, he’s increased the number of temporary migrants that have created some of the pressures in the housing market or in other parts of our economy. For eight years, this government has moved to this model while dropping the permanent migration numbers. This government is breaking the immigration model at the heart of our success as a nation post World War 2.

We are only going to succeed post COVID in our economic recovery if we get the migrant composition right. If we go back to the model where we are really serious about permanent migration, skilled migration, people will want to come to this country and give everything of themselves to their new country—to settle here, not to be here for a couple of years or send money away and then go again—and become Australians. That’s what we want to see. That’s what will help us succeed in the post-COVID-19 economic recovery phase. Our future as a nation depends on us getting this policy right.

Federation Chamber 22/02/2021

Mr KHALIL (Wills) (16:09): It’s almost a year since O-week celebrations were cancelled, semester 1 was postponed and classes moved online for university students across the country, but for many students it’s also marked a year since they have been stuck overseas and had to continue their learning from overseas. There are hundreds of thousands of students who are overseas right now, unable to come back into the country and are still paying their fees and studying their degrees offshore, online. Our onshore education sector contributed $37 billion and supported over 247,000 Australian jobs in 2018-19. It is our fourth-largest export sector, right behind iron ore, coal and gas, yet, despite this, the government has paid little attention or, arguably, has ignored international students.

In October 2019, almost 51,000 new and returning international students arrived in Australia. In October 2020, this figure had fallen by 99.7 per cent to just 130 students. The government has failed to bring back Aussies stuck overseas, due to quarantine systems or not setting up federal quarantine. This failure means we can’t even get on the job of welcoming others back safely to Australia, like international students. That’s had a devastating impact on our university sector. We’re looking at $19 billion worth of losses by 2023. That means uni job losses and it means subject cuts. The government knows this, but still thousands of students studying remotely are an afterthought for his government.

02/09/2020

Peter Khalil: The Migration Amendment (Prohibiting Items in Immigration Detention Facilities) Bill 2020 is a renewed attempt by the government to amend the Migration Act to allow the minister to prohibit or ban almost any item from use within an immigration detention facility, including the alternative forms of detention facilities such as hotels like the Preston Mantra and the Kangaroo Point hotel. I cannot, at least in my initial review or analysis, understand this bill. What I mean by that is that I really can’t fathom the government’s rationale or reasoning, because prohibited items are already illegal under state, territory and Commonwealth laws, particularly drugs, child exploitation material or weapons, as they present an obvious risk to detainees and to staff. They should be prohibited.

Labor and I oppose this bill, in summary, for a couple of reasons: there is no justification for this bill and its sweeping powers, and it is also a bill which has clear impingements upon the human rights of detainees. So what is the reason, if not the reasoning, for the government to put this bill up again? Let me just go through some of these reasons why we oppose this bill. The first is that it is, I can only assume, another power grab by Minister Tudge and Minister Dutton. This is deja vu—another power grab from the Minister for Home Affairs, because the government already has broad powers under the Migration Act and has already utterly failed to make the case as to why illegal activities in detention centres cannot be handled on a case-by-case basis through those existing state, territory and Commonwealth laws. Again, this bill is deja vu. It’s been here before, and it’s been opposed before. It grants the Minister for Home Affairs more significant unchecked powers, giving the minister the ability to prohibit or ban almost any item from use within an immigration detention facility. Of course, we are concerned that the minister and the government have not established or even elaborated on how existing laws and common-law powers are insufficient in addressing those issues.

The bill also undermines Australia’s commitment to human rights, fair and just legal processes, and natural justice. No matter who you are, you deserve to be treated fairly and you deserve to be treated with dignity, because this is Australia and people in immigration detention are people—people who are under our protection, who we are responsible for. Forty-two per cent of the total immigration detention cohort has been in detention for over a year. Almost 26 per cent of the total cohort has been in detention for over two years.

This bill would allow removal of phones, SIM cards and almost any other item. As we’ve heard, mobile phones generally provide a positive benefit to detainees and their welfare. I know this because I’m in contact, and have been in contact, with detainees at some of these facilities, on the phone—I’ve spoken to them. If those people had had to go without their phones, it would have been extremely difficult to get their story heard, to be able to express themselves and to be in touch with family, friends and legal teams, as we’ve heard. The phones are a lifeline to people in detention. Due to COVID restrictions, people held in detention have not had any visits from family, from friends or from their lawyers since 20 March. Imagine being in a stage 4 lockdown, as we are here in Victoria, without your phone, with no way to communicate with your loved ones—no social media, no Zoom. As much as we all complain about being ‘Zoomed out’, it’s a necessary technological function that allows us to communicate.

Mobile phones have become the primary means of contact for detainees. Importantly, they allow detainees access to their lawyers, who can protect their legal rights. The current legal frameworks permit the confiscation of a mobile phone from a detainee if there is reasonable cause. This is as is should be. However, this bill, with a blanket ban on phones, threatens rights to privacy and freedom of expression. The bill also proposes to permit strip searches of individuals living in immigration detention, regardless of whether a suspicion has been formed that the individual is concealing a prohibited item. This is simply unjust. It’s simply unacceptable. The government simply have not made a case as to why these broad, sweeping powers are required—except, I suspect, for the one reason they won’t actually articulate or admit, and that’s for a power grab, another grab at more unchecked power for the Minister for Home Affairs.

In lockdown here in Victoria with COVID-19, and across Australia, we have all experienced this. The government continues its default position of inhumane treatment of people in these facilities. Cramped conditions in detention centres, like the Mantra hotel in Preston, just outside my electorate, represent a very high-risk environment for coronavirus to be transmitted. Social distancing is effectively impossible, and I’ve heard this directly from the individuals in those centres. I’ve spoken to them. They’re terrified of contracting the virus. A reasonable approach would be to organise the release of detainees who have been cleared through security checks and have friends or family who could support them. Many people in immigration detention are in administrative detention. They have committed no crime. If they were released under those conditions, it would protect their mental and physical health and would assist in the nationwide efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Where is the government’s plan to protect people in immigration detention facilities from COVID-19? This is another failure, like the many we’ve seen in the Immigration portfolio and in the Home Affairs portfolio.

This bill is just the latest in a long line of failures, trying it on with another pathetic dog whistle, which this bill basically is. I’ve seen the former Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Minister Tudge, tweet recently, and I’ll quote him:

Labor’s failures on immigration and border protection are well known, but their latest move to block legislation—

the legislation we are talking about—

that will keep Australians safe from paedophiles, violent extremists and other serious criminals is gobsmacking.

Really, Minister? ‘Gobsmacking’? He talks about saving us from paedophiles and criminals, but this minister clearly does not know the law. As I have said and as many speakers have said—and it bears repeating, and hopefully the minister is listening or watching—prohibited items are already illegal under state, territory and Commonwealth laws, particularly drugs, child exploitation material or weapons, as they present an obvious risk to detainees and to staff. So why don’t the minister and the government focus on their jobs? In fact, what is gobsmacking, what is utterly shocking, is their repeated failure on the substantive work necessary in this portfolio.

I’ll pick up where I left off, and that is to ask the government and the minister to do their job, not to go ahead with another dog whistle—this bill—but to do their job in the Home Affairs and Immigration portfolio, because, frankly, they haven’t. When you look at the substance, there has been absolute failure. There have been processing delays of years. People are waiting years for their citizenship or their partner visa applications. Waiting times have exploded under this government. With respect to permanent residents going towards citizenship, the government has actively tried to make it harder and make it take longer for people on permanent residency to become citizens. The program makes people choose between parents for parent visas. There was a multimillion-dollar strategic review into the Department of Home Affairs that was finalised last year and never made public. What are they hiding?

We have a Prime Minister who makes a big show, a big song and dance, complaining that Australia is full, saying there’s too much congestion in our cities and blaming that on there being too many migrants. He makes a big boast that he reduced permanent migration—and this happened before COVID-19—in order to do congestion busting. In actual fact, under his government and over the seven years of the coalition government, those opposite have increased temporary migration. There are 2.2 million people in this country on temporary work visas, 87 per cent of whom are in Melbourne and Sydney. So this government has increased temporary visas and then claims it is busting congestion by reducing permanent migration.

So while the Minister for Home Affairs laments the strain on our capital city infrastructure—and, by the way, they should probably invest more in infrastructure, which is absolutely necessary—and talks about overcrowding, his own department and the Prime Minister are contributing to that strain by increasing temporary migration while undermining our proud history of the strong permanent migration program that has been the basis of the economic, social and cultural success of this country post-World War II. We need a recommitment to that permanent skilled migration because it’s about making sure that people come here, become Australians and want to become Australians. Many people on temporary migrant visas want to do that as well. They should be given that opportunity rather than being delayed and blocked by this government.

On the treatment of refugees in this country, we saw the department under the Minister for Home Affairs repeal medevac after the election. This was an attempt to ban those who arrive by boat from ever setting foot in Australia. This was another of the bills which they tried to put up. Even if they were a tourist or a spouse, apparently they were going to be banned. I recall how ridiculous that was when I and the Labor Party opposed that at the time. A refugee who might end up in New Zealand and potentially become a minister in the New Zealand government would be banned from ever arriving in Australia. This is how ridiculous their overreach is. This is how they’re not doing their job. Effectively, what they’re doing is dog whistling and trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator through this portfolio.

Australia is a successful multicultural country. It is a reality of Australia that we are diverse and we are multicultural. This government should actually be promoting the fact that we have been world leaders in generations past in welcoming both migrants and refugees. We are a successful multicultural nation and we should be celebrating this success rather than trying to suppress it. We need an Australian government that embraces and recognises the strength of multicultural Australia instead of punishing and demonising those who have come here seeking a better life.

The government needs to rethink this bill based on the suggestions that Labor through our shadow minister for home affairs has put to the government in writing, although I won’t hold my breath that they will reconsider. We oppose this bill for the reasons I’ve articulated: the human rights issues, yes; and the further power grab by an out-of-control and unchecked Minister for Home Affairs, yes. But this is also because it’s the latest in a long, sad line of attempted legislation that has at its core—and there’s no other way to describe it—political skulduggery, pathetic wedge politics and dog whistling clothed in the fake solemnity of national security. It is nothing of the sort. It is, however, an appeal to the lowest common denominator: fear. It is indicative of their go-to political weapons: fear and the demonisation of the most vulnerable into the bad guys that we should all fear. All of this is just to score political points.

That is not leadership. It is not looking after the substantive national security issues and policies needed within this portfolio. It is instead the politics of division. It seeks, by its very nature, to divide us. This government and this minister have a dismal track record of using all the usual tropes of ethnic and sectarian difference to sow discord while pretending they’re protecting us from threats unseen. It is a direct threat to the social cohesion that we have built up over decades in this country. It’s another terrible attempt at fear for votes that only further diminishes our well-earned and fought-for social cohesion. For these reasons, as well as for the substantive reasons that I’ve outlined, Labor and I oppose this bill.

Wednesday 2 September, 2020

Part one.
Part two.
Part three.

10/06/2020

Peter Khalil: Generations of Indigenous Australians have been subjected to the immense pain of dispossession and discrimination, of destruction of culture and denial of existence. It is on us to reflect on the insidious effect of racism in Australia, acknowledge this pain and act. I have experienced racism, growing up in this country, and spent decades thinking about it; most people from migrant backgrounds do. My experience—deeply personal, hurtful—is still difficult to talk about. However, it cannot compare to the pain of dispossession from land and country, of being forcibly removed from family. Racism permeates like a poison from our nation’s original stain of terra nullius. That was only recently overturned, yet Indigenous dispossession endures.

There are no easy answers, no more easy words, no more speeches made in this place that can right the wrongs of our history and of our present, yet now we share a rare moment. More Australians are opening their eyes, seeing the tragedy of Indigenous deaths in custody, seeing the persistent gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous in Australian life. We cannot allow this to be just another passing moment. We must seize it and give it momentum. We must grapple with our history long after the headlines fade. We must ask why and how, almost 30 years since of the royal commission, 437 Indigenous people have died in custody. We must do the hard work necessary for change. We must all act.

19/05/2020

Can we have a reasonable talk about immigration please?  A rational discussion, where people can speak freely without being called a racist or a bleeding heart for asking sensible questions?

As the son of migrants, the immigration debate does not offend me and here is why – I am Australian. It is a debate we must have to ensure our best economic, social and cultural future.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s contribution to this debate is to make a virtue of reducing permanent migration, stating last year “…we brought the permanent migration rate down to its lowest level in a decade by focussing on the integrity of the visa system and prioritising Australians for Australian jobs”.

I have a message for the PM – when I talk about “Australian’’ jobs, it is of Australian citizens with Greek, Chinese, Vietnamese, African, Latin American, Lebanese, Italian, Irish or Indian background and new Australians from every part of the world as part of our permanent migration.

Permanent migration has made us one of the most economically prosperous and successful multicultural nations in the world. A nation with a history of welcoming migrants, asking them to join us, not just temporarily, but as new Australian citizens.

Immigrants like my parents from Egypt and millions like them have been central to our social, cultural and economic prosperity.

Now is the time to repeat this success and renew our commitment to increased permanent migration post COVID-19. This migration program must continue to reflect the principle that our acceptance of migrants is not based on ethnicity, faith, place of birth or gender. However, appropriate health testing must be put in place to ensure migrants meet necessary and stringent health requirements.

Temporary migration is a stopgap to fill skills shortages, it is important to keep our economy ticking, but is also plagued by wage theft, breaches of workplace rights and poor conditions.

A 2019 government report suggested as many as 50 per cent of temporary migrant workers may be being underpaid in their employment.

For seven years, the Coalition government has moved by stealth to a guest worker model, with rises in temporary visas offsetting drops in permanent migrants.

We are breaking the immigration model at the heart of our success as a nation post-WWII. 

After COVID-19 we will only succeed if we get the migrant composition right.

Our economic recovery and future as a nation depends on it.

This piece was first published in The Herald Sun on Tuesday 19 May, 2020.  

MEDIA CONTACT: Kat Theodosis – 0432 243 569

20/05/2020

E&OE TRANSCRIPT 
RADIO INTERVIEW 
3AW DRIVE

SUBJECTS: Immigration, Jobkeeper 

TOM ELLIOT HOST: Okay, let’s go back to immigration. Now there’s been a strong debate about what role immigration could play post pandemic. The Greens have been silent on the issue. The government has said, well, we should put workers first. Interestingly and Kristina Keneally who is a Labor MP also said we should cut back on immigration and prioritise Australian workers. Our next guest thinks something different. He’s the Federal Labor member for Wills right here in Melbourne. Peter Khalil good afternoon.  

PETER KHALIL MP: G’day Tom, how are you going?  

HOST: Yeah. Good. Thank you. Now, I read your piece with great interest, but for those people who haven’t read it, just explain for us in a nutshell, what you think we should do with immigration post the pandemic when borders reopen.  

KHALIL: I think we have to have the debate about immigration, an open debate because it’s actually critical for the success of our economic recovery post the pandemic. It’s a debate that has to be had because it’s critical for our future as a nation. My argument in the op-ed in the Herald Sun was really to say that we should have a strong, permanent skilled migration program, because those migrants actually create jobs. When they come to the country, they set up businesses, they’re here for the long term, they spend their money in retail, they spend their money in other sectors in the economy, they’re actually good for the economy and I think they will be critical for economic recovery. Whereas temporary migrants, temporary workers are only really supposed to fill skill shortages, temporarily.  

However what’s happened, we’ve seen over the last seven years under the government where there’s been an increase in temporary visas and a reduction in permanent skilled migrants. Now, my parents came to this country as permanent migrants. They become new Australians as have millions of Australians, and they’ve set up and they’ve made an enormous contribution this country.  So my argument is that we should be calling this out. We should be increasing permanent, skilled migrants and reducing the temporary visas. They still have a role Tom, they can fill shortages, but there are so many unemployed Australians now because of COVID-19. They need to be upskilled, trained, education provided to fill jobs and whatever shortage is left over, you can use that with a temporary migration program. Unfortunately, that temporary visa number is way higher than the permanent number.  

HOST: Okay. But I mean we’ve got the situation of fruit picking, for example, where locals don’t want to go and do the hard work of picking fruit off trees up around Shepparton. So they bring in whole teams of people from villages in the South Pacific. So is that okay?  

KHALIL: Well, as I said, if there are skill shortages then fine, we need to use it.  

HOST: Well, that’s not a skill shortage. That’s an effort shortage, Australians just don’t want to do the job.  

KHALIL: Well, that’s a cultural question, isn’t it? Like our world’s going to be different. Are we going to become more resilient as a nation? I mean, I’d get lots of odd jobs, did any part-time job, on a on a building site, I was a cleaner, I did lots of different things, worked at a servo on night shift. You learn the value of a dollar. So, I mean, I think we’re entering a period of time in the future where, you know, I think a lot of unemployed Australians are going to have a different view about this. They’ll do whatever it takes to get a job. 

HOST: Well that’s a very interesting point because there’s a lot of people out there who are getting Jobkeeper, who’ve actually had a pay rise and refusing to go to work. Cause they’re saying, Oh, well, the federal government’s paying my wage, why should I actually bother to do anything? We have double the dole as well. I don’t know how long that’ll last for, but I mean, what you’re saying is that we’ll go back to a, sort of a depression era where people will absolutely chase work because they feel that they need it. But my concern is that since we’ve increased welfare so much that it might act actually is a disincentive for people to work.  

KHALIL: I kind of agree with you on that. I’ve been critical about elements of the Jobkeeper. For example where you’ve got a single mum, who’s a casual worker, trying to put food on the table for her kids and she, you know, she doesn’t qualify for Jobkeeper cause she’s only worked at the employer for 11 months and you need a 12 months and then you’ve got a uni student who’s a part time worker does a couple of hours a week and is suddenly getting paid 10, 15 times what they were getting paid previously. So there’s a lot of discrepancy there. On your point about Jobseeker, there’s a big question about when it cuts off and the reduction, the government’s talking about this being a six month program, but there’s a massive number of unemployed Australians. And the real question is whether we’re going to find employment for all these Australians post the pandemic.  

HOST: Well, it is a big point. Now can i just ask you about Kristina Keneally. I tried to interview her a couple of weeks ago, but she didn’t want to come on. Now she seems to be a little bit at odds with what you’re saying. She says we should prioritise Australian workers first and not bring in more skilled competitors. Is there, is there a debate about this going on in the Labor party right now?  

KHALIL: Well, I don’t think we’re at odds at all actually, because I talk about Australian jobs for Australians as well. And when I talk about Australian jobs for Australians, I’m talking about jobs for Greek Australians and Italian Australians and Vietnamese Australians, and so on. It’s not a race question; her piece got misinterpreted on that basis and distorted. She’s talking about prioritising training and skills and education for Australian so that they can actually fill the positions that are there, use the temporary migration program to fill whatever skill shortages are leftover. I’m also adding to the debate now saying we should really obviously be looking at increasing the permanent skilled migration because they don’t compete for jobs, they actually create jobs. When migrants come here, and they’re coming here to become a new Aussie, they set up businesses.  

And what do businesses do Tom? They hire people, right? So they’re actually creating jobs. They’re buying property, they’re spending in the economy and that actually creates jobs. And I think it’s actually critical for our economic recovery that we get the composition of our migration program, right in the coming years. My criticism of the coalition government is Scott Morrison is wanting to have it both ways. Both as Prime Minister and as Immigration Minister. He has increased temporary visas and temporary migrants and got the benefit out of economic growth that comes from those migrants. But at the same time, is telling everyone “Oh look at me, I’ve reduced permanent migration, I’m congestion busting”,  it’s a bit of a scam mate because he’s dropped it down by 10,000, you know what there is over two million people on temporary work visas and 87% of them are based in Sydney and Melbourne. So he hasn’t really touched congestion at all. 

HOST: Well, he sort of has, cause right now there’s not too many cars on the road and not really too many kids in school, but I take your point. Thank you for your time. Peter is the Federal Labor member for Will’s.  

ENDS

03/03/2020

Peter Khalil: Australians of Hindu faith deserve our respect, not our mockery. The Liberal-National government and the Treasurer think it’s funny to mock one of the great faiths of this world. I ask: would the Treasurer have mocked the robes of a rabbi of his very own Jewish faith or the appearance of an imam or a priest? No, he would not, so why is it that he does so with the Hindu faith? I think it’s important that we all reflect on this and that the Treasurer apologises unreservedly to people of Hindu faith. He has spoken in the past about the context of insidious stereotyping of people of faith, particularly in the context of anti-Semitism. Why the hypocrisy and double standard when it comes to Hindu Australians? When it comes to Hindu Australians and their faith, he should apologise. It’d be good if he takes heed of some of the wisdom that we see in the Bhagavad-gita, the great Hindu scripture, where Krishna says that it is important for us to slay ignorance with the sword of wisdom. That’s something that this government should reflect on. It’s not acceptable for him to make comments like that about any faith or to mock any faith. It’s about respect in this place. As political leaders we need to lead by example in respecting people of all faiths and backgrounds, and it starts in this House.

25/02/2020

Peter Khalil: I’ve spoken numerous times in this place—all of us have—about climate change as a policy issue. It’s important to us. It’s important to me. It’s important to people in my electorate. When you break it down to the personal, I have two young children and I want to leave them a better world, and I’m sure that sentiment is shared across the aisle here, amongst all of us who want a better world and a better Australia. We must bequeath future generations a cleaner energy future.

Last week our Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, articulated federal Labor’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050. That’s not going to be an easy task, and some of the hysteria around it in the media and by the government does an injustice to that core belief, that core promise that we all have to future generations. Achieving net zero emissions by 2050 will actually, despite all the hysteria, despite all the scaremongering, be a boon for the national economy, for this nation and, of course, for the environment that we all share.

Unfortunately the focus of the government and much of the media has been—probably to no-one’s surprise—on the same whipping-up of hysteria, the same old hackneyed scare tactics around the cost of policy, and wild and unsubstantiated claims about job losses, industries collapsing and basically the sky falling in on us. But there has been nothing about the cost of inaction—what it would cost not to act. There has been nothing about the cost of ignoring the science that is before us. The fact is that the cost of not reaching net zero emissions and a carbon-neutral economy—the cost to our nation and to the planet—is enormous.

If we don’t meet our Paris obligations, there are estimates that it could cost Australia alone $2.7 trillion—just Australia. If we don’t work with other nations to keep global warming below two degrees and closer to 1.5 degrees, there is analysis that tells us that this will slash global economic output by between 15 and 25 per cent. That is a bigger hit than the Great Depression. There is economic analysis around the amount of stranded assets—$12 trillion by 2035—that would be a cost of inaction. To put it in perspective: what kicked off the global financial crisis and the bailouts was about $250 billion worth of stranded assets.

There hasn’t been any discussion from the government about what it would actually mean for new investments, new jobs and new industries if we were to take action towards net zero emissions. We are talking about some $26 trillion of input and investment into economies around the world. For Australia alone, that means around $435 billion. It means estimates of a million jobs or more in those new industries. Despite all the hysteria, despite all the scaremongering, we are talking about job growth in renewable energy sectors. We are talking about a healthier planet. We can reach net zero emissions. We can invest in renewables. We can lead a just transition for workers. And with all of this we can actually have the moral standing with this policy base to push the other big emitters globally to reduce their global emissions. We can and we should, and all we need to act is leadership and courage, something missing from this government. It’s a gaping hole, actually.

Closer to home, we’ve all been affected here in this place and around the country by the murders of Hannah Clarke and her three children, Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey. I would like to pay my respects to her family and friends. Hannah was the eighth woman in Australia killed by a partner in seven weeks. She was a former trampoline champion, a daughter, a business owner, a gymnastics coach and a loving mother, but she was also a woman killed by domestic violence. This is a story that’s, unfortunately, all too familiar. While we’re all sickened by these murders, family violence and violence against women—and we’ve talked about this—is a scourge on our society. How many more times will we find ourselves here, as a nation, in mourning again for women and children who’ve been murdered by a family member or murdered while simply walking home?

In December 2019 there was a brutal rape of a woman running along Merri Creek in my electorate. In January 2019 an international student, Aiia Maasarwe, a young woman, was murdered in the northern suburbs of Melbourne while going home. In May 2019 Courtney Herron, a young woman from my electorate, was murdered in Royal Park. In June 2018 Eurydice Dixon, a young woman, was murdered in Princes Park while walking home. Jill Meagher was murdered in Brunswick in my electorate back in 2012. And of course Vicki Cleary was murdered by her ex-partner in 1987. It led Phil Cleary, a former member for Wills, to lead a passionate cause for justice on her behalf. He continues that fight today with respect to changing the laws and making sure that governments do what they need to do to help fight this scourge.

On average, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner, so what to do about this scourge that we’ve been talking about? For our part, we will stand together with the government—this has got to be bipartisan; it’s got to be beyond politics—to do whatever it takes to end this violence. In May last year our leader, Anthony Albanese, called for a national summit on domestic violence. We think the nation’s leaders need to come together on this. No one policy will solve it. It needs a cultural attitude shift for the whole society and it starts with us, as men, teaching our sons, our brothers, our fathers and our male cousins respect for women. Start with that. That’s important. We are all responsible for changing those cultural attitudes from the very beginning.

Lastly, I want to acknowledge the fact that there is the Labor Multicultural Engagement Taskforce, which I am chairing; the work of all the people who have submitted to this; and Labor’s commitment to multiculturalism. Obviously, since the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 we as a party have championed multicultural policy as a fundamental cornerstone of modern Australia and our social cohesion. It is about catapulting Australia forward economically, culturally and socially. It’s fundamentally about nation building. The story of migrants—our story—is one of aspiration for a better life for their children and their community. It is a story that is part of our national aspiration and forms the foundation of our national unity. That’s why we’ve launched the multicultural engagement task force to engage Australians, to help inform with as many voices as possible federal Labor’s policies and the role of multiculturalism in social cohesion and Australian identity.

My parents came to this country from Egypt some 50 years ago. Like many who have come before and after them, they came escaping a region of conflict and danger, leaving it behind to look for opportunity, prosperity and security. Through their hard work and sacrifice, like millions of Australians and millions of migrants, they’ve helped build this country. It is not just the buildings, the infrastructure, but the values inherent in what it means to be Australian, the essence of what it means to be Australian. It’s not a unique story. Millions of Australians, whatever their ethnic background or their socioeconomic status, have come here and have been given opportunities through policies that were based on fairness. They had a fair go. For my migrant family, it was affordable housing, Medicare and access to education which were all life changing.

Equality of opportunity is something that I, as a Labor member of this place, am committed to because of what it meant to so many millions of Australians in families such as mine. It gave them an opportunity to make a positive contribution to this country, to give something back to Australia. The task force that I lead will continue to build on that great Labor tradition of nation-building policies that allowed people like me, and so many others, to succeed. We will listen to people’s input and their submissions and we will lead. We want people to talk to us about their experiences, because migration to Australia is a constantly evolving journey.

13/02/2020

Peter Khalil: The people of the Baha’i faith in my electorate of Wills and across Australia are deeply concerned about their brothers and sisters in Iran. Since 1979, the government of Iran has made it official policy to discriminate against and persecute members of the Baha’i community, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority. In 2016, the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described Baha’is as ‘the most severely persecuted religious minority in Iran’. The Australian parliament in 2012 and 2015 condemned the persecution and treatment of Baha’is in Iran.

In recent months, the Baha’i people in Iran have faced a new and increased form of oppression through Iran’s national ID card program. The national ID card now requires people to identify with only one of four religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism or Zoroastrianism. Anyone who does not, including Baha’is, is denied an ID card, effectively rendering them a nonperson. Without this card, a person in Iran can’t get a driver’s licence, a passport or a work permit; they can’t open and use a bank account or enter into a contract—pretty much anything that you need to do in modern life. These are fundamental rights that are important, and they’re being denied to a group of people based on their religious faith.

I’m extremely concerned about this latest development in the long history of persecution of the Baha’i people in Iran. As leaders in a democracy in this place, we must speak up for people around the world who are being denied their rights on the basis of their faith, race or ethnicity. I urge the government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to make representations to the Iranian ambassador on behalf of the people of the Baha’i faith.

I also want to take this opportunity to talk about arts in my community. In my first speech in 2016, I spoke about the importance of the arts in society. A thriving arts sector is the heart and soul of any society. Many of my constituents in Wills are that heart and soul, working and creating in the arts. I think we’ve all experienced that feeling when a creative work inspires you, moves you, makes you think about something in a different or even better way or makes you stop thinking altogether and reminds you to just be in that moment. That’s what the power of the arts is about. It gives us something that’s almost indescribable—something fundamental, I think, to being a human being.

That’s why it beggars belief, even with this government’s disgraceful track record on the arts, that, during the last week in this place in 2019, the Liberal-National government abolished the Department of Communications and the Arts and merged it into a so-called superdepartment which became the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. The artists, the musicians, the actors, the dancers, the singers and the filmmakers of Australia deserve better than that from this government. They deserve their own department. They deserve a government that supports them, not a government that cuts funding to the arts every chance they get, because the arts are so critically important to our society.