Teresa Gambaro clearly encountered a smelly taxi driver or two over the festive period. It sparked a thought-bubble (to be generous) in the opposition citizenship spokesperson’s mind that somehow made it to page one of the national broadsheet today — immigrants are in desperate need of some “cultural awareness training”.

“Without trying to be offensive,” Gambaro told The Australian — the sort of caveat that inevitably precedes the giving of copious offence — “we are talking about hygiene and what is an acceptable norm in this country when you are working closely with other co-workers.” Immigrants must learn the need for wearing deodorant, she said — failing to express a preference for roll-on or aerosol variants — and how to wait patiently in queues. Australians who smell, or who push in, will presumably be dispatched to re-education centres.

But carefully hiding in Gambaro’s stupidity — and the carping from immigration shadow Scott Morrison yesterday that Labor is failing to properly integrate temporary migrants — is a reasonable point. Just how do we “induct” new Australians? What support is there to help migrants with housing, employment and accessing social services? Charities, SBS Radio and community groups do some of it, but can and should the government do more? Is anyone thinking about what will ensure the community gets the best value from new arrivals, and vice versa? After all, immigration has been the huge success story of post-war Australia, economically and socially — what do we need to do to keep that going?

Labor affirmed its commitment to multiculturalism last year, promising to beef up the Australian Multicultural Council and examine service delivery to new migrants. The findings of that work should spark a new conversation on citizenship, integration and how to ensure multiculturalism doesn’t become the failed experiment some ideologues and opposition MPs believe it has.

The Coalition’s contribution to date just stinks.

Peter Fray

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