Melbourne: Days after she outraged migrants in Australia with her remarks on their hygiene, opposition MP Teresa Gambaro on Thursday asked them to learn to speak English soon after arrival in the country to avoid racial attacks.
Gambaro, who recently apologised for saying migrants should be taught to wear deodorant and form orderly queues, said it was important to get to know friends and neighbours of different cultures to encourage tolerance and understanding.
"Where it breaks down is because of language barriers; that's why learning English is so important," Gambaro was quoted as saying by 'The Australian Online'.
"I've always believed that. English is the key. It's incumbent on people to learn to speak English. If you don't learn to speak English in the early settlement years your levels will never improve and will stay that way for the rest of your life."
Gambaro said English programmes were available to new migrants but "my understanding is that they aren't working as well as they could be". "Not so long ago English classes were held in the workplace. Maybe we need to look at doing that again," she said.
Gambaro was severely criticised last week with her call for "cultural awareness training" for new migrants. "Without trying to be offensive, we are talking about hygiene and what is an acceptable norm in this country when you are working closely with other co-workers," Gambaro told The Australian.
She later issued an unreserved apology, saying the comments were inappropriate.
Gambaro also agreed with the comments made by the leading Australian neurosurgeon, Charlie Teo, who delivered the New South Wales Australia Day address, that racism is "still very much alive in Australia".
Teo, whose parents were Chinese immigrants, said while Australia was "the best nation in the world", even his daughter had been a victim of abuse by drunken Aussies because of her appearance.
Meanwhile, a former Victorian multicultural commissioner of Indian origin, Madhu Bhatia, wrote in an opinion piece in "The Age' that "Gambaro's comments, which rely on a crude racial stereotype of migrants being smelly foreigners, are deeply offensive."
"The first thing we must remember is that we are all migrants here, unless you are Aboriginal. Gambaro, whose parents were migrants from Italy, would do well to learn from their experiences. Instances of prejudice against people of other ethnic backgrounds are not uncommon," she said.
"Most migrants integrate very well with the passage of time. The majority are hard working and resilient. Is it fair to focus on the few that may have problems and use that to promote prejudice?," Bhatia wrote.
First Published: Thursday, January 19, 2012, 15:23