Sydney. An Australian politician on Tuesday defended controversial calls for new migrants to be taught to wear deodorant, saying her remarks about cultural awareness of hygiene had been blown out of proportion.
Teresa Gambaro, a conservative lawmaker who speaks about citizenship issues for the opposition, sparked a public backlash for suggesting that immigrants coming to Australia on work visas should be taught social norms.
Wearing deodorant and standing patiently in lines without pushing in were some of the issues she nominated as important.
“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 coworkers,” Gambaro told The Australian newspaper.
“Sometimes these things are not talked about because people find them offensive but if people are having difficulty getting a job, for instance, it may relate to their appearance and these things need to be taken into account.”
The remarks were dismissed as “bizarre and silly” by Immigration Minister Chris Bowen who said they “could have been expected in 1952 not in 2012”, and Attorney General Nicola Roxon accused Gambaro of being “patronizing.”
“It’s also showing a lack of awareness that this is a two-way street, when you talk about cultural understanding,” Roxon said.
But Gambaro said hygiene was “just one small part” of the proposed cultural awareness training she had been referring to, which would also cover issues like consumer rights.
She later issued a statement saying she regretted “any offense that may have been taken.”
“As someone who has come from a migrant family myself, I am proud of the contribution that generations of migrants have made to Australia and I would not want my reported comments, however inaccurate, to leave the impression that this contribution is not recognized,” she said.
The government’s Australian Multicultural Council said most people arriving on working visas were professionals in skilled occupations and called for some “awareness training” for the nation’s politicians.
Once governed by the “white Australia policy,” the country’s reputation was also damaged in the 1990s when anti-immigration MP Pauline Hanson warned the nation was being “swamped by Asians .”