Australian MP Teresa Gambaro Under Fire Over Migrant’s Hygiene Comment

The Federal Opposition's citizenship spokeswoman Teresa Gambaro has found herself in hot water after suggesting that some immigrants should be given health and hygiene lessons.

MP Teresa Gambaro

BRENDAN TREMBATH: The Federal Opposition's citizenship spokeswoman Teresa Gambaro has found herself in hot water after suggesting that some immigrants should be given health and hygiene lessons.

Migrant groups have called the comments offensive and the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has labelled them idiotic and bizarre.

Ms Gambaro maintains she was taken out of context but after enduring heavy criticism she's issued an apology, saying her words were inappropriate.

Stephen Dziedzic reports from Canberra.

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: Ms Gambaro made the comments to The Australian newspaper while outlining the Coalition's objections to the Government's multiculturalism policies.

Ms Gambaro was quoted saying people coming to Australia on work visas should be taught to line up and wear deodorant to help them fit in, adding that all Australians should also be reminded of the importance of hygiene.

She was quizzed about that statement on Radio National this morning.

TERESA GAMBARO: The more skills we can provide people, it's just as important as job training and it should be part of the induction process when somebody comes into this country to work and that's really the point I was trying to make.

So it will certainly cover health and hygiene issues.

RADIO NATIONAL PRESENTER: Surely you can see that focusing on things like deodorant in public transport trivialises what, you know, is a potentially a serious discussion.

TERESA GAMBARO: I was speaking about a whole host of things of which certainly health, hygiene matters come into it. By no means is that the only focus.

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: She said her main point was that the Government has failed to teach people coming into Australia on work visas about their rights and how to adapt to local customs.

TERESA GAMBARO: I mean there are things like tenancy issues, understanding local, federal and state government, understanding their consumer rights and also particularly in the retail tenancy area we have cases of people being charged exorbitant rents and they don't know what their rights are.

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: But the comments about hygiene quickly stirred outrage on social media sites and drew an angry response from several peak ethnic groups.

The president of the United Indian Association Amarinder Bajwa says Ms Gambaro's attitude is very disappointing.

AMARINDER BAJWA: I'm concerned about these comments because one, they are made by such a senior MP and we are concerned and hope that these comments are not supported by the Liberal Party or Mr Abbott as the Opposition Leader.

I mean it's very ugly. It is definitely not acceptable.

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: The Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has savaged Ms Gambaro.

CHRIS BOWEN: It's up to her to justify her statements. Whether it's dog whistling or just plain idiocy most Australians will look at these comments today and say they're bizarre, they're better placed 50 years ago than today.

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: He says the Government already educates new arrivals about how to adapt to life in Australia.

CHRIS BOWEN: Our cultural orientation program which is provided particularly to humanitarian migrants goes to Australian laws, citizenship, our values, cultural adjustment, including appropriate communication.

STEPHEN DZIEDZIC: Ms Gambaro has declined to speak to PM. But she's issued a statement saying that as someone who comes from a migrant family, she's proud of the contribution migrants have made to Australia.

She says her comments were taken out of context but were inappropriate and has apologised.

A Sociology professor from the University of Technology in Sydney, Andrew Jakubowicz, says the row over the deodorant remarks should not obscure a more important point that people coming to Australia on temporary work visas are denied access to the services that other migrants receive.

ANDREW JAKUBOWICZ: We don't give them any help at all to integrate. They're corralled off from many resources, even though they're paying very high levels of tax. They're very skilled workers, most of them.

They find it very difficult to bring their kids or family to join them. It can be a very isolated and lonely life.

The message they're getting at every turn is, you are not an Australian, you're not part of the community.

BRENDAN TREMBATH: Stephen Dziedzic.