Salam Alaikum (peace be with you).
Can I thank you Dr Ibrahim and Dr Nahla for your very kind invitation and whilst I have changed portfolio to International Development and the Pacific, I am very pleased to be able to join you here today.
Can I acknowledge my parliamentary colleagues Minister Ajaka, Luke Foley and other State members of Parliament who are here today, to the many religious leaders across different faiths, ladies and gentlemen.
Eminence, your now regular end of year get-togethers are an important opportunity to share ideas and common goals in how we can foster community cohesion.
I would like to share some reflections on recent events given what has happened in recent days.
Can I firstly say that these regular meetings are crucial for all of us as we continue to face new challenges.
As the daughter of migrants and as someone who has been at the grassroots of multicultural Australia for over 35 years, I have lived the ups and downs of migration. Some of our processes have been good and some have not been as successful.
But what is important, is that we learn from the past to improve the future.
As I said to a number of you back in June 2014 Eminence, when we broke bread together at the National Imams Consultative Forum in Canberra at old Parliament House, immigrant communities from many different countries have faced challenges in their journey of integration.
I shared with you the experience of my own Italo-Australian community and the negative perceptions of association with organised crime and the stain it created on a whole community.
As I said then, every community has its bad apples. You cannot let the rotten apples spoil the good fruit. It needs to grow and go on to prosper.
I know there have been various interpretations of Immigration Minister Dutton’s comments this week.
I would like to quote to you what he actually said in Parliament:
“I am not going to allow people who are hardworking, who have done the right thing by this country, who have contributed, who have worked hard and who have educated their children to be defined by those people who are doing the wrong thing and have been charged with terrorist offences or have been involved in crime.”
And on radio he said:
“… we need to be honest. We can’t allow good people to be defined by the bad people within that community and we also need to learn from the mistakes of history.”
“We … hold up the vast majority of people within the Lebanese community who work as hard as you and I do, who have contributed to Australian society, who are captains of industry, people that have worked hard, provided their kids with an education; they are being besmirched, those good people are being besmirched by these people … who have done the wrong thing.”
Now the pattern is often the same. There often comes in every community, and I speak, I speak from the heart today when I tell you I have seen it over 35 years, a pattern that has continued in Australian society. Every community comes to what I call a “crossroads” moment.
It came for the Italian community, it came for the Greek community, it came for Asian communities.
We have all had challenges and we will continue to support different communities in Australia that have from time to time faced challenges.
But our experience shows us that at that point, communities have had to work from within their own ranks to prevent isolation, to prevent marginalisation, to ensure that every member of that community can participate fully in the economic and social life in Australia.
We place great pride in the fact that in Australia, our faith communities are cohesive and inclusive.
We are one of the most successful multicultural societies in the world.
Whether by birth or heritage, this diversity is the result of both planned migration and a common desire for social and economic integration and this social cohesion is essential to
Australia’s continued national economic and social prosperity.
But we all agree that when we do see extremist behaviour, we have a responsibility as families, as communities, as faith leaders and as societies to identify it and deal with it, irrespective, irrespective of whether it comes from the left or the right, or which community it comes from.
Australia is home to 300 ethnic groups. We are a rich tapestry of cultures and religions and we work together, we have to work together, for the common goal of stopping alienation, which can, in turn, lead to extremism, across the board irrespective of different communities and that’s what I really wanted to stress with you today because extremism is not something that is common to one community. It is a fact of any modern society.
And as an Australian Government, we are, and we have a range of policies and programmes which we want and we utilise to support community harmony, migrant integration and strength in diversity and these initiatives help to participate and help engage people in education, employment and providing them with English; projects which involve engaging with the community, challenging perceptions and community capacity building.
Interfaith dialogue Dr Ibrahim, interfaith dialogue and what you have been doing with your co-faith leaders, is essential and is an essential element of this programme and I cannot forget an evening and I want to share this with you. I was sitting in the Grand Synagogue. Dr Ibrahim you remember that evening, with the Rabbi. The lead grand Rabbi in Australia, Dr Ibrahim and Archbishop Fisher and we were there in the Great Synagogue in Macquarie Street and we had come together to celebrate the 50 years of relationship with the Catholic Church … and we were all there and at a particular point in time Archbishop Fisher broke proceedings to allow Dr Ibrahim and his fellow religious leaders who were there to go and pray and then they came back and we resumed our interfaith dialogue.
That’s what interfaith dialogue is about and can I thank you Dr Ibrahim for the commitment that you and your religious leaders in the Muslim communities give to this process.
We are one of the most multicultural communities. We are one of the most culturally diverse, yet socially cohesive nations on earth and we are that and we are successful because that success is built on mutual respect, strong migration processes and more importantly, very importantly, good settlement policies and good settlement services and as a former minister responsible for settlement services, that is what makes good migration.
And perhaps in the past, we have not assisted people who have come to Australia as well as we could have with better settlement services and I think that’s really the message that I wanted to leave with you today and it is imperative that we do have good settlement services so that every migrant who comes to this country can make a contribution that he or she, can make to the fullest.
Can I conclude by some comments which the Prime Minister said in Parliament this week:
“Our strengths are our freedom, our diversity and our security.”
And he stressed:
“… Continuing to build on our inclusive society where everyone has a place is vital.
But that does not mean we should be blind to or ignorant of the challenges our society face.
When we see extremist behaviour it should be called out for what it is.
And when we see vulnerability it should be addressed”.
This Government and your communities will work with young people to ensure that they can fulfil their potential in Australia and be gainfully employed so that young people can have that important sense of belonging and that true sense of being Australian.
Can I thank you again for the work that you all do, the work that your do with Dr Ibrahim, and the work you do as faith leaders and can I thank you for your kind attention.
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