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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10639

Mr BYRNE (Holt) (13:02): I would like to thank the member for Hughes for this motion which allows us on both sides of the political divide to talk about an issue that causes great concern to members of our community, the Coptic Christian community. I am very blessed, I guess I would have to say, in having a very large and vibrant Coptic community in my constituency. As you drive along the Princes Highway towards the Fountain Gate shopping centre, you can see very clearly from Princes Highway this beautiful church, St Mina and St Marina. It is growing, as the Coptic community is growing, and it is evolving. One of the great things about being the local member of parliament is being able to go to an Easter service or a Christmas service and to share that with friends in the Coptic community, particularly my good friend Father Abanoub, from this particular parish.

In doing that I have a window into an ancient faith, practised for thousands of years. For those people to share that with you is a humbling experience that opens a window into the Coptic community's feelings, spirit, soul and history, which are all very rich. Reflecting on that, and speaking to Father Abanoub and to His Grace Bishop Suriel, it pains me deeply to see the distress within the Coptic community about the atrocities being perpetrated on them. As I said, you can drive along Princes Highway and you can see this place of worship, and you can practise your faith there, without oppression, persecution, hate or fear. There is nothing more lovely than walking out after those services and sharing discussions with these great people, watching how successful their community has been.

In my parish, I would say, I have close to 2,000 Copts, made up of about 600 families. One of their community, Councillor Sam Aziz of the Casey Council, of whom we are all very proud, has asked me to mention a few things about the community, particularly given his knowledge of the motion that has been put forward by the member for Hughes. He would like to say that over the last 10 years a number of families have come to Melbourne after fleeing persecution in Egypt. He would like to say that amongst these families there are a number of doctors who fled after their businesses were burned down. Since coming to Australia, these doctors have passed Australian accreditation and have opened their medical practices. A number of these refugees have also gone into business, opening retail franchises and construction companies. He wanted me to point out that, after fleeing the persecution that they had experienced, there are so many successful lives that have been led in this community by members of the Coptic community.

We all thank them for the contribution that they make to this country, but we share their grief at what is continuing to occur: the fundamental breach of human rights in their continual persecution. Here is one thing that staggered me, particularly when I heard about this unbelievably outrageous suicide attack on the Coptic church which occurred in January 2011—the 22 people that died and the 97 people who were injured. Remember how I was talking about being able to walk out after sharing a spiritual experience with a community. But the perpetrators of this evil atrocity knew that that would cause the maximum impact to that particular community. It was a very powerful message—a message of fear, a message of hate and a message of trying to destroy a community practicing its inalienable human right—and that has to be condemned. It cannot be condoned.

There have been further atrocities that have been committed, and the great thing about the Coptic community, led by His Grace Bishop Suriel—whom I have met, whom we have heard the foreign minister has met and whom my colleague Michael Danby has met as well—

Mr Ruddock interjecting

Mr BYRNE: The member for Melbourne Ports—apologies. They communicate this so powerfully. I am running short of time here, but can I say to you: thank you very much for this. We cannot continue to allow these people to suffer in silence. Their voices must be heard. This persecution must be stopped. You must be allowed to practise your faith without being persecuted, without being killed and without being oppressed.