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Wednesday, 14 September 2011
Page: 10230

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (17:32): I wish to associate myself with the comments made by the member for Mayo and other members in the House. I also want to make my contribution to the Prime Minister's motion on the 10th anniversary of September 11. In doing so, I would also like to offer my condolences to Ambassador Geoffrey Bleich. I was unable to attend the memorial service in Canberra on Sunday because I had another commitment in my electorate but I thank the ambassador for his invitation to be there.

There is no question that the events of September 11, 10 years ago, left the world a very different place. As the member for Mayo indicated in his closing remarks, I also, like many Australians, was at home when the initial footage of the first aeroplane was shown and the subsequent one hit the Twin Towers in New York City. I think initially, it is fair to say, a lot of Australians would have thought there was something very unreal about what we were seeing and it was very difficult to believe that it was actually happening. Sadly, it was a very real event. The fact that we were able to view live pictures brought home the impossibility of such an event taking place in such a novel way of bringing destruction and loss of life on home soil in the United States. I think that image is an iconic one of a major catastrophe in the 21st century.

As many speakers have said before me, the events of September 11 changed our lives dramatically. First and foremost, there was the loss of life of thousands of innocent people. Australians were lost on that day. They died in the towers and, subsequently, it was the beginning of a whole series of events in the past decade that have been referred to: the London bombings, the Bali bombings—all are acts of terror perpetrated against innocent civilians in the name of, in this case, Islam. It was a time that focused our concentration on what the Islamic faith actually stood for, what it represented, and I want to go on the record as saying that people involved in terrorist acts, such as those of 10 years ago, who say it is in the name of Islam are in fact doing the Islamic faith not only a great disservice but also, as many of my own constituents of the Muslim faith constantly tell me, not acting according to the principles of Islam. Islam is a peaceful religion and it abhors acts of terrorism.

I go directly to my constituency, because I have spoken many times in this House about the very large Muslim constituency that resides in the federal seat of Calwell; it is the second largest in Australia and the largest in Victoria. I feel that it is important that, on their behalf—and I have done this many times in this place over the last 10 years—I have spoken of the impact that the events of September 11 had on their lives. That impact may not have been as dramatic and as definitive as the loss of life of those who were in the Twin Towers in New York on that day, but there has been an impact on Muslims across the world, including the Muslim community here in Australia. The best way to characterise the impact that those horrible events had on our local community is to say that, the day after September 11, Australians of Muslim faith woke to realise that, from being seen as migrants with a migrant experience and generally part of the broader community, they had suddenly become identified immediately as Muslims and cast in a terrible light as a result of those horrible events that took place before our very eyes. Unfortunately for the community, they were very much framed within the context of a national security risk to Australia and to the broader global community. That was the immediate negative impact on Muslim communities here in Australia, let alone internationally.

The positive side of this is that we live in a very successful multicultural community that was able to come together very quickly, recognising the possibilities for great division between us all. At the forefront of that coming together was not only acknowledging their solidarity with the people who had lost their lives and expressing their anger over what had happened but also assisting the Muslim community in Australia to deal with this issue—because the truth is that they were the 'it' community at that time, under the scrutiny of the international community, not to mention the media, particularly here in Australia. Their faith leaders came together in interfaith dialogues. We were all able to establish relationships to basically help manage the pressure that this community was under.

As I said on Saturday night in my electorate, at an Eid festival—which is the festival marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan—we are able to reflect on where the community here in Australia has got to 10 years later. And it is a good story; it is actually a positive story. The Muslim community has emerged much stronger, it has developed significant relationships with other members of the wider community and our interfaith networks are very strong. So I can say that, 10 years on, our community here in Australia is much stronger and our awareness of each other is much stronger. I think that is very important because Australia has stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States. We participated in the Iraq war that resulted from September 11 and we are still engaged in active duties in Afghanistan, so we are fulfilling our responsibilities on that level; but on another level Australia is also a great example to the rest of the world of how communities, not just of different ethnicities but also of different faiths, can live together and essentially maintain their cultural and linguistic inheritance and their faith in the context of being Australian.

I have heard many times in the last 10 years, in my travels overseas and from people who come here, references to Australia's society and our multiculturalism. They view us as a wonderful example of harmoniously and coherently managing diversity. In the many dialogues on the clash of civilisations that have taken place throughout the world in the last 10 years, Australia is always singled out as the country that has been able to manage differences of religion and diversity in an exemplary way.

Today I had the opportunity to speak to Peter Marshall, the National and Victorian State Secretary of the United Firefighters Union of Australia. He was here in Canberra on another matter, but we had a discussion in which I told Peter that I was going to be making some comments today on the anniversary of September 11. He brought to my attention—and we all know this—that the firefighters played a very significant role on that day and in the days following. In fact, a considerable number of firefighters lost their lives. That illustrates the kinds of danger which people who serve our community face—our soldiers, of course, and also our emergency services personnel. When they are at the forefront of such events, they do risk their lives. I would like to read the letter of solidarity that Peter Marshall sent to his counterpart, Harold Schaitberger, who is the General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters. It reads:

Dear General President Schaitberger,

On behalf of the United Firefighters Union of Australia and its members across Australia, please convey our solidarity and commitment to the families and colleagues of IAFF members who perished in the line of duty, 10 years ago in the September 11 attacks.

We will always remember the ultimate sacrifice that was made by IAFF members on that fateful day.

Our hearts and our thoughts are with you.

In solidarity

Peter Marshall

National and Vic State Secretary


In addition, the Australian firefighters have joined with thousands of others at this moment in Colorado Springs to commemorate a memorial for the fallen firefighters and to remember all 347 who perished in the 9-11 attacks 10 years ago.

It is very important to acknowledge that September 11 changed our thinking about our own sense of security and safety. Many speakers have made reference to the incredible impact that it had on our sense of security here at Parliament House. Needless to say, we all undergo the very stringent security measures that have to be taken at airports in Australia and everywhere else we travel. It was a moment in history that has caused us to be a lot more wary and vigilant and it certainly opened up an incredible debate about the Islamic faith. As I said in my opening remarks, it is important on these occasions to reflect on the impact that such an iconic catastrophe has on all aspects of life and I wanted to concentrate on the impact that it has had on my own community. I want to say to the House that 10 years later we as a nation have grown from this and it is very important to keep that in perspective. We still have to maintain our vigilance and our wariness, but I think we have come to understand things that perhaps we did not understand prior to that.

I am very proud to say that it could have been to our detriment socially here in Australia but it was not. We have emerged a much stronger community, and certainly my community is very happy to be left to get on with its day-to-day business of living in mainstream Australia. This is very important to acknowledge. I am not going to name the people who have been involved in bringing communities together—there are too many of them. There have been many, many people. It has certainly been a great honour for me personally to work with some wonderful people and, again, I would like to close by offering my condolences to all who lost family and loved ones on that day, 11 September 2001.