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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2090

Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (12:55): In the short break that this chamber had between the two weeks of sitting and this week, I had the opportunity over last weekend to make a very brief visit to the amazing country of Nepal. I was able to go with two of my closest friends, Mr Harish Velji and Ms Aisha Amjad. We were able to go with the support of some amazing Nepalese-Australian community leaders.

Beneath the Himalayas there is an amazing nation of hope and opportunity, but it is also a place of great suffering. We went on a brief trip to be able to visit some of the worst quake-affected areas, to be able to speak directly to some of the victims and some of the communities, and to be able to talk to Nepalese leaders about the work they are doing and the work that has been put together in addressing some of these concerns.

The enormity of the challenges being faced by Nepal following the quake—which is coming to its first anniversary shortly—cannot be underestimated: the impact on the community, the impact on lifestyle and the impact on families. You can throw around figures and you can say that 800,000 houses need to be rebuilt and that over 9,000 people perished. You can say that the Australian response has been fantastic. I think it has been very good—a $28 million package, which the minister, Ms Julie Bishop, should be commended for implementing. The work of the Australian DFAT and the foreign ministry has been sensational in that country. But that does not really tell the story of suffering, that does not tell the story of pain, that does not tell the story of hardship and that does not even grasp the enormity of what has happened.

We are lucky in Australia that we have such an incredible Nepalese-Australian community who have done such a great job in giving back. They have done amazing work fundraising. Over the past year over $2 million has been raised by Australian Nepalese communities through various organisations to be able to give back to their community and to be able to help the quake victims.

Harish, Aisha and I had the opportunity to go right into the heart of quake-affected communities that are now being moved to look at the reconstruction effort. While the government is doing a good job in difficult circumstances, there is a sense of frustration in Nepal and there is a sense of frustration by the Nepalese community. They want more action, they want immediate action and they want to see things happen.

There are many people that I want to thank for this opportunity. I want to begin by thanking the Nepalese Honorary Consul for Australia, Mr Deepak Khadka, a close friend of mine and someone who very kindly put us up in his house for the brief period that we were able to be in Kathmandu. I want to thank the Nepalese government special envoy for the National Reconstruction Fund, and the president of the Non-Resident Nepali Association—the NRNA—Mr Shesh Ghale, who is a prominent Nepalese-Australian leader and an Australian business leader. I want to thank my very good friend Mr Goba Katuwal, who accompanied us on the trip and was able to make this all happen. I want to thank Mr Dila Ram Kharel, my very close friend KC Ganesh, Mr Raj Khanal, Mr Megh Raj Shrestha, my good friend Mr Prem Sapkota, Mr Sandip Katuwal and Mr Krishna Giri. As leaders of the Nepalese community, all are proud Nepalese and are proud of being Australian Nepalese.

I want to thank Mr Deepak Raj Joshi, the CEO of the Nepal Tourism Board, for hosting a cultural event and for really allowing us to experience the culture of Nepal. I want to thank the UML secretary and former minister, Mr Pradeep Gayawali, for coordinating the visits.

In the brief period of time, we were able to meet with the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the foreign minister and CEO of the National Reconstruction Authority. It was an incredible opportunity to get to the bottom of what has been a very, very difficult period for Nepal.

I want to thank the Australian ambassador Glenn White, who I believe is doing a sensational job in Nepal. The high regard that Australians are held in is incredible. Mr White should be congratulated on not simply helping secure the Australian aid effort to Nepal, which at $28 million was substantial, but ensuring that it was well used and, with others in DFAT, making sure it was effective.

The Australian Nepalese community continues to grow. At present the Nepalese community is 30 times larger than it was 20 years ago, and it will only continue to grow. When you start including students, you are looking upwards of 80,000 or 90,000 Nepalese living in Australia, some of whom have taken up citizenship already and many who aspire to. It is an incredible community. They should be proud of their nation and of what Nepalese Australians have been able to do as part of the rebuilding effort.

In the brief time I have available to me today, I also want to touch on another matter. As some may be aware, I had the opportunity to chair an inquiry into the halal certification of food with Senator Bernardi. I have to say, as part of that inquiry, I experienced hate, vitriol and abuse of a type that I had never experienced before. Before I get to that, Senator Bernardi and I came to different conclusions and views and we perhaps began with different world views on this matter. Senator Bernardi conducted himself with nothing but integrity and class throughout the entire process, even though we disagreed.

As part of that, the state member for Lakemba, Jihad Dib, took me to a halal butcher in the state seat of Lakemba. I had the audacity to post an image of this on my social media and I experienced a type of hate, vitriol and Islamophobic fearmongering that I had never experienced before—a real dark underbelly in the Australian community. It shook me and it surprised me.

I did not realise at the time there was a place for people like me who want to support the halal industry, Sydney and Sydney businesses. I did not realise there was a place where someone like me would belong, a place where perhaps everybody would know my name and where I would fit in. Friends, I have to say, this was before I knew about the Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society—a group of people who have come together to share the great Aussie tradition of halal meat in a box. I have recently become a member of this esteemed group of halal food enthusiasts.

On my way to Canberra on Monday—a public holiday in Canberra and not many places where you could actually get a meal—I stopped with my brothers and sisters from the Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society. We went to the King Kebab House in Campbelltown, referred to as the mecca of halal snack packs. It is a place where people from around the world have travelled to experience this Australian delicacy.

Some senators may not be aware of what a halal snack pack is. It is a styrofoam container containing two incredible ingredients: chips and halal meat. This is a great Sydney tradition. It is a great Sydney food and a movement that has been continuing to grow in recent weeks.

In the minute I have left, I want to give a very quick review of this kebab house. The greeting I got was 10 out of 10. The signage was 10 out of 10—it was very clear I was purchasing halal products, something I know many senators on the other side are concerned about. The sauce: fantastic. The chips, the meat, the packaging, the styrofoam container—I know some of the Greens senators have an issue with styrofoam; perhaps I have from time to time.

Senator McGrath: Did you give it a lick?

Senator DASTYARI: Senator McGrath is asking an important question. If you ever really want to appreciate a halal snack pack, I will take you to Sydney. I will take you to Western Sydney.

Senator McGrath: Done!

Senator DASTYARI: Senator McGrath, I will take you up on that offer. Together, with our friends, our brothers and sisters, from the Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society, we will experience the delicacy that is a halal snack pack together, bringing together both the conservative and progressive sides of politics in what can only be described as a great Australian tradition of meat in a box. Thank you.