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Tuesday, 19 November 2002
Page: 6794


Senator EGGLESTON (8:27 PM) —After listening to Senator Nettle's miserable story of anti-Muslim behaviour around this country earlier tonight, I would like to tell a different story of racial and religious tolerance in the north-west of Western Australia in the mining towns up there, particularly in Port Hedland, where the Muslims are very much accepted as part of the community. In fact, some 10 per cent of the population of Port Hedland are Malay and Indonesian Muslim people. These people originally came from Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, where they worked for the British Phosphate Commission. When Christmas Island became an Australian territory they were brought to work in the Pilbara for Goldsworthy Mining, which was the very first of the great iron ore mining companies in the Pilbara. Now they work for BHP Billiton iron ore. These people worked at Shay Gap, Goldsworthy and Finucane Island, which was the Goldsworthy port community. As I said, they are very much part of the community in Port Hedland. There is certainly no question of racial intolerance or vilification of the kind Senator Nettle expressed to the Senate earlier tonight was occurring in Sydney.

The Muslims in Port Hedland are regarded very much as part of the community. They are regarded as hard workers and they fit in well. They certainly do not disguise the fact that they are Muslims. The women can be seen in the shopping centres in Port Hedland and South Hedland in traditional Muslim garb. They wear head coverings and long dresses, and many of them wear these garments even in the height of summer. The more conservative Muslim women and children dress in black, with black head coverings, black face masks and long black dresses. These women are obviously Muslims. Their menfolk also wear fairly identifiable clothing. They wear skullcaps and make no secret of the fact that they are Muslims and very proud of their ethnic identity. They maintain a very cohesive community which is, nevertheless, part of the broader Port Hedland community.

The community, which, as I have said, is some 10 per cent of the population of Port Hedland, has a mosque in South Hedland. It was built, I believe, with the support of Muslims in Indonesia. Many of their children attend the Baler Primary School, which is in one of the four or five suburbs of South Hedland. Their older children go to the South Hedland High School, and many of them attend Hedland college, which is the East Pilbara College of TAFE. The Muslim women work not only in the shops but also as part of the secretarial force of the mining companies in the Pilbara, other offices within the town and government offices, both federal and state, in Port and South Hedland. These people have transformed the community of Port Hedland, in the sense that Port Hedland is just another Australian regional town, but instead of the CWA ladies putting on Devonshire teas and scones at town festivals Muslim ladies serve satays and curry puffs, and the people in that part of the world really enjoy the contribution that these Muslims make to the town of Port Hedland.

There is quite a lot of intermarriage between the Muslim community in Port Hedland and the rest of the community. But not all of the marriages are intermarriages between European Australians and Indonesian or Malay Muslims. Quite a lot of these young Muslims bring in brides or husbands from Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore, and the marriages are quite memorable because the ceremonies last three or four days with endless feasting. I have been to a few weddings where the bride has changed her costume no fewer than seven times in the course of a three-hour afternoon.

The great event of the Muslim year is the Ramadan festival. At the end of Ramadan the Muslims have what they call the Muslim Christmas, which is really the beginning of their new year. In South Hedland the Muslims throw their homes open to anybody who wants to visit and they have a great feast. As I said, they are very much part of the community. This happens not only in Port Hedland but also in other north-western towns, such as Geraldton and the inland mining towns like Newman and Tom Price, and in south-western towns such as Katanning, where there is a halal abattoir.

Rather than tell the grim and miserable tale of racial and religious intolerance and anti-Muslim behaviour which Senator Nettle claims is now common in Australia, I want to tell the other side of the story. I want to tell the story of these towns in the north-west where the Muslims are a significant part of the population—where they do fit in, they are accepted and there is no hint of the kind of racial vilification and religious intolerance that Senator Nettle portrayed. I must say that one finds that kind of model of racial and religious tolerance across the north of Australia, not just in the north of Western Australia—although there are great examples, such as Broome, in the north of Western Australia, where the population is very much a multiracial mix of Indonesian, Malay, Japanese, Chinese, Aboriginal and European people. As I have said, in towns like Port Hedland there is a high degree of racial tolerance, and I think that that kind of tolerance is more typical of Australia and the values of Australia than the kind of miserable depiction which Senator Nettle presented to the Senate tonight.

Senate adjourned at 8.35 p.m.