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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31783

Mr DANBY (12:30 PM) —I welcome to Australia the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, Rabbi Cyril Harris, who is going on a nationwide tour of Australia and is here for a very important event in my electorate, reflecting the commitment of the Labor Party and the Labor government in Victoria to immigration and the strong commitment that this side of politics has to immigration and its positive values. Rabbi Harris is a very distinguished person. For his political stance in opposing apartheid he has been internationally recognised, particularly for his involvement with the disadvantaged black community in South Africa. Rabbi Harris is Scottish born and served at three large synagogues in London, for almost 30 years, before arriving in South Africa at a very important time, in 1988. From the beginning, Rabbi Harris established a strong relationship with Nelson Mandela that continued beyond Nelson Mandela's presidency. Rabbi Harris supported the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, chaired by Archbishop Tutu. President Nelson Mandela, speaking on the 10th anniversary of Rabbi Harris's appointment, in 1997, said:

The Chief Rabbi's dedication to building bridges between faiths, including his exceptional contribution in the field of religious broadcasting, has added impetus to forging a new South African identity.

And isn't that a tribute. In my electorate, Rabbi Harris will be the guest of honour, along with the Treasurer of Victoria, Mr Brumby, at the opening of the new central synagogue in South Caulfield. Over the last few years there has been a significant migration of people from South Africa to the suburbs on the edge of my electorate—South Caulfield, Glen Huntly—and to Ormond and Bentley, which are outside my electorate. In 1998 Rabbi Yitzchak Reisenberg, together with other prominent members of the South African community, established the central synagogue, which aims to establish a congregation of people from South Africa. I have attended there many times, and particularly on Friday nights, when one has the most unusual and pleasurable experience of seeing a service that is extremely well attended and an almost entire congregation that sings—a phenomenon that most Australians would find very unusual. It is a very culturally South African thing that people go on a Friday night after work—even people who, like me, are perhaps not as observant as they might be.

In just a few years people like Ian Harris, the secretary of the central synagogue, and Rabbi Reisenberg have built a great congregation and community. They have purchased the new facility in Maple Street. This Sunday it will be opened by Rabbi Harris, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, with John Brumby, the Treasurer of Victoria. Rabbi Harris and his wife are prominent human rights proponents in South Africa. In Australia Rabbi Harris will be giving the ADC Gandel oration for the antidefamation commission of B'nai Brith—and will be talking to audiences across this country about the Jewish community in South Africa and human rights concerns there and worldwide. Aside from congregational facilities, Central synagogue and community centre provides, as Rabbi Yitzchak Reisenberg says, `support services for social integration, networking, employment and business opportunities, educational services and the opportunity to practise Jewish cultural heritage'.

Arising from the presence of former South Africans is the issue of immigration and the problems associated with it. Many are successful Australian citizens who want to have their relatives join them for short family celebrations and people who want to bring elderly relatives to Australia who are totally supported by them but have continuing difficulties with Australian immigration. We need a more visionary view of immigration, a view that sees the positive contribution that people like those associated with the Central synagogue are making to Australia. I cannot think of people who are more enterprising and hard working and of value to the Australian community than the people who comprise this new group in my electorate. I applaud the opening of central synagogue and the welcoming to Australia of Chief Rabbi Harris on that occasion.