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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14739


Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (12:04): I've been fortunate to represent a very diverse electorate in the time that I have been here in this parliament. I came into parliament in 2001, two months after September 11. That was a very difficult time for the world community but it was especially difficult for the many people in my local community. I represent a constituency that has many features. One is that we have one of the largest communities of Australians who observe the Muslim faith. Australians who have migrated here over a period of five decades from, predominantly, Turkey and other countries of the Middle East came as migrants.

Our most recent arrivals have come as refugees from Iraq and Syria, largely, and they are of the Chaldean, Assyrian and Christian faiths. The adherence to and practice of faith is very important in Calwell. Our mosques and churches, Buddhist and Hindu temples and the Sikh gurdwara are all integral parts of our community life not only at a time of worship but also in other area of our lives, such as welfare, settlement services, family and individual support. Our local interfaith actives allow us all to come together, often to share each other's cultural and religious events, to talk to each other and to get to know each other. Iftar dinners during Ramadan are a long-held tradition in Calwell alongside the sharing of significant Christian events like Easter and Christmas, the Tibetan Buddhist spring festival, the Sri Lankan Buddhist lighting of the lamps, the Vietnamese moon festival and so many more.

This is the successful multicultural interfaith community that I know well and that I represent here in parliament. This is the successful multicultural Australia that we as a country are widely known and admired for. It hasn't always been easy, of course. Managing diversity such as ours in this country does not come easily. It has required community and political leadership to oversee policies implemented over 50 years. These policies have transformed our young country into a dynamic, modern, forward-looking society. While we still lag in our efforts to reconcile fully with our ancient Indigenous inheritance and our First Peoples, we are optimistic that the community and political will and leadership is here now to eventually make it right with our Indigenous Australians.

Events, especially those of and since September 11, remind us always that our community's cohesion, while robust, is also fragile. We can be bold in our initiatives, but at times we have to tread warily. Although we are a successful multicultural community we are not perfect, and our success will always depend on what is in our hearts and what comes out of our mouths. Our words and our thoughts are key to how we shape our relationships and how we interact with our fellow Australians and our broader community, our global community.

So for my community, those of Muslim faith and, indeed, those of the significant Pacific Islander and New Zealand Maori community, the massacre in Christchurch on Friday, 15 March of 50 innocent people while at prayer at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre was terrifying. The shock and disbelief they felt was heart wrenching. For our New Zealand Maori community the shock was an unspeakable horror. How could this happen in the sanctity of their homeland? For my local Muslim community the execution of innocent people while at prayer was also an unspeakable horror. Gut wrenching also, however, was the stated purpose of the perpetrator. Fear for the safety of our Muslim community became a matter of concern. Many asked themselves and others: 'Should we be afraid?' But the majority said, 'No.' My local Muslim community understood that their immediate responsibility was to come together and reach out across the Tasman to our brothers and sisters in Christchurch to help and comfort them. There was no time for them to be afraid for themselves. The morning after the horrific attack in Christchurch, I joined federal Labor leader Bill Shorten and my Labor parliamentary colleagues Peter Khalil, the member for Wills; Tim Watts, the member for Gellibrand, who spoke earlier; and the member for Isaacs, our shadow Attorney-General; at the Islamic Council of Victoria. We went there to pay our respects to New Zealand's Muslim community and, at this terrible time, to stand side by side with them alongside members of the Islamic Council of Victoria, who were present.

I want to thank the ICV president Mohamed Mohideen and vice-president Adel Salman for giving us a space to express our sincerest condolences and combined grief for the 50 victims of this dreadful and heinous crime and to honour and pay our respects to their families and friends. Two days after the attack, on Sunday, 17 March, the Islamic Council of Victoria hosted its annual Victorian Mosque Open Day—a day that always sits in my annual calendar. It marks Harmony Day and takes place during Cultural Diversity Week, two of Victoria's largest multicultural celebrations.

I joined my community at the Islamic Community Milli Gorus Meadow Heights mosque. I was very pleased to see a great number of other members of our community come to the mosque on that day to engage with their Muslim neighbours in what is a wonderful initiative that sees mosques open their doors and hearts to the broader Melbourne community. They came on that day to offer their condolences, to leave flowers and to express their own horror at what had happened in New Zealand.

Their solidarity and expression of love on that day was widely felt by all of us in attendance. In fact, our young master of ceremonies, Abdurrahman Turker, who is a second-generation Australian of Turkish heritage, in speaking to us said that they had discussed, prior to making the decision to open the mosque this year, whether it was necessary to participate in this year's Mosque Open Day. He said they felt that the time had finally come, perhaps, when such activities were no longer needed. They felt that we had reached a good safe place in the years post September 11, that our cohesion and goodwill had been restored and things had gone back to normal and that all was good in our community.

The events of Christchurch shattered that thinking. It was a brutal reminder that harm is not too far away, that there are still those amongst us who will commit evil acts against fellow human beings and that we have to always remain vigilant and look after one another. So the Mosque Open Day, on 17 March 2019, was more necessary than ever before. You see, where there are good voices there are also bad voices. We need to keep engaged in dialogue with one another so that the bad voices don't prevail in our public discourse, threatening our cohesion and solidarity as Australians.

I want to pay tribute to my community for their strength and resilience in such extraordinary circumstances. I especially want to pay tribute to them for the assistance they have given the New Zealand Muslim community, with many of my locals travelling there to offer their support and condolences. I want to recognise Zuleyha Keskin, who visited Christchurch immediately after the attack and was there when the first funerals began taking place. She posted this note on social media to inform those who wanted to go, to know what to expect on the ground if they did go to Christchurch. Her first impressions were:

If anyone is wanting to go to Christchurch, a few things to remember:

The janazah prayers have started so many of the family members will need support during this difficult time.

There is a community centre close to hospital where many of the community members, including some family members of the deceased, not all, can be visited.

We were able to visit the injured in hospital while we were there but I have heard some say that they are not accepting visitors in the hospital so easily now. I am uncertain how true this is but something to keep in mind.

There are 50 families of the deceased that can be visited. We visited a number of them, but we had to do some research to find their details. This information was not easily available. This may have changed since yesterday.

Some families of the deceased are still in shock so they are not as keen on being visited as others. We have to respect their sentiments and give them space. In other words, there are many people going to Christchurch to provide support, but, at this stage, there is very little direction.

Remember, this is almost immediately after, almost 24 to 48 hours after. Zuleyha may have been one of the first from my community to travel to Christchurch to assist New Zealand's Muslim community, but she definitely wasn't alone in this outpouring of support. Also visiting in the days after were Kerim Buday and Kazem Ates, from the Millis Gorus Islamic community, and members of the Turkish media.

On Friday, 22 March, a week after the events in Christchurch, the Muslim Calwell community came together for a prayer and vigil outside the Hume Global Learning Centre in the heart of Broadmeadows. I want to thank the Islamic Community Milli Gorus for organising the prayer vigil where we all came together in solidarity with our Christchurch brothers and sisters to express our combined grief through prayer and reflection. Fifty prayer rugs were placed in front of us, one for each of the 50 people lost on that tragic Friday in Christchurch. Their names were placed at the top of each rug. Here I have the rug of one of the victims, 77-year-old Musa Nur Awale, who was murdered while praying in the Al Noor mosque.

I want to thank the following speakers on the night for their stirring words, for the compassion they expressed to the victims and for their commitment in standing in solidarity with the community. I want to thank Clayton Williams, the state president of the Craigieburn Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is a New Zealander, and I had recently handed Clayton an Australian flag on the night he became an Australian citizen at the Hume Global Learning Centre in Craigieburn. He was as much stirred about what had happened in his homeland as he was proud of having become an Australian. I want to thank Nuh Arslantas, the head of religious affairs at the Turkish consulate; Kerim Buday from Islamic Community Milli Gorus; and Assmaa Zeno, the Islamic Community Milli Gorus Meadow Heights youth group president.

We've come together so many times, certainly in the 18 years that I've been here in this parliament, to express our compassion and condolences for the many horrendous murders that have taken place across the globe, often in the name of religion and, in this case, in the name of white supremacists. It's absolutely important that we condemn the words and the language of people whose prime motivation is to harm others, because they are different. Today, in expressing my condolences, I also want to commend the Prime Minister, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the many colleagues who have spoken and will speak in this chamber for leading by example and condemning hate speech. I commend my own community, my local Calwell community, for the amount of work that they do in servicing their neighbours and their friends.