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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14761

Ms BIRD (Cunningham) (16:42): I, too, rise, as so many colleagues have done across both sides of the chamber, to endorse the words and sentiments of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in extending this nation's condolence to those who have suffered so terribly from the Christchurch attacks, and also to offer our solidarity and ongoing support to communities and the nation as it seeks to rebuild from that time.

I come from Wollongong. We always pride ourselves on how diverse we are. We are a very diverse community—diverse in the ethnic backgrounds that people have come from, the languages that they speak, the faiths that they practice and the countries that they came from. Sometimes, like many in this place, we like to say that our particular patch is the beacon of diversity and that it's unique in some way. But, realistically, I think that is a common story through the vast majority of Australia. Through the suburbs of cities and towns like mine in Wollongong, to more rural, smaller places, our story now is one of communities that are very diverse.

I think the experience that so many of my colleagues—and I use the term in this debate referring to all members, I'm sure, of the House—take out of that as we go around our communities is that there's something we celebrate and love about that diversity. We talk about the music, the food, the cultural experiences and the economic and business benefits—the way it takes us out into the world and creates connections. We talk about all those things as wonderful, and they are, but at the heart of it what we all see is that people are people. People love their families and they want the best for their kids. They love their communities and they'll often volunteer in all sorts of ways. If something terrible happens—if there's fire or flood, an unemployment event or something—people rally around. Nobody particularly cares what faith they are or from what ethnic background they are; people just rally around together. I think that is the story across our nation. That's certainly my experience in Wollongong. I find it baffling—incomprehensible—that some people born and raised here, as in the case of this Australian terrorist, could have such a mean, shrivelled heart that they could hate in the way they do.

I find it incomprehensible but I also acknowledge it's a reality, and that's why I think the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are so important in saying very clearly as a nation: 'This is not us. These are not the values that we adhere to, and we will not stand by silently while other Australians say or do things that are divisive and hateful. It is not acceptable, and we will call it out.'

Today I extend my sympathies to, and share the grief of, the Muslim community of Christchurch as they get on with their lives without so many people who were loved parts of those lives. I acknowledge the whole New Zealand population and the task of work they have ahead of them. I particularly want to acknowledge the extraordinary leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. I think her capacity to capture the sentiment of sorrow but also determination was so powerful. As she said:

Let us acknowledge their grief as they do.

Let's support them as they gather again for worship.

We are one. They are us.

I think that's how we feel about New Zealand too.

I want to report to the Chamber that there was a lot of activity in my local area in the week or so following this terrible terrorist attack. There was a candlelight vigil on the Saturday at the Omar Mosque at Gwynneville. About 200 people attended to pay respect to and show solidarity with the local Muslim community. Andrew Pearson of the Illawarra Mercury reported it beautifully. He said:

Undeterred by heavy downpours of rain, attendees—young and old, of faith and not—held candles as they stood in silence outside the Foley Street mosque.

…   …   …

'We are shocked and saddened by this act of violence, terrorism by this individual, particularly when the innocent people were worshipping in the mosque,'

They were the words of the Omar Mosque chairman, Munir Hussain.

I couldn't be there that night, but Dr Hussain and the mosque are very well known to me. I've visited on many occasions and talked to them about many issues. I was really pleased to see the strength of the community support that was shown to them. Dr Hussain—that night and on other occasions—called on the government to act on Islamophobia, and I think that is a very reasonable call to make. He also expressed his appreciation for people who attended the event.

On the following Monday night there was a vigil in Wollongong's Crown Street mall, which was organised by Illawarra People for Peace. It is quite a long-established, cross-denominational group that works for peace. Many hundreds of locals attended this vigil to honour the victims of Christchurch. There were people from all walks of life. Community leaders and ordinary citizens, and people of many faiths and no faith, young and old, joined together to show their determination that love, tolerance and community would triumph over hatred and division. Reverend Geoff Flynn of the Wesley Church, in his address, said:

What a wonderful diverse community that has gathered. I hope this will be a practical experience for you for building peace in the Illawarra.

Imam Sheikh Abdul Rahman Fattah and the Omar Mosque chairman, Munir Hussain, also addressed the crowd. They expressed their view that the large turnout was proof that there were so many people who really cared for each other, and pointed out the responsibility we all have to call out racism and intolerance whenever we see it. Sheikh Rahman said:

Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed … they came to bring peace to the people, no prophet or messenger came to the people and said kill each other. Terrorists have no nationality, they can affect any one of us.

Reverend Miao You, from the Nan Tien Temple, also spoke of the power of love and shared a prayer for peace. There were some moving musical contributions to the event, with the traditional Maori song 'Pokarekare Ana' performed by Goknur Shanal and a number of songs performed by the Union Choir. I want simply to say that I don't think my community was unique. I know they're wonderful, and I think they reflect communities all around this nation in our determination to extend sympathy and support and to commit to calling out hatred whenever and wherever we see it.