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Tuesday, 18 September 2012
Page: 11125

Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (16:24): It is a great privilege to be a federal member of parliament. One part of my job that I love the most is being able to participate in local citizenship ceremonies, to welcome Australia's newest citizens to this nation. The immense pride, satisfaction and pleasure is visible for all to see, with many unable to control their excitement with cheers, as well as many tears of joy and emotion.

What it is about Australia that makes people want to live here? Why do so many uproot their lives and families in their native land to share in what we take for granted every day?

I believe that it is because of Australia's values: the values of opportunity and freedom, in particular, individual liberty, and the values of economic opportunity and equality of opportunity. It is because of the freedom of individuals to say what they want, to worship and to associate. It is because women have these freedoms, the same as men. It is because this liberty is tempered by the need to respect the liberty of others. It is because of the fact that we have a free and democratic government. Although we are one of the world's youngest nations, we are one of the world's oldest democracies and have been a democracy since our inception. It is a democracy that is accountable to the people and allows government to change without bloodshed but rather through secret ballot. It is because we have the ability to live in peace and security upheld by the rule of law and in the knowledge that the law applies to all without fear or favour.

What we witnessed in Sydney over the weekend did not characterise these values. It did not represent what it means to be Australian. When we saw signs held up by children that read: 'Behead all those who insult the prophet,' we saw a very dark side of discourse in this country. While it may be that the film that was supposedly the subject of these riots is in fact offensive, that does not lend itself to any excuse for the sort of violence and intimidation that we saw on our streets or for the murderous attacks that occurred overseas.

Unfortunately, this incident in which we saw violent attacks is not isolated. We have seen overreactions occur in the past, such as those which occurred following the publication of a cartoon in Denmark and the death threat made against Salman Rushdie for the publication of his book.

Australia prides itself on its way of life and its commitment to Western democratic values. Australia will not and must not submit to extremism. The great strength of our country lies in our democratic institutions, our values and our people. We must protect and uphold them.

I commend a number of leaders from the Islamic community who, in the past few days, have condemned this violence and intolerance. I welcome their contribution and their leadership.