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Wednesday, 8 December 2004
Page: 149

Mr FAWCETT (7:55 PM) —I am pleased to say that there are some in Australia whose enthusiasm probably exceeds that of the member for Corio. They are the children around the country who are looking forward with great anticipation to Christmas Day. In fact, this is true all around the world. I recall living in Thailand as a young person, going to Bangkok with my parents to buy presents and being amazed to see not one but two Santa Clauses holding hands, strolling through a shopping complex.

The other thing that stands out from my time living in Thailand is the confidence with which they celebrate their customs and traditions as a predominantly Buddhist country. While they acknowledged Christmas and the importance of it to the minority of us, they had no hesitation in ordering the life of their community around the festivals significant to the religious majority that had shaped much of their nation. Furthermore, having the opportunity to live among a society that so openly celebrated its heritage added to the significantly rich and diverse experience of living in a mixed culture.

I regret to say that in Australia we appear to have lost this confidence, particularly with respect to Christmas. This has come about largely through the well-intentioned but often misguided notion of political correctness which aims, among other things, to foster tolerance and cultural integration. In practice, this approach means that school teachers, child-care workers and organisers of community events are frequently counselled, indeed sometimes directed, to omit all reference to the reason for the season—that is, the Christian festival celebrating the birth of Christ. To quote an executive of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Waleed Aly, this approach is a `farce'. In an excellent article he wrote for the Australian on Tuesday this week, Mr Aly said:

Driving Christmas underground only erodes this treasured Australian norm and that is far more troubling to me than any Christmas celebration.

He went on to say:

This is where political correctness loses the plot; what purports to inspire tolerance instead inspires hostility and intolerance ... Denying the Christianity in Christmas or, worse, doing away with it altogether helps no one.

The point that Mr Aly makes is that cultural tolerance does not imply or require denial of one's own heritage or beliefs.

This was reinforced by two naval officers from Qatar and Oman whom I had the pleasure of serving with over a number of months at the Royal Australian Naval Staff College. Toward the end of their stay, they commented that there was one aspect of our culture that made them feel most uncomfortable. It was the way that many Australians felt obliged to bend over backwards to avoid any possibility of giving offence, to the extent where these gentlemen said that at times they did not really know who we were or what we stood for.

If visitors to Australia and the leaders of one of the minority groups in our society can grasp the fallacy of political correctness so clearly then the proponents of political correctness, who purport to speak on behalf of these minorities, should surely take stock and consider the negative impact of their current approach. Australia will enjoy a more inclusive and stable community far more readily when we are all able to speak about and celebrate our heritage without fear of condemnation or ridicule.

So, as we approach this Christmas time, I wish to encourage the teachers, care workers, parents and indeed all Australians to feel free to joyfully celebrate Australia's Christian heritage with confidence and grace. To you, Mr Speaker, and to the people of Australia: a blessed Christmas to you and yours.

Question agreed to.