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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 428

Mr TURNBULL (4:47 PM) —I wish to raise a matter of serious concern to many of my constituents and to many other Australians. On 3 February the Prime Minister announced that he would hold a summit of 1,000 of what he described as Australia’s ‘best and brightest’ to generate ideas for the future of our nation—that is, his 2020 summit.

There was great disappointment in both the Jewish community and in the wider community over the Prime Minister’s decision to hold this summit on the weekend of the Passover, 19-20 April. I wrote to the Prime Minister last week to urge him to change the date of the summit. All religious holidays are in our calendar, and it must be possible to find two days which do not conflict with any of them. It is, frankly, incredible for the Prime Minister to insist—having had this matter brought to his attention by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry at the outset—on holding the summit on a weekend which will preclude the attendance of most Jewish Australians. Is the Prime Minister saying he will have a gathering of 1,000 of Australia’s best and brightest non-Jewish Australians? That seems incredible. Passover is a very important festival in the Jewish religion. Not only is it a festival of family and giving but it is also a time to remember the perseverance of the Jewish people and the redemption of their ancestors from bitter slavery in Egypt.

I do not imagine that Mr Rudd would have considered holding the summit on a weekend which would conflict with Easter or on a day which could conflict with Christmas. I wrote to him last week about this, raising it in what I hoped he would see as a constructive way, and I have had no response.

I know the member for Melbourne Ports has also raised this issue with the Prime Minister, and it appears that he has also ignored the concerns of his colleague. I urge the Prime Minister to reconsider the date of this summit. It is unreasonable to ask Jewish Australians if they want to attend this summit on a day which conflicts with their religious obligations. The first nights of Passover are festivals which the vast majority of Jews celebrate. Even Jews who would regard themselves as being fairly secular will find this a very difficult time to attend such a summit.

This should not be a gathering of 1,000 of our best and brightest non-Jews; it should be a gathering of our best and brightest from all religions, whatever their background and whatever their faith. I respectfully urge the Prime Minister to have regard for my concerns, the concerns of my constituents and those of the member for Melbourne Ports and change the date to make it work for everybody.