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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6819

Ms VAMVAKINOU (7:50 PM) —I begin by congratulating the member for Melbourne Ports on his private member’s motion. It is a timely motion and one that I am very pleased to speak to this evening. My electorate of Calwell has the largest Turkish-speaking constituency in Australia. In the 42 years since the signing of a formal migration agreement between Turkey and Australia, significant communities have grown throughout the country but it is Melbourne that boasts the highest number of Turkish Australians.

Let me say a few words about Australia’s relationship with the Republic of Turkey. Our two countries share a unique bond. We have a common history of significant loss and supreme sacrifice. Thousands of young Australians lost their lives in a place very far away from home. Today Gallipoli is a sacred place visited by many Australians across generations, particularly on Anzac Day. It is also a sacred place for the Turkish people and we remember those events together each year.

I want to pay tribute to Mr Ramazan Altintas, who is the founder of the Turkish sub-branch of the RSL. As Ramazan once told me, it was not easy initially to convince the RSL to establish a Turkish sub-branch, but he persisted and eventually won the support of Bruce Ruxton, who was himself a regular attendee at the Anzac Day event until his retirement some years ago. This is a significant measure of the maturity of Australia’s relationship with Turkey but also a sign of the successful integration of Turkish Australians in the broader community.

Today the Republic of Turkey is a friendly power and enjoys the status of warm, peaceful friendship and mutual respect with Australia. Our relationship is a result of 42 years of migration between Turkey and Australia. The Turkish community proudly commemorated this milestone with a year-long cultural and artistic program. I was fortunate enough to attend some of these activities and they were very impressive indeed.

Now in its second to third generation, the Turkish community can rightfully claim success stories in all fields, especially education and commerce. One example in particular stands out, and tonight I want to pay tribute to the late Mustafa Ilhan, better known to us as John Ilhan of Crazy John’s fame. His is the consummate migrant success story, and no-one tells it more proudly than Mr Ali Ilhan, the patriarch of the Ilhan family. Ali is my constituent and over the years I have come to know him well. He brought his young family—two sons and a daughter—to Australia many years ago, settled in Broadmeadows and went to work at the local Ford factory, an employer of many Turkish migrants. I know that Ali is proud of his family and in particular his late son Mustafa, who not only was a spectacular success in business but also gave back to his local community, never forgetting his roots and humble beginnings. Tragically, Mustafa died all too young. A park at a sporting facility in Broadmeadows has recently been renamed in John Ilhan’s memory and honour.

Broadmeadows has a very special place in the history of Australian Turkish migration. Many of my constituents tell me that, when the first plane load of Turkish migrants arrived at Tullamarine airport following the 1967 agreement, they went straight from the aeroplane to the Maygar barracks in Broadmeadows, which had become a hostel for these new migrants. If Broadmeadows has the largest concentration of Turkish Australians, it is precisely because most of them did some time in the barracks and then chose to settle in and around the local area. They built a strong presence with mosques, schools and shops, just like any other large migrant community that came before them.

But, like so many of us, Turkish migrants encountered much prejudice in the early years. They worked hard to overcome stigma and embrace their Australian-Turkish identity with pride. They have come a long way, with the current Prime Minister of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan, visiting Broadmeadows a few years ago. In his speech, Prime Minister Erdogan affirmed how far those in this community have come and congratulated them on their achievements.

The leadership and strength shown by the Turkish community, during trying times, is exemplary. None of us can forget the repercussions of September 11, 2001: overnight, law-abiding community members were suddenly seen no longer as Australians of migrant background but primarily as Muslims. I know the angst this created for many. I also know that it was the local Turkish community who rose to the challenge and helped build bridges through interfaith and intercommunity dialogue. It is appropriate at this point to commend Mr Ibrahim Delal and Mr Orhan Cicek for their efforts in that venture.

I also want to warmly thank the local Turkish community for the support they have given me over the years. To be of Greek origin and represent in the federal parliament the largest Turkish-speaking community in Australia is an honour and a rare phenomenon. It says a lot about the cohesiveness of our multicultural society, its diversity and indeed its strength.