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Tuesday, 7 February 2006
Page: 100

Mr BAIRD (9:14 PM) —On Sunday, 11 December 2005 a significant and disappointing event took place in my electorate. Now known as the Cronulla riots the news of this disturbance flashed around the globe, casting my area and our country in a less than flattering light. It is unfair to simply label the crowd as racist, as some elements of the media have done. Many in the crowd of 5,000 were there through curiosity. Many others were simply there to make a point about the failure of the New South Wales government to deal with inappropriate conduct, assaults, intimidation and other antisocial behaviour which has been happening over the last eight years or so by young men identified as being of Arabic or Lebanese background.

No matter what the intent of the majority of the crowd, the way that this protest manifested itself, with young and innocent Australians pursued by a violent mob through the streets of Cronulla, has brought great shame on my suburb, my area and our nation. In turn the retaliatory attacks by young men, reportedly of Australian Lebanese background, has brought great shame on the Australian Lebanese community. The stabbings and violent bashings of people in their front yards and in the streets on the evening of Monday, 12 December has only served to ingrain more broadly the ill feeling and prejudice which these young men were supposedly retaliating against.

The approach I have taken following the riot and subsequent violence is to address the underlying causes of both the initial riot and the subsequent retaliatory attacks. This matter had the potential to become a long-standing scar between the shire and the Australian and Lebanese communities, and I am sure that the House would agree that any further attacks on shire residents or people visiting the shire are to be avoided at all costs.

On the Tuesday following the riots I initiated contact with community leaders from both the Sutherland Shire and the Lebanese community. I must pay tribute to everyone involved in the initial meeting on the Thursday following the riot and in the many subsequent meetings we have had. Everyone involved has been outstanding, and they have worked together to ensure no further violence occurs. More recently we have worked together to promote understanding and mutual respect between our conflicting communities.

The members of the Inter-Community Dialogue, as the group is known, are: from the Lebanese Moslem Association, Ahmed Kamaledine, Sheikh Awaz, Rabih El Ayoubi and Samir Dandan; from the Islamic Council of New South Wales, Ali Roude and his sister Nada Roude; from the Australian Lebanese Christian Federation, Stephen Stanton and Andre Kortbawi; together with a significant number of community representatives from various Muslim, Christian and secular Lebanese associations. From the Sutherland Shire we had the mayor, Kevin Schreiber, the president of the Cronulla Sharks, Barry Pierce, and the general manager, Greg Pierce. We also had the presidents of the four surf clubs. I wish to thank the Prime Minister and the then Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, John Cobb, for their strong support.

At the meeting we had the presidents of the surf clubs, Greg Holland, Brian Ferguson, Ron Smith and Steve Frawley. We were also very pleased that National Rugby League great Jason Stevens, actor Daniel MacPherson, Cronulla Chamber of Commerce president, Robert Stanley-Jones, police local area commanders John Richardson and Robert Redfern and Phil Vanny from Surf Life Saving New South Wales were so ready to assist. I was also thankful that the member for Hughes, Danna Vale, and the state member for Cronulla, Malcolm Kerr, were ready to lend a hand.

Each of these people and the remainder of the participants deserve great praise for the way they were able to come together and truly show direction to their respective communities. A press conference was held at the site of the riot just four days later to jointly call for calm. The Lebanese leaders worked particularly hard to stop any further violence or revenge attacks, and they deserve the thanks of this parliament for their commitment and dedication.

I am greatly buoyed by the way the shire and Lebanese leaders have built a strong rapport and friendship over the past two months. We have eaten in each other’s homes, visited each other’s communities and worked very hard to ensure that positive steps are taken to remedy the core problems. I was particularly touched by the invitation from Wanda Surf Club to Ahmad Kamaledine and Nada and Ali Roude to launch Wanda’s new surfboat. This boat launch occurred on the Sunday following the riot, and it sent a strong message of friendship from the shire to the Australian Lebanese community. My thanks again go to the Prime Minister and John Cobb for their strong support.

Following the riot, we submitted to the Prime Minister and Minister Cobb for approval a special scholarship to young Australians from ethnic backgrounds to participate in the surf-lifesaving clubs, to complete their bronze medallions and to pay their membership to the clubs. We hope that this program will promote greater understanding across our communities.

While we were all deeply disturbed by the riot and subsequent attacks, I take great hope in the way that our communities are now coming together. It is beholden on all Australians to work together in a spirit of mateship, and I firmly believe that this is now occurring. (Time expired)