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Wednesday, 9 March 2005
Page: 136

Senator TCHEN (7:04 PM) —I rise tonight to report briefly to the Senate on a Living in Harmony activity hosted by the Waverley Softball Association called Pitch to Communities, which I had the pleasure of attending last Saturday. This excellent project, undertaken with the support of a $50,000 grant under the Commonwealth government’s Living in Harmony community grants program, involves primary school age children from mainstream and many diverse communities participating in softball, a low-impact team sport particularly suited for growing children of all ages. The aim of Pitch to Communities is to improve understanding of diversity and assist community harmony by involving primary school age children from small diverse groups—including the Sudanese, Somali and Afghan communities—and their families in a local softball association.

The community grants program is the centrepiece of the government’s Living in Harmony initiative, which aims to promote community harmony and address issues of racism in Australia. It relies on local groups to identify relevant issues at the grassroots level and propose projects that address their communities’ needs. Waverley Softball Association’s Pitch to Communities was one of 42 projects in the 2004 round of the program. Apart from the Commonwealth grant, Pitch to Communities is also supported by the Monash City Council, 14 primary schools in the general neighbourhood of the City of Monash and the Somali and Sudanese communities, as well as the Waverley Softball Association and all its members.

The project consists of a 14-week structured softball competition as well as cultural and social activities taking place before and after each game. Parents and community members have actively been involved in all aspects of the project, including coaching. It is anticipated that other community sporting organisations will be able to use this project as a model for reaching out to diverse communities and developing and maintaining participation. The competition rounds finish in March and the project will be formally completed in May 2005.

Waverley Softball Association believes that Pitch to Communities will deliver many benefits to the community, including (1) children will be fitter and develop more team sport oriented skills, (2) the involvement of families and young people in a common activity will facilitate open and improved communication between generational family members, (3) new friendships will be created and a greater understanding of our diverse communities will be established, and (4) mainstream communities will be brought together with new emerging communities.

From my observation, the project has been a great success. I witnessed children and adults, obviously of many diverse backgrounds, working, organising, playing softball and communicating with one another with total and unselfconscious cooperation and enjoyment. I met members of the Somali and Sudanese communities, former refugees, who have come to settle in Australia under our humanitarian offshore resettlement program. I met Aden Ibrahim, who came to Australia in the 1980s as a refugee, learned English, managed to have his qualifications recognised, managed to bring up his family and generally prospered but has never turned his back on others who have had greater difficulties in adjusting to life in an entirely different society from the one they grew up in—and there are many of them—and he has always put his energy into helping others.

Through Aden I met two young Somali sisters—Qali, about 10 years old, and Dhoofo, about 14—who were separated from their family by civil wars, travelled 3½ thousand miles, mostly on foot, across three countries to refugee camps in Kenya, from where they were brought to Australia by a distant relative. It has not been easy for Qali and Dhoofo to settle down. It would not have been easy for anybody with their traumatic experience to settle down, let alone for ones so young and let alone to a way of life so alien to their experience. Miraculously, the news is that Qali and Dhoofo’s parents have been located in Kenya’s overflowing refugee camps, and there is hope that they will be brought to Australia through the humanitarian offshore settlement program.

The problem of adjustment and settling is a problem that Qali and Dhoofo do not face alone. Every young Somali and every young Sudanese will face such difficulties, especially as they enter their teenage years, as every youngster from our diverse communities has experienced—a cultural gap compounded by a generational gap—as young Vietnamese have faced, are facing; as young Lebanese have faced, are facing. They are facing this without any help from pontificating politicians like the New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr. By contrast, unselfish, ordinary yet extraordinary Australians, like Aden Ibrahim, from these young people’s own communities and others from other Australian communities, like the members of Waverley Softball Association, have made great and successful efforts to help.

I have a pamphlet produced by the Waverley Softball Association for the Pitch to Communities project, which contains a brief account about Qali and Dhoofo. I seek leave to table this pamphlet.

Senator Carr —What is it?

Senator TCHEN —It is a pamphlet produced by the Waverley Softball Association.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Moore)—Senator, the opposition would like to see it.

Senator TCHEN —I am happy to wait for you to have a look at it.

Senator Carr —Can we just have a look at it?

Senator TCHEN —Yes, of course. Living in Harmony is about recognising and appreciating what we have in common—those qualities we share with each other—rather than the things that divide us. It emphasises the importance of community harmony for connecting people and building a stronger sense of belonging among family, friends and the local neighbourhood. Living in Harmony projects such as Pitch to Communities by the Waverley Softball Association demonstrate how community involvement through sport can achieve these objectives. I commend and congratulate the Waverley Softball Association; its president, Jacinta Poole; Pitch to Communities project coordinator, Graeme Quince; the many committee members I met but whose names I cannot recall—my apologies for that—and all the association members and participants I did not get to meet, for their contributions and their willingness to be involved in this outstanding community building effort. Do I now have leave to table the pamphlet?

Leave granted.

Senator TCHEN —I thank the Senate. I also commend and thank Aden Ibrahim and all his co-workers in the Somali and Sudanese communities for their efforts to support and help members of their communities to settle and prosper in our productively diverse and harmonious community, making it greater in the process. The story of the Somali and Sudanese communities and other Horn of Africa communities in Australia is very much a story of Australia’s humanitarian offshore settlement program. It is a good story about Australia’s compassionate standing in the world. It is a compassion that is unique in its generosity, its longevity and its discernment. It is a program that deserves determination from all of us to maintain.

This brings me back to the point of my speech last night where I had to break off. Last night my topic was the Australian Arabic Council Media Award 2004. The award was judged by a panel of distinguished experts in journalism and in social sciences. They included the chair of the Department of Social and Behavioural Sciences at the American University of Beirut; the social affairs editor of the Age of Melbourne; an adjunct professor of journalism of the University of Technology, Sydney; and Ms Mary Kostakidis, who is the public face of SBS World News. There were nine short-listed news reports. These ranged in content from reports of the Muslim community in the suburbs of Sydney and elsewhere and its largely successful efforts to integrate into Australian society and oppose terrorism, to analysis of Middle East politics and diplomacy affecting Palestinian self-determination. The panel awarded Ms Andra Jackson for an article on Aladdin Sisalem, then the sole remaining asylum seeker held in detention on Manus Island. It was a real surprise. I have no issue with Ms Jackson’s ability—I have no issue with the ability of any of the authors—but I fail to see how an article about a failed asylum seeker who could be of any cultural or religious background—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator, that is the extent of your time.

Senator TCHEN —I will leave my punchline for the next night unless the Senate will grant me two minutes.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —No. It will have to be on another evening.