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Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Page: 7856


Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital TerritoryAssistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs) (13:13): I always enjoy it when a Greens senator calls other people 'extremists'. Senator McKim is part of a party that regularly gets about eight per cent of the vote, so we can only assume what the Australian people think of the Greens views of the world. But I'd like to move on to more positive issues. As the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs, it was a great privilege for me to host the annual Diwali festival here in our parliament's Great Hall this week. This was the fourth time I've had the honour of hosting the event, which is always one of the highlights of the year. Diwali is one of the most important events on the Hindu calendar. It is the Hindu festival of lights, celebrated every year in autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and in spring in the Southern Hemisphere. This festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, of good over evil, of knowledge over ignorance and of hope over despair. Diwali is a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge the great blessing of living in a land of peace and tolerance, where diversity is valued and celebrated.

At this wonderful festival we had many distinguished guests. I'd like to take this time to thank them. They included His Excellency Dr AM Gondane, the High Commissioner of India, and his wife; His Excellency Mr Yogesh Punja, the High Commissioner of Fiji, and Mrs Punja; Her Excellency Mrs Lucky Sherpa, the High Commissioner of Nepal; and Her Excellency Mrs Himalee Arunatilaka, the Deputy High Commissioner of Sri Lanka. I'd like to also thank the representatives of the various faith groups in our own community who attended the festival, including Archbishop Christopher Prowse, Mr Fethullah Erdogan from the Bluestar Intercultural Centre, Dr Willie Senanayake from the Canberra Buddhist society, Mr Amardeep Singh from the Canberra Sikh Association and Sitesh Bhojani from BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha.

I'd also like to thank a number of colleagues who attended this event, but I particularly pay tribute to the member for Berowra, Julian Leeser, who is the Chair of the Parliamentary Friends of India; and my friend and predecessor as the minister responsible for multicultural affairs, Craig Laundy. It was great to see our local ACT opposition leader, Mr Alistair Coe, attending and supporting the local Hindu community; Professor Nihal Agar, chairman of the Hindu Council of Australia; and all of the other members of the Hindu Council. The evening was a huge success. It was filled with colour, feasting, dancing, singing and lights and music. Thank you to all who attended and those who worked so hard to organise and coordinate this most important celebration.

On 26 September, I was honoured, as the Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs, to open the new Department of Social Services headquarters in Tuggeranong. It was funded by the coalition government and built by the Cromwell Property Group. DSS is, of course, Australia's social policy agency dedicated to improving the wellbeing of all Australians. Policies and programs designed, developed and evaluated by DSS reach Australians in every corner of the country. At some stage of their life, every Australian is touched by the tireless work of this department. This building will now become the centre of this essential work with the additional benefit of both the policy and program areas now being located together in the same space for the first time.

Several years ago, it was being considered by the former Labor government to move the location of the DSS headquarters from the town centre in Tuggeranong. I spoke very strongly against this, along with the community in Tuggeranong and southern Canberra, because local businesses and local residents understand the importance of these anchor tenants to our town centres and the importance of having those jobs close by. It was a great victory for the people of Tuggeranong and southern Canberra not just to have the commitment from the Commonwealth to keep DSS there but also to have the brand new building, which locks in a long-term lease. I think it is great accommodation for our hardworking DSS staff. Our town centres are critically important to the model that we have in Canberra.

It was great to be at the opening of the facility. I made the point there that there are a lot of people who like to bash Canberra. There are a lot of people who like to bash public servants. What I've seen in the opportunities I have had to work with the staff at DSS is people who are thoroughly committed to serving the Australian people and thoroughly committed to serving the Australian government. I've seen absolute professionalism from those staff and I've been very proud to work with them. I often make the point to those who believe in free enterprise and the like that we do need a strong Public Service to make sure that other parts of our nation can thrive. If we compare our public service—whilst there is a lot of bashing of it, I acknowledge—to so many around the world I think we are very well served. What helps to give confidence to business and to the community is that we have a really professional and hardworking public service.

I'd like to congratulate Cromwell for the new building. This is very much a partnership between the Australian government and Cromwell, working with the private sector to deliver this great building. I'd like to acknowledge Paul Weightman, the CEO of Cromwell; Michael Wilde; Jodie Clarke; and all of the other Cromwell representatives. I'd like to thank our new secretary and take this opportunity to acknowledge Kathryn Campbell in her new role as the head of DSS. I think Kathryn's an outstanding public servant, and I think she will make an outstanding contribution to this very important portfolio.

I would, in passing, mention Finn Pratt, who has moved on to another very important area of policy. I think he is in the energy space now, which is very topical, but he did a great job for DSS, and I want to thank him for his service as well. There are a couple of other people from DSS who worked on the building to thank—Janean Richards, Scott Dilley and Lyn Murphy in particular, but there are a number who helped to bring it to fruition.

Finally, last Tuesday, 10 October, I had the great privilege to make an announcement prior to the World Cup qualifying match between the Socceroos and Syria in Sydney. I was proud to announce the allocation by the coalition government of $100,000 to support the establishment of the Football Federation Australia multicultural settlement program. The Australian government and Football Federation Australia have partnered to help young new arrivals settle into Australian life. This funding will help provide a safe and welcoming space for boys and girls of all abilities to play modified football games, delivering a fun, engaging and structured football experience. The fantastic program will create opportunities for people of many diverse cultural backgrounds to come together as well as connecting with other migrants and the mainstream community. The program will also help to enhance the children's physical and mental health through sports and weekly physical activity as well as enabling them to make friends and build links with mentors. I'd like to make special acknowledgement of Mark Falvo and Ricardo Piccioni from FFA and of Violet Roumeliotis and Peter Zographakis from SSI, who are partnering with the FFA in this endeavour.

I think that we should be very proud of the settlement programs we have in this country. There is often a lot of discussion and criticism from some quarters of our border protection policies. We stand by those because they are absolutely critical to ensuring we have integrity in our migration program, but the flip side of that is that what that strong program enables us to do—and we do it, I believe, better than any country on earth—is to go to refugee camps all over the world and to bring in some of the most vulnerable people on earth. Next year it will be over 18,000, the highest in the world in terms of resettlement per capita. If you talk to many experts, including many in the UN who have commented on this and people like Paris Aristotle, they say that our settlement programs are the best in the world. Certainly that is a view I share. It is something that we are continually trying to build on. We've had a series of reforms in recent times to streamline it and to further improve so we get better employment outcomes, better education outcomes and better English language outcomes. I'd like to thank the FFA, because this is just another way of doing it. We are leveraging the world game to help settle newly arrived refugees.

I thank Josh Auld, who is an intern in my office, for assistance with this speech.