Speech by Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells

Australian Federal Police Melbourne Eid Dinner

Location: Ivanhoe


Can I start by acknowledging Deputy Commissioner Andrew Colvin and other members of the Australian Federal Police; Chin Tan – Chairman, Victorian Multicultural Commission; Nedeem Hussain – President, Islamic Council of Victoria; distinguished Sheiks, religious leaders; members of the Diplomatic Corps; other distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

As Parliamentary Secretary responsible for multicultural affairs and settlement services, I am very pleased to be here this evening representing the Attorney-General, Senator the Honourable George Brandis QC.

Before I proceed with my speech I would like to let you know of the Prime Minister’s announcement this afternoon that we will not be proceeding with the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. After much consultation in the community, the Prime Minister has heard the message and has made this important announcement today, stressing that we need to focus on things that unite us and I am sure that there are many people in this room that would welcome that decision.

Can I say that the Attorney has asked me, especially, to wish you and your respective families a happy Eid on his behalf.

Can I extend my best wishes to all Australian Muslims as you end the holy month of Ramadan and celebrate Eid al-Fitr the feast of breaking the fast.

I know that Eid is a happy time of sharing and celebrating. It is a time for family and community, for visiting the sick and remembering those who have passed.

The theme of this Eid dinner is “Generation Change”, encouraging leadership among Muslim youth. I would like to acknowledge the enthusiasm of young Muslims and the AFP working together to make positive contributions to communities.

This aligns very well with the Australian Government’s commitment to building strong, diverse communities and to celebrate our varied and distinctive traditions.

Can I also mention some of the work that is being done in my own area of Social Services.

We have moved some areas of Immigration such as Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services to the Department of Social Services and we believe that these changes have allowed us to deliver programmes and services to the community in a more focussed and efficient way.

One example is the Humanitarian Settlement Services programme which provides early practical support to our humanitarian clients to help them settle into the community.

Services under this programme provide important initial practical support designed to build the independence of newly arrived refugees and humanitarian entrants. Case managers help people access services or programs as needed.

And the objectives of these programmes are to provide people with tailored support to begin their new life in Australia; to strengthen their ability to fully participate in our economic and social life in Australia; and to give them the skills and knowledge to independently access government services.

Can I also acknowledge the partnerships we have around faith. Practising a faith is an important part of the lives of many Australians and we have a broad diversity of faith communities, including our esteemed Islamic community.

All of our faith communities are valued by the Government and Australians are free to practice any faith of their choosing, according to Australian law.

We place great pride in the fact that here in Australia, our faith communities are cohesive and that we do not experience the divisions that some other countries do.

And this indicates that Australians of all faiths are committed to our nation, and people of different faiths frequently find common ground as a platform to work together for the benefit of all.

I know that there are many Australian Muslims who have been very active in the space of interfaith work and I would like to acknowledge their efforts.

Islam has enjoyed a long history in Australia with Muslims from many different backgrounds helping to enrich and diversify what has become one of the most cohesive and prosperous societies in the world.

I attended the official opening in Melbourne of the Islamic Museum of Australia and was captivated by the long and fascinating history of Islam in Australia, going back to the cameleers in the 1800s. And so we recognise the contribution of Muslim Australians to building a better Australia.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at the National Imams Consultative Forum – a wonderful collaborative initiative between the Australian National Imams Council and the National Centre of Excellence for Islamic Studies.

I cannot overstate the importance of the work that we can do together. It is vitally important that actions undertaken on community safety, radicalisation and violent extremism are reasoned, informed and constructive.

I would like to thank you for all your efforts and commitment in working towards the future well-being of Australia, most especially for working together with us to help prevent radicalisation.

The Australian Government will continue to work with communities and individuals to resist and challenge intolerant ideologies through early intervention, education and capacity building.

The Living Safe Together website, hosted by the Attorney-General’s Department, is a critical tool for sharing information and generating discussion.

It is a valuable resource for individuals and communities to help them identify and deal with difficult issues and for us to disseminate information and messages that challenge violent extremist narratives.

It is understandable that international events evoke strong reactions in our diverse communities here.

We condemn all acts of violence against civilians, whoever is responsible. The Government holds grave security concerns regarding Australians travelling offshore to engage in conflicts.

We know that there are some young Australians who have become involved in overseas conflicts without understanding the reality of the situation and now find themselves in mortal danger.

There are better ways to help people in need. The Australian government has given more than $130 million in humanitarian aid to Syria, and recently pledged $5 million in urgent humanitarian assistance for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

This is in addition to Australia’s existing commitment to provide $56.5 million in development assistance to the Palestinian Territories in 2014-15.

We will continue to work with Australian communities to provide safe, legal pathways to help those affected by the crises.

I would also like to particularly commend Australia’s Muslim communities for the understanding and empathy you consistently display in instances where you face adversity or a lack of understanding from segments of the community.

We know that with each wave of settlement there is suspicion and resentment amongst the established populations. Different communities have been targeted at different times. In the past my own community, the Australian Italian community was targeted, the Greek community were targeted and now the Muslim community is being targeted.

I have been involved in this space for the past 30 years and I have seen this cycle first hand, but I also know from my own experience that with each successive wave comes understanding, sharing, acceptance and integration into our uniquely Australian way of life.

Can I reinforce the Australian Government’s commitment to Australian multiculturalism.

Since 1945, Australia has welcomed 7.5 million migrants, including 800,000 under our humanitarian programme. This has made us one of the most culturally diverse and socially cohesive nations in the world.

As the daughter of migrants myself, I understand the hard work and sacrifices that has motivated millions of people to come to Australia to build a better life for themselves, their children and their community.

Our successful Australian multiculturalism has been built through the efforts and commitment of millions of Australians, unified by the goal of a prosperous future for all.

Each small and careful step we take is another great stride towards a better future. I am pleased to see that we are taking these strides together. That is why we have succeeded thus far, and why we will continue to grow and thrive into the future.

Before I conclude, I would like to say that I know that there are challenges. But I also know that thousands of law-abiding men, women and children of Muslim faith have come to Australia to build a better life for themselves and for their families. They too have made sacrifices to come here.

So it is vitally important that the positive narrative of your contribution to Australia is not overshadowed by the negative publicity generated by the actions of a few.

The Muslim community is a valued and integral part of contemporary Australia. I commend your spirit of giving, of sharing and of helping. We are committed to working with you to provide the best possible opportunities for all Australians, from all walks of life.

Again, I would like to thank you all again for your warm welcome and the opportunity to share this feast. It is an honour and a privilege to be amongst you this evening.

Thank you.