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Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Showcasing Strategies and Achievements in Promoting Interfaith and Intercultural Understanding in Schools Forum

Location: Sports Club, Bankstown

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Thank you for inviting me to speak today at this forum. I am sorry that I can’t be here in person to discuss with you the learnings from this very important pilot program.

My name is Ursula Stephens and I am Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and the Voluntary Sector.

I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you today, because I believe the work of this pilot program is a fantastic example of what we mean when we speak of building “social inclusion.”

One of the wonderful characteristics about our country is its great diversity.

Australia is a rich tapestry that interweaves our many faiths into a colourful whole.

However, with this richness comes challenge – the challenge of learning to understand ways that are different from our own.

As those of you here today know, gaining cultural understanding can take time and patience and is not always comfortable. But the rewards are great – a deeper understanding of those around us that in turn creates strong and vibrant communities where people care for each other.

This is what the government’s Social Inclusion Agenda is about – building strong, resilient communities where everyone has opportunities to fully participate in the social and economic life of the community.

We in government are very passionate about our vision for an inclusive Australia.

Our objective is an inclusive Australian society where all people have the opportunity and capability to participate in key activities in their community. 

To:

  • Learn
  • Work -either paid, unpaid or voluntary
  • Engage – connect with people and participate in cultural, civic and recreational activities; and,
  • Have a voice

The Promoting Interfaith and Intercultural Understanding in School Settings Pilot Program has encompassed each of these aspirations and that’s why I view the pilot as a fantastic example of social inclusion in action.

The program has worked to strengthen the interconnectedness between students, their parents and community leaders with different backgrounds and belief systems.

The achievements of the pilot derived from several factors, but most importantly, success came from its people – from the school principals, teachers, students and parents who worked together to achieve a common objective

I would like to congratulate all of the schools involved for their hard work, commitment and creative thinking. It is your efforts that have made this pilot such a success and an inspiration to other schools around the country.

I would also like to recognise the Erebus International consultants who worked behind the scenes formulating, progressing and carefully nurturing a number of school projects.

The Interfaith Pilot has helped to build a better understanding and acceptance of Australia’s cultural and religious diversity; to strengthen a mutual trust within communities and between communities and governments; and provided opportunities for young Australians from different cultural and religious backgrounds to develop relationship skills and participate fully in the broader Australian society.

This is our social inclusion vision – an Australia where all can participate in the social and economic life of our country.

There is a wonderful opportunity here today for schools to become a part of our social inclusion work by sharing and learning the lessons from this inspirational pilot with other schools, teachers and students.

I wish you a successful forum today with plenty of lively discussion and plans for working together in the future.