Condolence motion – It is with great sadness that I rise today to join with others here to express my condolences to the Muslim communities of Christchurch for their terrible loss last Friday.
Our thoughts are with all of them but also with the wider community of Christchurch and all New Zealanders, who must feel the pain of this terrible massacre of innocent men, women and children at prayer.
Here in Australia we also feel the deep sadness that inevitably follows such a shocking event. Our strong connection to New Zealand makes us feel this even more acutely.
To our own Muslim communities here in Australia, especially the Muslim community in my electorate of Shepparton district: today I stand with you and share your grief also.
Shepparton district’s Muslim population is the largest in regional Victoria. Our Muslim community is a century old, its roots established in the early 20th century with the migration of Albanian farm workers. In the decades since, our community has become home to a broad representation of Islamic communities, both those who have migrated there by choice and those who have sought refuge from terrors in their own homelands.
The first mosque in Victoria was opened by our Albanian community in 1960. We have a sizeable Turkish community, which has also built its own mosque in Mooroopna. The imam there delivers sermons in Turkish, Arabic and English, just to be more inclusive.
During the 1990s and the first decade of this century we saw many Iraqi people arrive to forge new lives in this region. Their mosque was built about 10 years ago, and their first-generation Iraqi-Australians are leaders in reaching out to bridge the gap with our non-Muslim population.
More recently we have been joined by migrants from several African countries, those from Syria and Afghani refugees, the latter of whom built their own mosque in 2014. The mosques are well used and regularly opened to the broader community with tours and information sessions. Last year a grassroots group launched a ‘Speed Date a Muslim’ event to bring our communities closer and foster a stronger shared understanding. While this might seem trivial, let me say that it was fun; we laughed and we learned from each other.
I do not share this information with you today to put Shepparton on a pedestal. I share this to highlight that in our community, and elsewhere across Australia and New Zealand, we live side by side in harmony, without divide. We can do that, and we do.
The Shepparton Festival opened last Friday night, and the mayor called for 1 minute’s silence. Everyone stood silently. On Saturday night the first event of the Shepparton Festival was the Converge on the Goulburn festival on the lake, which brings out the whole community. It brings everyone together. Again, it was a very happy time, with a sharing of food, a sharing of festival, a sharing of fun, but there was also a deep sadness underlying it last Saturday night.
I congratulate all the governments, past and present, who have invested in opportunities in our regional areas to bring together our communities in a multicultural way, because without that we would not necessarily get out and do the things that we do, put out our hand to newcomers.
There is no doubt that there are challenges with this, but it has really proven to be something that has been very valuable to our community, and it continues to develop a deeper understanding and stronger connections between us.
In Shepparton on Friday I will be visiting the Albanian Islamic centre after afternoon prayers. An open invitation has gone out to the broader Shepparton community, and I am sure there will be a strong showing of support. We will stand in solidarity with our Muslim friends and neighbours and honour the memory of those who were taken so violently.