Asylum Seekers speech in Parliament

This week is refugee week and, as it takes place, there are about 51 million people who are displaced worldwide. Let us take a moment to put ourselves in their shoes, to imagine their desperation, their vulnerability and their need for help. Let us step away from the dehumanising politics that has sadly characterised our debate over asylum-seeker policy in this place. While we are at it, let us also take the time to celebrate the extraordinary contribution of refugees to modern Australia. We could also think about how we can rise to some of the challenges posed by the UNHCR to make a greater contribution to a collective approach to this global and regional problem. Also think about how we can be an exemplar of standing up for and defending human rights.

These are global challenges, but they are also important local responses.I rise to talk about a very important festival taking place in Epping, in my electorate, tomorrow. Of course, I cannot attend this event, but I want to take this opportunity to mention, in this place, the wonderful work of this event and Whittlesea Community Connections make in supporting refugees. The celebration tomorrow will include a variety of different cultural events, including the Asanti Dance Theatre; the Kurdish Chaldean Women's Dance; the Alsadeqa Arabic Speaking Women; Mojdeh Abedi, Hamdel Family Violence Prevention Project Worker, based on an Iranian journey; and the South Sudanese Nuba Moro Dance Group. Whittlesea Refugee Week offers all members of the community a chance to share culture and learn about new ones. This is important in enhancing social cohesion and building social inclusion, a critical challenge at this time. In an electorate as diverse as Scullin, it is important to foster a sense of inclusiveness and belonging. I note this week's themes are 'strength, recognition and celebration'. It is very welcome to have cultural diversity recognised as a strength; sadly, this is not always the case.

An event that enables people-to-people links to be established can break down barriers and replace fear with empathy; it is something we need to see more of. We all have a stake in making our diversity a strength. It is something we all have a role in making happen. The theme for Refugee Week is: 'With courage let us all combine.' It is taken from the second verse of our national anthem and celebrates the courage of refugees, of people who speak out against persecution and injustice. It also speaks to our optimism as a people and our generosity. The verse continues: 'For those who have come across the seas we've boundless plains to share.' It serves as a call for unity and for positive action, encouraging Australians to improve our nation's welcome for refugees and to acknowledge the skills and energy that refugees bring to their new home. I am so proud of all of those involved in tomorrow's event, both the participants and the organisers. I take this opportunity to thank them for their courage and their activism.

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