House debates

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Constituency Statements

Scullin Electorate: Muslim Community, Muslim Leadership Program

9:30 am

Photo of Andrew GilesAndrew Giles (Scullin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Last Friday I visited the Thomastown Mosque, in my electorate. I was prompted to do so by reports that mosques and Muslims in other parts of the country have been subject to racist attacks and religious vilification. This is of course completely unacceptable and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms by political leaders. I thought it was important to show my solidarity with and support for a group of Australians that are under intense scrutiny from the media and also their fellow Australians—and also to listen to them.

I was struck by the strong sense of community held by attendees. This mosque is a place for community building as much as it is a place of worship. The mosque is terrifically popular and has resorted to accommodating worshippers in the outside car park due to high demand. People I spoke with on Friday were all determined to condemn the atrocities being committed in Iraq and Syria by ISIL and to do all they can to ensure that alienated members of the Islamic communities in Australia are not preyed upon by extremists. They were appreciative of efforts by Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Opposition, to reach out to the Australian Muslim population, particularly his open letter to the Islamic community, co-authored with the member for Greenway.

I realise that in the face of violence and extremism some Australians may feel less inclined to support our great multicultural project. This would be a mistake and counterproductive also to tackling real issues of social isolation and marginalisation—indeed, alienation—that exist in some parts of the Muslim community. Recent events and the fact that there are Australians overseas fighting with ISIL give the cause of multiculturalism a renewed urgency and relevance. Greater engagement of all Australians with Australian Muslims is crucial in combating extremism in Muslim and non-Muslim communities alike. Indeed, attendees were keen to engage with their neighbours and the media to dispel myths about their peaceful faith. They need our help to do this.

On this front I am heartened by the efforts of the local Victoria Police in Mill Park. Senior Sergeant Stuart Morris leads a team that has already done much to engage with communities and build relationships. I understand that this is not the case everywhere. In particular I want to commend the work of Senior Constable Albert Fatileh, the multicultural liaison officer, and Ansam Sadiq, the new and emerging communities liaison officer. This work sets a good example for other institutions, including this one, to follow.

Another good example was set for me yesterday when I was privileged to attend the Muslim Leadership Program 2014. A group of impressive, articulate and confident young people challenged with tough questions and left me confident that hope will prevail over fear in Australia. They expect leadership from those of us here and are entitled to do so. I trust they will hold me to account in this regard.

I want to thank Sucettin and Remzi Unal for their accommodation of and assistance with my visit to the mosque, and Maria Vamvakinou and the La Trobe University Centre for Dialogue for organising yesterday's Muslim Leadership Program, which was so important to building my understanding of community concerns.