Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


World Refugee Day

7:11 pm

Photo of Claire MooreClaire Moore (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I congratulate Senator Fifield on both of his contributions this evening but particularly the one about the Special Olympics. We can all celebrate the work of the contributors and the participants in the Special Olympics.

This evening I want to talk about World Refugee Day. I congratulate the Brisbane community on the way they celebrated this amazing day—celebrating the spirit, the joy and the contribution of the range of refugee communities who have shared with us to build their futures in our country. This is the third year that the Multicultural Develop­ment Association, a wonderful organisation of which I am a member, has sponsored and organised the World Refugee Day celebra­tions, with a significant contribution from the Brisbane City Council, who have again proven that they support multiculturalism in our community. There was also the support of the federal Department of Immigration and Citizenship, who were there in strength, particularly in the citizenship ceremony that was an integral part of this year's Refugee Day celebrations.

I think there is no-one in this place who does not enjoy participating in citizenship ceremonies. It is one of the real joys of our job to be able to share with families and individuals who have made the choice—sometimes an extremely difficult choice—to move and become a citizen of our country. There was something particularly poignant and joyous about the citizenship celebration on World Refugee Day. Twenty-two families were part of that citizenship celebration and they came from an amazing array of countries. I do not normally read out lists, as you know, Mr Deputy President, but I do this just to reinforce the spirit of World Refugee Day. The people who became citizens on that day came from Sudan, Congo, Zimbabwe, Myanmar, Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Burma, Thailand, Nepal, Uganda and Eritrea.

There was such a spirit of celebration as these people made their oaths to become Australian citizens. The experience was shared with me on that day by Senator Kate Lundy and Graham Perrett, the member for Moreton, who is the local member for the area. As we looked at the amazing range of families, most in traditional dress, who had come to make their choice and say they wanted to be part of the Australian nation, in the background we saw the celebrations of the Refugee Day community event. There was a range of community food festival stalls, marketeers, music and dance. In one area we saw the extraordinarily competitive soccer competition that is part of the experience. On the day there were 34 teams, probably reflecting the same range of communities that I mentioned were part of the citizenship ceremony. An extraordinarily competitive range of teams played 16 games going to the final, which is much like the World Cup. So many people joined in the sport and the activities that, when we all stood up in the citizenship ceremony to sing the national anthem, around us we saw the spirit of Australia—people eating, dancing, singing and playing sport. It was a great moment.

The whole concept of World Refugee Day is to ensure that people in the Brisbane community see the range of nations that are now part of our wider community. It was wonderful that we had over 14,000 people who came to participate on the day. As Karen Lee, the executive manager of the Multicultural Development Association, said 'we hope that events like this will continue so that people will learn that we are not so different after all. The people who were part of our day want the same things that we and our families want—safety, security and an opportunity to contribute to our community'.

We found that a number of people who were there had watched the recent SBS production Go Back to Where You Came From, a confronting program which showed people's concerns and fears about the whole issue of migration, asylum seekers and refugees. People seeing the publicity that was put out by the Multicultural Develop­ment Association about the celebration of World Refugee Day then decided to come and learn and to see what was going on. That is why we have these celebrations: not only for the joy and for the food, which I have to admit I enjoy regularly at these functions, but to learn more about other cultures and to defeat some of the myths that have grown up around fear and about senses of threats.

World Refugee Day gives our community a chance to learn, to understand and to share. We are hoping that this particular day which is now into its third year will continue to be an annual event and will draw people together. Also one of the things that we found at our day was that a number of the ethnic communities within the Brisbane region are now getting support through the federal department and also through state grants to have their own localised community festivals so there is a veritable calendar now available in the community where people can share, understand and, as I keep saying, celebrate the joy of being part of a truly multicultural environment.

The Multicultural Development Association is a marvellous organisation. I have spoken about it before in this place. It began in 1998 as a volunteer organisation and is now a significant contributor to the work of the Australian and Queensland community. It has been successful in supporting a number of Department of Immigration and Citizenship programs and provides support around bicultural support services, settlement services and also refugee specific settlement services and employment opportunities. Recently, the MDA has received funding to do more work in my part of the world which is the Darling Downs and Toowoomba region. One of the special aspects of World Refugee Day was that we were able to bring a number of people from the Toowoomba region to be part of the wider Brisbane activity, again sharing and finding out that there are more options for people to engage and to learn from other people in the community.

I was lucky enough last Friday to go to one of the regular employment services activities at the MDA where we provided certificates to a number of people who had been part of a special training program that engaged with local employers to give people an opportunity to learn work skills to break through that barrier of coming from a different culture and finding employment in our community. Again, as I said about the citizenship ceremonies, these community celebrations which show people having a chance to make their own futures in our country are wonderful activities that are full of joy and also hope because every one of those people who obtains work gives hope to other people in the community that it is possible.

The range of skills that we heard about on Friday afternoon included people who had worked in the UN services, and people who had worked as accountants and nurses. There was a young man who was a dentist who is now trying to engage in our community using his own skills. Their stories are inspirational. They need our support because there are so many obstacles to taking up new careers in this country. But through the kinds of employment services supported by the state government in Queensland that the MDA runs in Brisbane we are able to provide extra help to make sure that people know that they can succeed. I particularly want to congratulate the number of employing organisations that are regular participants in the service and provide that practical support.

The MDA also has continued work with people in the post-flood processes in Brisbane. I have mentioned before their work in keeping in contact with people from multicultural backgrounds who were caught up in the horrors of the Queensland floods. It was difficult for all people, as you know, Mr President, but for people who had only recently overcome the struggles of becoming migrants to this area and who still have difficulty with the English language in some ways the experience of the floods was particularly traumatic and I want to congratulate the MDA, encourage them in their future work and also pay my respects to Kerrin Benson who is the current CEO. There is a great future in our community and days like World Refugee Day give us hope as well as joy.