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New Year's Reception for Multicultural and Faith Leaders

Have you ever tried to find the words needed to help or uplift a spouse, a friend or a child ... and then had the perfect words come to you? Or maybe you have been able to see clearly with your mind’s eye exactly what a finished painting would look like before you even picked up your brush. Perhaps you have planned a speech or a meeting and knew precisely the message you needed to share. Have you ever felt prompted to take a course of action that at first seemed irrational or impossible, only to realise down the road that it was the right and important and most beneficial thing to do? Or have you ever experienced a time in life when, much to your surprise, you not only achieved what you had planned and set out to do, but somehow you accomplished far, far more than you ever thought possible? It is in these kinds of moments – and others like them – that I personally and deeply believe that we are inspired and aided by our Creator.

When I was a small child growing up in the island kingdom of Tonga, I used to attend the cemetery on a regular basis with my grandfather in order to clean it. It was the tradition in Tongan culture to look after our relatives’ graves. My grandfather took great pride in maintaining the last resting place for our deceased loved ones. As my grandfather shared family stories with us children, I often thought about these people and the lives they had lived. Like us, they had lived and loved, and no doubt they had touched the lives of others for good. Our ancestors walked where we now walk, but their time is past. Now it is our turn to walk the path of life. It is our time to reach out to others and to do as much good as we can with the inspiration that we receive.

As a migrant to Australia, I greatly value the rich and wonderfully diverse multicultural society that we enjoy here in the nation’s capital – and which is so beautifully represented here tonight, both by leaders and representatives of various cultural groups and by the gracious attendance of so many honoured diplomats. As Shadow Minister for Families and Youth, I likewise understand the essential role played by the principles, values and traditions gleaned from so many different cultures in helping to create and maintain strong, resilient families ... and homes where children feel secure, loved and empowered to grow up and reach their full potential.

And as Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, I recognise that religion is a cherished and crucial part of many people’s cultural identities. Just like the other facets of our cultures, our faith is an essential part of who we are. For a large number of us, our religions have been passed down to us over countless generations and are deeply entrenched in our cultural backgrounds. For others, our faith may be a new and treasured possession. Either way, I view religion as something that is deep and personal and extremely meaningful in our lives.

Whenever anything or anyone might challenge the right to live our faith – to put into practice the beliefs that we hold most dear, to speak openly of those beliefs, to share them and to let them guide our choices and decisions – this is a challenge to the essence of who we are. As a consequence, in my role as Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs, I consider it my responsibility to stand up for and defend our individual religious liberty. It is my vision that an inherent part of celebrating multiculturalism in the Australian Capital Territory of necessity includes celebrating our diversity of religious beliefs and protecting our precious freedom to hold, express and act upon those beliefs.

Our work and our responsibilities to our community have brought us together in this room this evening. We are here because we aspire to the best in life. We aspire to find the best solutions to issues in the community. We aspire to build the strongest communities that we can. We aspire to build bridges and relationships with others. We are not in competition with each other, but rather we are in competition with ourselves to become better than we once were and eventually to become our best selves.

In order to achieve our aspirations, we need to shine, and many in this room are not shy of that. We have all of us learned to go beyond our fears and to explore new ground. We have had to be true to ourselves, and I hope that we can each look back over our shoulders and say that we love our lives.

Having said that, we all have much work to do. We do this work because we believe in the causes that we are working for. And I will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you in this work.

Despite our differences in language, in culture and in faith, we all have something in common, and that is to encourage, inspire and lead our community and our nation to excellence. We cannot do this alone, but as we work together with good people from all cultures and faiths, we can. There is strength in numbers, and each of you has demonstrated your talents, your faith, your commitment and your hard work. Thank you for all you do ... and for all that you will do. Thank you for joining us here tonight. It is my wish, my prayer, that 2017 will be a year filled with much goodness and much success as we serve alongside one another.

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