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The importance of promoting tolerance and inclusion in the ACT

Thank you, Madam Speaker, and I thank Mr Petterson for bringing this matter of public importance before the Assembly today.

On many prior occasions, Madam Speaker, I have stood in this chamber to speak on behalf of tolerance and inclusion, and I am pleased to do so again now. As I noted in my remarks during the adjournment debate two days ago, each of us has a role to play in promoting tolerance in our communities, both small and large. We can each begin by promoting love and respect for one another in our homes and in our personal lives. This requires getting to know, and spending time with, people who are different to us.

Numerous social observers have pointed out that both technology and modern institutions have made it possible for people to divide up into tribes of likeminded individuals, essentially existing in echo chambers where their shared ideas and values are never analysed or questioned. In such a world, it takes determined, intentional effort to build relationships with people whose cultures, languages, faith and thoughts differ to our own. It certainly is worth it, though!

Yesterday evening I had the privilege of hosting a reception for our territory’s multicultural and faith leaders on the eve of Harmony Day. Guests from dozens of religious organisations, nationalities and languages came to mingle, to share food and conversation, and to enjoy cultural performances together. Everyone got to spend time with an Afghan refugee whose paintings adorned the reception room – symbolic of what I hoped to achieve by bringing people together.

In light of how horrific the past week has been for Canberra’s Islamic communities, I was grateful for the close Muslim friends who attended the event as a show of unity and solidarity. On many occasions, these same friends and neighbours have invited me into their places of worship and into their lives. We have broken fast together at joyful iftar meals and furthered friendship on numerous other occasions. I cherish the opportunity to be with people who desire to share not just their bread but also their faith and compassion.

Last night I took the opportunity to thank these community leaders for all that they do. Governments certainly have a role to play in promoting tolerance, but our dedicated multicultural and faith leaders are at the coalface on this issue. I know from personal experience that these good women and men spend thousands of hours in serving their communities and in working to establish real and lasting harmony amongst those communities. I wish to thank them again today, Madam Speaker. As Senator Seselja correctly pointed out last night, harmony doesn’t just happen. It takes planning and hard work, big hearts and heaps of patience. Thankfully, many Canberrans seem committed to this cause.

The desire for harmony does not go unchallenged, though. In recent days a federal politician has again gone public calling for a ban on Muslim immigration. On behalf of the Canberra Liberals, I proudly denounced Senator Anning’s words when he previously stated that our immigration program should ‘actively discriminate in favour of Europeans’, and I am happy to once again denounce the senator’s ugly and vicious statements. Though he has a right to express his own opinion, I am grateful that I too have a right reject them as a divisive attempt to fuel hatred and contention. This is not how a member of the Australian Senate should behave.

I and the Canberra Liberals instead choose harmony over division, understanding over hatred.

Thank you.

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