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Senator Rice to Australian Muslims: "I am, you are, we are all Australian"

Speeches in Parliament
Janet Rice 21 Jun 2017

We are one, but we are many

And from all the lands on earth we come.

We share a dream and sing with one voice,

"I am, you are, we are Australian."


These simple yet powerful lyrics from a classic song embody my Australia. We are a nation of many people, from many countries, cultures and religions, but we are all Australian. In this parliament, we have Muslims and Christians, Australian-born and overseas-born, Indigenous, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer. We are all Australian. That we are all Australian is what defines us as individuals and as a nation.

My Australia is one where we do not just tolerate diversity; we celebrate it. We understand that it makes us richer, stronger and better as a community and as a nation. I grew up and live in Melbourne's west. My office is in Coburg in Melbourne's north. I have always lived and worked in mixed, multicultural communities, and I cherish the diversity of this great country of ours and, indeed, of my own neighbourhood. As Australians we celebrate diversity because we are diversity. It is in the very fabric of our nation. Diversity means that everyone is respected and has equal opportunities and rights, regardless of their background, race, culture, religion, gender or sexuality. We celebrate diversity because in diversity we have a shared humanity.

Yet, sadly, not all Australians feel the same. There is a lot of talk about Australian values and trying to ensure that new migrants share Australian values. Some of the values that the government says that Australians share are freedom and dignity of the individual, freedom of religion and a spirit of egalitarianism that embraces mutual respect, tolerance, fair play and compassion, and equal opportunity for individuals, regardless of race, religion or ethnic background.

Let us think about that for a moment. In my experience some of the biggest challenges to Australian values come not from our newest citizens but from people who have lived here all their lives, who consider themselves dinky-di Aussies, whose behaviour does not reflect these shared Australian values and whose words and actions are prejudiced, racist and hurtful.

If some of these 'true blue Aussies' were to be applying for citizenship they would fail the test because they do not behave according to these shared values. Indeed, some of the people in this very chamber definitely do not afford Muslim Australians the shared values of freedom of religion, equal opportunity regardless of religion and a spirit of egalitarianism.

Today around the world Muslims are coming under attack from all sides. They are being attacked and killed by terrorists in their home countries and, consequently, they flee for their lives to countries such as Australia. Today is World Refugee Day. I salute the contributions of Muslim refugees who have made Australia their home, who have contributed to Australia. And may we accept many more of them—particularly those who are currently incarcerated by us in those hellholes on Nauru and Manus Island.

Yet newly arrived Muslims, and Muslims who have lived here peacefully for years and years, are told they are collectively responsible for the unconscionable behaviour of extremists. They are constantly asked to apologise for the actions of those who do not represent them—people whose violent actions they condemn. In an escalation of violence, Muslims are being attacked by non-Muslims in terrorist attacks as retaliation for the actions of extremists such as the awful attack on a mosque in London yesterday.

In the three years I have been in the Senate I have reached out to, in particular, Muslim Australians. I want all Muslims to know that the Australian Greens and I support them and extend the hand of friendship to them. It has been my great pleasure over the last weeks to reach out in friendship and join Muslim men, women and children at Iftar dinners. Iftar is the break of the Ramadan fast that takes place at sunset each day during the month of Ramadan. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is observed by Muslim people the world over. This year, it began on Friday, 26 May and it comes to an end this Saturday, 24 June. Involving fasting from sunrise to sunset, Ramadan commemorates the first revelation of the prophet Mohammed and it is time for Muslims to give thanks and reflect on their spirituality.

My first Iftar this year was the one I had the privilege and honour of hosting myself for Muslim women and children in a community centre in Fawkner in Melbourne's northern suburbs. It was heart-warming to meet, and break bread with, these women and children—some who have lived in Australia for decades and some who have recently arrived—and the food was great too. These women and children opened their hearts and their religion to me. They demonstrated the very best of our shared Australian values at this most Muslim of celebrations.

Over the last three years I have reached out in particular to Muslim women who wear a headscarf, because they so often bear the brunt of the hatred because they are obviously Muslims. I have heard their stories of being too scared to catch trams and trains because of the abuse they have received, of having cups of coffee thrown in their face through car windows, of their children asking, 'Why does the media only say bad things about Muslims?' I have joined Islamic women over morning tea to help them work out how to move forward and promote a positive view of Muslim Australians.

The second Iftar I attended this year was hosted by Muslims for Progressive Values. One of their principles is equality. They affirm the equal worth of all human beings regardless of race, sex, gender, gender identification, ethnicity, nationality, creed, sexual orientation or ability. They are speaking out for marriage equality and standing up for the rights of LGBTIQ people. They are themselves proudly lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex.

My third Iftar dinner during this holy month of Ramadan was hosted by the Board of Imams Victoria. This was a grand affair with over 300 people at a reception centre in Brunswick. There I got to meet Richmond footballer Bachar Houli and eat some excellent Arabic food. I had a selfie with Bachar.

Surely if I, a tragic Bulldogs fan, can cheer on a Richmond player, then other Australians can get on with their Muslim neighbours. It was at this dinner that we were privileged to hear from the Grand Mufti of Australia, who made the impassioned plea that all Muslims not be painted with the same brush because of the horrific actions of those who have hijacked Islam for their own violent ends. His words rang true. These actions of these terrorists are no more being done in the name of Islam than the actions of so-called Christians who launch violent attacks on abortion providers—or that the sexual abuse of children in Christian churches means that all Christians the are collectively guilty.

I have been to two more Iftar. My fourth was hosted by Richard Di Natale just last Sunday, and brought 200 Muslims and non-Muslims together—Greens and non-Greens. We heard from two very inspiring and impressive young Muslim women whose overwhelming message was that they just want to be seen as Australians because that is who they are. Finally, last night there was an interfaith Iftar put on here at Parliament House by Canberra's Bluestar Intercultural Centre. The same messages of respect, inclusion and celebration of diversity were the themes of the night.

Islamaphobia and conflating the actions of terrorists is having a deeply damaging impact on Muslims. The weight that Muslim Australians carry on their shoulders cannot be overstated—especially young Muslim children who grow up thinking they do not belong in Australia and that they are not Australian. Muslims, just like Christians, are a diverse group of people. Catholics, Anglicans and Seventh-day Adventists are all Christians, but they are not the same, and in fact Muslims for Progressive Values have a campaign entitled 'There are 1.6 billion ways to be a Muslim'. Just like the Catholics and Anglicans are Australian, and atheists like me are Australian, I am here to tell all Muslim Australians—I am, you are, we are all Australian.


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