One of the most wonderful things about our multicultural society is that we have the opportunity to share in a number of cultural activities that are becoming fixtures on the broader Australian calendar and one of those is Holi. On the eve of Holi I would like to send my very best wishes to everyone for whom this is an extremely special occasion. It is an exciting occasion not only for Hindus but also for the wider community.
It was originally a celebration of the changing of the seasons and the transition from the cold of winter to the colour of spring; hence, one of the graphic associations of Holi is of course the throwing of coloured powder at one another, and generally singing and dancing. How wonderful it is that the Australian story is driven by so many different cultures of the world. This diversity is a tremendous value to our country. It builds our prosperity. It reinforces our ties with the subcontinent and with South Asia in particular.
I will be joining a lot of the festivities this weekend, including at North Parramatta and The Ponds in my electorate. I think it is wonderful that these festivals have devolved to a much more suburban level on many occasions so that we have local communities having a greater opportunity to be involved.
While I talk about celebrating diversity, I believe it is important to recognise a couple of disturbing trends that have become apparent in our society and what a minority are doing to attempt to undermine this spirit and the benefits of multiculturalism in this country. On 28 February The Sydney Morning Herald carried a headline 'Australian Sikhs say abuse on the rise as they cop Anti-Muslim sentiment'. Indeed, I was aware of this long before it became news in The Sydney Morning Herald.
There were stories of gurudwaras being attacked; members of the Australian Sikh Association approached me about rises in attacks and incidents on their members and within my own community. In my community, in the Blacktown local government area, Singh is the most common surname. I live down the road from the Sikh gurudwara. Most of my street is of Sikh origin.
This is extremely disturbing, and I think it should be placed on the record how unacceptable it is for people to think it is okay to treat fellow Australian citizens with such disregard. One of the quotes here in The Sydney Morning Herald is from a Mr Singh, who is the President of Turbans for Australia. Mr Singh's comments are greatly disturbing. He says that it has become 'pretty much an everyday thing' for Sikhs to have abuse hurled at them. He said they cop 'the brunt of anti-Islamic sentiment'; people confuse wearing the turban with being Muslim.
Sikhism is one of the fastest-growing populations in Australia and I want to commend the Australian Sikh Association and the Sikh community overall, for doing so much to open up their religion and their festivities—and their Gurudwaras through open days. Indeed, there will be an open day in Glenwood next month, and I look forward to attending that.
Sikhism has a great place in the history of Australia, as my colleague the member for Chifley will attest. Earlier this year I visited the gurudwara in Woolgoolga up near Coffs Harbour. Sikhism has a tremendous story not only through rural participation there around the Coffs Harbour region, but also comprising a large part of Western Sydney.
The other issue I want to mention—again, this is something I was aware of, long before it was reported—is the harassment of Muslim women being on the rise. There is a quote similar to the one I mentioned about some Sikhs thinking this was normal behaviour. It is in an article from 24 February, in The Age, about a young girl who had been abused for wearing a headscarf. Her mother said it was her son who told of the incident that happened to his sister. The article said:
“When she asked her daughter about it the teenager said she had not mentioned it straight away because she "thought it was normal" to be singled out because of her headscarf.”
This is not normal! It is absolutely unacceptable.
The Migration Council of Australia today, in the Economic impact of migration, reflects that multiculturalism and migration itself is a positive thing for Australia. It is positive in an economic sense, it is positive in a community sense and such evidence based policy for migration, and supporting multiculturalism as a positive thing for Australia, should be welcomed. I commend Carla Wilshire and the Migration Council for their excellent report.