SUBJECT/S: Embracing multiculturalism in Bendigo


MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM AND SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: I’m delighted to be here in Bendigo with our very hard working local member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters and here in my capacity as Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism. We’ve had a very productive day so far meeting with local community members associated with Bendigo Community Health and the settlement services that they’re providing here, and a tour here of the Golden Dragon Museum which reminds us of the rich multicultural history associated with Bendigo. Bendigo a city obviously built on multiculturalism and it’s great to see that that investment here in the museum is attracting so many tourists and educating people about the importance of the Chinese story in Bendigo. I’m also very pleased to be able to join Lisa this afternoon, we are going out to the site of the proposed mosque here in Bendigo, again reinforcing that this is a multicultural community. Whilst issues of planning and development laws are in the confines of the local council and the Act, an appeal is currently underway and it’s before that process. I think it’s important to recognise the place of everyone in this society is to be able to contribute in an economic as well as a cultural sense to the betterment of Bendigo, and that’s what great cities are all about; its people. Thank you, Lisa.

LISA CHESTERS, MEMBER FOR BENDIGO: Thank you and it’s great to have Michelle come and join us here in Bendigo. We’re all quite proud of our history, we’re proud of the role the Bendigo Chinese Association has in our festival, the awakening of the dragon festivals, and also I’m really proud of the work we are doing with some of our more recently arrived communities and migrants and refugees. Part of my role being the Federal Member is to help promote and share that story. Very excited that Michelle could come and join so at a national level we’re engaging the Labor team on our story so that we can help build on it but also share it with the rest of the country.

JOURNALIST: So what do you make about the opposition in Bendigo to the mosque, what do you think of the whole situation?

ROWLAND: I think there are two issues. Firstly, everyone has a right to object on planning laws. What I do take issue with is where we have either race based or religious based hatred being incited. Now everyone has a right as a ratepayer to express their point of view. I come from a local government background and I fully appreciate that. But I think it’s incumbent on our leaders both at a national level and a local one, just as Lisa has been doing, to stand up for the fact that we should enable anyone who has come from any country, who is a law abiding citizen, who wishes to conduct their business in the confines of the law, to be able to do so freely and without intimidation.


JOURNALIST: As you’ve probably seen here, the Chinese community has given a lot to Bendigo. Is there any reason why the Islamic community wouldn’t also offer cultural opportunities to Bendigo?

ROWLAND: I believe the Islamic community has a great deal to offer Bendigo. And even as Lisa mentioned, we were meeting with people who’ve come from refugee backgrounds; some of them now starting to come from Afghanistan. Their children are going to local schools, they are working in local industries and they are making an economic contribution to this place. I think it’s important to recognise the most important resource any area has is its people. We should encourage these people and include them as much as possible because that’s in everyone’s benefit.

JOURNALIST: We’ve seen the Reclaim Australia movements come up recently. What’s going on in Australia at the moment, why is this issue prominent in public debate about the integration of the Islamic community I suppose in Australia?

ROWLAND: It’s a vexed one because on one hand you need to realise that the Islamic story in Australia goes back hundreds of years. I was at the Islamic Museum in Melbourne only yesterday and I was not only educated, I was entertained. It reinforced to me not only the importance of recognising the rich story of multiculturalism and the Islamic faith as part of that; people who come from Muslim backgrounds as being part of that in our past but also continue to be part of that today. As for the Reclaim Australia movement, I think any number of grievance that they hold you can identify certain numbers of them that are simply founded in bigotry and hatred. And I think a lot of them don’t have economic sense. Look at the arguments on the Halal certification, we’ve had companies that have landed lucrative contracts overseas but because of ill-informed pressure have actually had to withdraw from those contracts. They end up costing jobs and in an area like Bendigo which has so much potential in its food processing and other industries, we need to make sure that the right information gets out there. That people aren’t just enlightened by what they might read in dark corners of the internet or through chain emails and I think it’s incumbent on local MPs and as a national parliament to state the facts.

JOURNALIST: What you see happening in Bendigo, is there a parallel happening anywhere else in Australia or is it a special case here at the moment?

ROWLAND: Look I think it’s difficult to generalise and I would caution against that but one thing I would say is that too often I think in our current environment, the conflation of the IS situation overseas and simply having a faith in Australia, living as a law-abiding citizen, is tending to get confused. We need to ensure that we separate them. One of them is a religion for which people as law abiding citizens often for many, many generations subscribe to. The other is a terrorist organisation called IS. We need to make that distinction at every opportunity.

CHESTERS: Just quickly about what’s going on in our local community. Yes there are some individuals, and a small minority, that are peddling hatred. And that’s all it can be described as. It is misinformed hatred and there’s no facts based around it. Some of the people who are caught up in that, we need to reach out with them and engage them and educate them. That’s why it’s so important to have lunches like this to really celebrate and remind people about our history here in Bendigo and in this country about being a multicultural and inclusive country and sharing the stories. From talking to people out in Eaglehawk at my listening post, and in Long Gully and anywhere in Bendigo there’s a lot of people that just want to know more about it so they can understand it. It’s actually up to us as community leaders to really engage and help share the stories so we don’t have that misinformation by a couple of people and that’s all it is peddling this misinformation locally.

JOURNALIST: How do you reason with people that don’t want to listen though?

CHESTERS: There’s very few of them. In my experience the few people that don’t want to listen, there’s something else going on. There is something else going on in their lives that they’re out of place and they can’t be accepting and understanding of others. The majority of people who come up and want to ask questions are just keen to learn. It’s more than just tolerance, it’s about being an active community member respecting one another and once you have the conversation most people go ‘Ah, okay now I understand’, and there’s a strong sense of relief because we actually all want to live in happy, inclusive communities and it’s literally about getting underneath the nonsense and helping to bring people along and be part of the journey.

JOURNALIST: So do you think when the mosque is built it will give people that opportunity to learn and embrace other cultures?

CHESTERS: Absolutely, just like we have here with the Bendigo Chinese Association and involving communities to come together in multicultural festivals. It will give people a chance to learn and understand a new story that we have here in Bendigo and our local media plays a great role in helping to share the stories of local people.

JOURNALIST: Thank you.

ROWLAND: Thank you so much. Have a great day.

CHESTERS: Thanks very much.