Welcome to Australia

I spoke in Parliament today about the weekend's Welcome to Australia walk.
'Welcome to Australia' Walk Together, 24 June 2013

In my first speech in this place I spoke about my maternal grandparents—a boilermaker and a teacher—who lived by the credo that if there was a spare room in the house it should be used by someone who needed the space. As a child, I remember eating dinner at their house with migrants who lived with them and hearing the stories of their having come from Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Chile, Cambodia and Sri Lanka. That experience informed my lifelong passion for Australian multiculturalism.

Australia's multicultural story is a proud one. We have welcomed over seven million people from more than 200 countries since 1945. It was my pleasure on Saturday to participate in Walk Together in the ACT. The theme of this year's walk was 'If we're all people, we're all equal'. The walk was organised by Bree Willsmore, who took over from Henry Sherrell as the ACT coordinator, and was part of 16 walks around Australia which took place over the weekend. I acknowledge Brad Chilcott, the National Organiser of Welcome to Australia for his work on this.

In the ACT, we were privileged to hear from Ms Mariam 'Maz' Hakim, a radio announcer at 104.7 in Canberra, who arrived in Australia in 1983 after her father fled Kabul with his family during the invasion of the Soviet Union. We heard from Duncan Smith, a Wiradjuri man from central-western New South Wales, whose presence reminded us that except for indigenous Australians, every other Australian is a migrant or the child of a migrant. We heard from Mariam Veiszadeh, also of Afghan heritage, a lawyer who did the walk at five months pregnant and spoke passionately about multiculturalism in Australia. We heard from Sam Wong, the chair of the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum, as well as Simon Sheikh, the former head of GetUp and now ACT Greens Senate candidate.

There were some terrific performances by a local ACT blues band Blue Yvie the ACT Chinese Australian Association and the Italian choir. I acknowledge the organisational efforts of Amnesty International and the LifeCity church as well. There were a variety of views reflected in Walk Together, but we were all united in a single view that refugees and migrants must always be treated with respect.

In closing, let me also acknowledge the hard work of St John's Kippax, who organised an event on Friday for refugee week. I thank Bevil Purnell for inviting me along, and acknowledge Gabriel Yak for telling his extraordinary story as one of the ‘lost boys’ of Sudan. It brought a tear to everyone's eyes.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.