ACT Jewish Community Gala Dinner and Campaign Launch - Speech






Thank you David Reiner, for the honour to address you all tonight. Can I too acknowledge that we’re meeting on the traditional lands of the Ngunnawal people, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I want to acknowledge some of the dignitaries in the room, including but not limited to Yael Cass, Jillian Segal, Alon Meltzer, my parliamentary colleagues Mark Dreyfus, Mike Kelly, Julian Leeser, Michael Danby and ACT Leader, Andrew Barr.

As you’ve just heard, the contribution of Jewish Australians to this nation began with European settlement, with at least eight Jewish convicts transported on the First Fleet. The first Jewish wedding in Australia is thought to have been held in 1832. The first synagogues in Melbourne, Hobart and Adelaide were founded in the 1840s. 

The first Jewish Australian parliamentarian – Saul Samuel – entered the New South Wales Parliament in the 1850s and was to go on and serve as the first Jewish Australian minister.

Just round the corner from my Parliament House office is Luke Gosling, the new Member for Solomon. Solomon is an electorate named, of course, for Vaiban Solomon. Born in Adelaide in 1853, he was the 21st Premier of South Australia. Not the longest serving Premier of South Australia it must be said. He served for a total of 7 days, becoming known as “Sudden Solomon”.

He was also then a South Australian member in the Constitutional Conventions and an inaugural representative for the statewide Division of South Australia in the first Australian Federal Parliament from 1901 to 1903.

As you’ve heard, the pantheon of Jewish Australians in Australian public life is long and distinguished. John Monash, Isaac Isaccs and Zelman Cowan. We think too of the Governor of Victoria, Linda Dessau, the first woman and the first Jewish Australian to serve in that role.

In the Federal Parliament there have been 11 Jewish Australians to serve since 1901. But today, when members and senators were sworn in, we saw a new record. Six Jewish Australians were sworn in today into the Federal Parliament, of whom half are here tonight.

It’s a great achievement, but we must remember too that we live in a country in which anti-Semitism is not just a thing of the past.

I was on ABC Q&A last year when a young woman – Erin Gordon – spoke up and said that she felt unsafe at times, as a Jewish Australian, to wear religious clothing on public transport in Australia.

As I went to answer her I could feel my throat close up. That sense of anger you get at the notion that a young Australian should feel unsafe in any place for expressing their religion.

We can’t be sure whether anti-Semitism is on the rise but certainly there have been some who’ve suggested that it is. The rise of hate email. The ability of social media to act as a magnifier for not just the best traits in us, but for some of the darker instincts in our society.

It is critical at a time like this that we come together as a community to speak out against anti-Semitism wherever it rears its ugly head.

The space for which funds are being raised tonight is a space which will contribute to that great mission. A space which will be an opportunity to bring together all of the parts of that rich tapestry that is the Jewish faith, to bring together cross-cultural, cross-religious conversations, to make us a better version of ourselves.

You have a strong community and an extraordinary site. As that video drone rose over the top of the site you could see where the new building would be and its close proximity to Federal Parliament. It’s a reminder of how much good can be done from that site. 

I leave with you with the words of Peter Gomes, who was the Reverend when I was at Harvard, and who came up with the best line I’ve ever heard for religious fundraising. Gomes would often say, as he set about trying to raise money for the church, something which I can believe you can use in your campaign and in any rooms into which you go. He would say to the congregation, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the congregation has all the money it needs to do the good works it wants to do here and in the community. The bad news is that right now much of that money resides in your wallets. Please, give generously.”

Thanks very much.


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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.