Page 258 - Week 01 - Thursday, 16 February 2006

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MR GENTLEMAN (Brindabella) (4.55): I endorse the sentiments of my Assembly colleagues Ms Porter, Mr Hargreaves, Dr Foskey and, earlier, Mr Pratt. I feel a strong sense of pride to be living in and representing a city that has such a high regard for cultural and ethnic diversity. While Canberra is a place of national leadership in the political realm, we as a community also show the rest of the country leadership in another area, multiculturalism. From the highly successful National Multicultural Festival and the minister’s multicultural summit, to the opening of the Theo Notaras Multicultural Centre in Civic, we live in a community which thrives on diversity.

In fact, such is that desire that many thousands of our citizens flocked to the National Multicultural Festival’s food and dance spectacular in Garema Place at the weekend in search of some culture and delicious treats. The coming together of the dozens of communities that comprise our city was a wonderful, exciting and harmonious event. All of the people there wanted to share in someone else’s culture. They wanted to interact in a peaceful and respectful way. They wanted to enjoy all that is great about the national capital.

However, the success of the food and dance spectacular was in stark contrast to the shocking and, indeed, very sad racial riots and retaliation at Cronulla in early December. While peace and harmony have now been restored to the beach suburb, police and authorities are still monitoring the area closely to ensure there are no further disruptions. Cronulla has since moved on from the riots, and leaders from ethnic and community groups are working together to ensure that there is no repeat of that violence.

While the issues that sparked the riots are deep rooted and will take some time to resolve, those helping with the healing process may choose to look at the harmonious way in which the ACT’s multicultural community exists. We as a community embrace diversity, yearn for it and, most of all, enjoy all the benefits it brings.

The National Multicultural Festival, now in its eighth year, is very firmly placed as a highlight in our city’s social and cultural calendar. It is a celebration for all our citizens, whether they were born here or arrived here after choosing to make a new life for themselves within our borders. But the festival is not the only way we celebrate our diversity. In any of our suburbs on any given day, there are neighbours of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds getting to know one another. Whether it is exchanging a freshly prepared bowl of homemade Thai green curry or a plate of spanakopita over the back fence, or sharing stories of their homelands, harmonious cultural interaction is happening at a grassroots level.

That is happening because, I firmly believe, the people of Canberra are a tolerant, welcoming and inclusive community. We want to help each other and we want to get to know one another. These qualities are something we can and should be very proud of. It is these qualities that make our city such an excellent option for new citizens in which to settle and for the rest of the country to look upon as inspiration for a true multicultural society.

MR DEPUTY SPEAKER: The debate is now concluded.

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