Remarks at roundtable meeting with Islamic Council of Victoria, Melbourne

March 7, 2016

Thank you very much and peace be upon you.

Good morning. As you know, we've been planning this visit since November last year. Immediately following the Paris terrorist attacks, I received a letter from your Executive Director, Nail Aykan, and his letter read, and I’ll read it to you, "On behalf of the Muslim communities of Victoria, the Islamic Council of Victoria would like to thank you for your words of leadership and welcome your fresh tone and positive narrative in regards to the threats of terrorism and challenges of extremism in today's world.”

Nail said that referring to the example of the respected Muslim leaders, including my friend the Indonesian President Joko Widodo, can only further our efforts in combatting extremism and promoting better, more tolerant and mainstream understandings of Islam and the Muslim world.

I was so moved by that letter from you, Nail, that I read part of it to the leaders at the G20 Summit in Antalya, Turkey, and I committed to taking up your offer to visit.

Now, I've been honoured also to be shown around the Islamic Museum of Australia earlier today by Ahmed Fahour, of course, who I know very well because he is the Chief Executive of Australia Post, and I used to be the Communications Minister and his brother, Mustafa.

That museum plays a really crucial role, I believe, in acknowledging the enormous contribution that Muslims have made to Australian society.

Going back to the Macassan fishermen who traded with Indigenous Australians in the 1600s, to the Afghan camel drivers and traders from what was then north-west India, who drove the camel trades which explored and supplied the deserts of western and central Australia -  in fact building the first bit of long-distance telephonic infrastructure, the big telegraph line, across Australia. And of course, to the teachers, business leaders, politicians and community leaders like yourselves today.

The museum vividly illustrates that throughout our history, Muslims have been at the forefront of innovation and education. And for more than 150 years, Muslims have formed an integral part of our nation – Australia – which is the most successful multicultural society in the world.

And the glue that holds us together, the bonding agent, is mutual respect – and mutual respect means exactly what it says. It's a two-way street, it means you respect others, and they respect you. It means you seek to understand others and they understand you. It means that you and each and every one of us is enriched by the cultures and faiths of our neighbours.

We are enriched by that diversity. And you know, the museum tells the story with which I'm familiar of the great heights of Islam in Spain and indeed in the Ottoman Empire, when the successful, the really successful, artistically brilliant, brilliant in every respect in terms of medicine, in terms of literature, I'm thinking of the Abbasid Caliphate, I’m thinking of the Umayyads in Spain. They were brilliant in large part because they were open societies.

It's a truism around the world, I mean Deng Xiaoping made the same point about China when he opened up China in 1979. When a society is open and tolerant and diverse, when people from different faiths and different backgrounds can mix together and learn from each other, then it becomes so much stronger.

And Islam has a very strong historical record in that regard – a fascinating record. I was talking earlier at the museum about some of the amazing collaborations, particularly one in Sicily with which I'm very familiar with, are collaborations between Greek mosaicists and Arab mosaicists, combining to produce a building, a cathedral in fact, above Palermo, which is a jewel…  a practical demonstration of that convivencia that was so evident in those days.

So, going back to what Widodo says – President Widodo says – this a critical part of the message, that there is he the leader of the largest Muslim country in the world, democratically elected, there’s no one that can speak for more Muslims than he does. And what does he say? Indonesia proves that Islam, democracy, tolerance are compatible and that's why I quoted him and encouraged him as I do, as a good friend, to speak more about that. It's a great example, and I know that is a message that resonates with you, with the ICV.

Now there are half a million Muslims or thereabouts living in Australia, about 40 per cent were born here and the rest have migrated from 183 countries. And that's an important thing too, for every Australian to understand that the Islamic world is very diverse. It is found in many cultures and many backgrounds, and so forth. It is a global faith and it represents the diversity of the world.

Now, I know that your community feels under pressure – I know that. The horrific acts of a small minority of extremists who defame and blaspheme your faith have cast a dark shadow across the world. These extremists have sought to sow discord by using a perverted interpretation of your religion – of Islam – to inspire hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims and to drive a wedge between Muslims and non-Muslim.

The vast majority of Daesh's victims worldwide have been Muslims. The aim of those extremists is to divide us and to use religion as a vehicle to promote their violent Nihilism and we will not let them win- we won’t. I know we won't. And I know you will be as committed to us, to this common cause of maintaining our solidarity in the face of these terrorists. Because, my friends, the richness of our diversity is our nation's greatest strengths and we have to protect and defend it dearly.

Now I want to emphasise to each and every one of you that the Australian Muslim community is respected and valued. And we do not consider or talk about or contemplate the Muslim community solely through the prism of security.

You are an integral part of an Australian family that's bound together by the shared values of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, and the foundation of all of that is mutual respect. That mutual respect is the key. You know, what a great, remarkable country we have that nobody can look in the mirror and say "I don't look like an Australian" because Australians look like every race, every culture, every religion.

We are not defined by religion or race, we are defined by a commitment to common political values, democracy, freedom, the rule of law, inherent in which, underpinning that which is of course mutual respect.

Now, the Holy Quran tells us, mankind, we created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you might come to know one another. Our humanity and our destiny are tied to each other.

As citizens of this country, we all have a shared responsibility to participate in improving our society. So, I'm very pleased to be here today with the Minister for Social Services Christian Porter, and I value the important work that Christian and his department play in fostering strong and resilient communities and ensuring that Australians of all backgrounds can work together to uplift our nation.

And it's important to acknowledge the stories of Australians who contribute to our country every day and they include Muslim Australians like Ridwaan Jadwat who's joined us this morning. As we know, after living under racial segregation in apartheid South Africa, Ridwaan migrated with his parents to Australia in 1981.

After 18 years representing our country as a diplomat in the Australian foreign service, Ridwaan joined my department last year and today is a senior official in Prime Minister and Cabinet’s international division, playing an important role in shaping and influencing Australian foreign policy.

So, I want to express my gratitude to all of you for serving your community and your country by building bridges of understanding, by speaking out against those who seek to hijack your faith, and by promoting harmony and cohesion in our society.

We can all learn from each other. Working with our various communities of faith is a two-way street, mutual respect is a two-way street and in that vein, I'm really looking forward to meeting and talking with you, the accomplished young Muslim leaders, who are gathered here today.

You represent a new generation of leadership. You have an unprecedented opportunity in shaping a more prosperous and safer future for all Australians. These are the most exciting times to be an Australian. These are the most exciting times in human history. But to seize those opportunities, to enjoy that diversity, we need to maintain that mutual respect, that harmony which the mutual respect builds.

I know you're committed to that, and Christian and I are looking forward to our discussion and your feedback and your ideas.

So, thank you very much indeed for welcoming us here today.


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