Legislative Council

MATTERS OF INTEREST: Welcome to Australia's 2017 Walk Together For Freedom event

October 18th, 2017

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: Next Saturday, 21 October, many South Australians, including many members of parliament, will be participating in the sixth annual Walk Together from Tarndanyangga (Victoria Square) to the Pennington Gardens. We will be joining tens of thousands of people in dozens of cities and regions around Australia to demonstrate to the wider community that no matter where you come from, or how, you are a valued member of the community who deserves respect and dignity.

Walk Together is organised by Welcome to Australia, an organisation that works to provide essential services to former refugees who are in need, and further positive understanding and recognition of diversity in our community. In their own words, Welcome to Australia 'coordinates a positive welcome for people seeking asylum, refugees and new arrivals to Australia.' The group aims to find ways that individuals, families, businesses and other organisations can work together in order to continue developing the Australian values of diversity, compassion, generosity and commitment to giving people a fair go in communities, workplaces, schools and institutions.

Walk Together unites everyday Australians, community leaders, sports stars, celebrities, politicians and many others to march together with banners and posters in support of Australians from a great number of cultural backgrounds. I have been proud to attend most, if not all, of the previous five events, and I know it will be a joyous and hopeful occasion this year. It is not a protest, as many such marches are, but it is a celebration.

Walk Together 2017's theme is Walk Together for Freedom—the freedom to hope, the freedom to belong and the freedom to be yourself. 'Freedom to hope' recognises that we are walking together in solidarity with those who have sought freedom from violence, war and oppression and who have had hopes destroyed by indefinite detention. 'Freedom to belong' recognises that we are walking to celebrate the contribution of refugees currently on temporary protection, safe haven enterprise or bridging visas in our community. We are calling for a transparent pathway to permanent residency and citizenship for them. 'Freedom to be yourself' recognises that we are walking to celebrate the freedom to express ourselves that we enjoy in Australia. We are lucky to be able to contribute to society regardless of our background, culture, religion, gender or sexuality.

I would also like to acknowledge some other Welcome to Australia programs—first, the Welcome Centre initiative. Run by volunteers and open since 2013, the Welcome Centre on Drayton Street in Bowden is a safe centre and a place of refuge for refugee families, people seeking asylum and new arrivals to come to access essential services. This centre provides support to those people with food donations and emergency relief, chances to practise English, free internet and a space to interact and form friendships. The centre has days for emergency relief and also a day as a foodbank and a drop-in centre, as well as an intermediate English class, homework help, volunteer and work experience opportunities, a one-on-one Connect Mentoring Program, a Chai and Conversation social program and a fortnightly bring-your-own vegetarian food plate community dinner. As well as Bowden, there is now another Welcome Centre in Marion.

Another program of Welcome to Australia is Welcome to the Game which is a new initiative in Queensland in partnership with Multicultural Development Australia. This program supports migrant and refugee youths, their families and their communities to form meaningful connections through getting them involved in local sport. We already know that many of these young people are destined for big things in Australian sport. When I was a kid, stars from a European migrant background such as Alex Jesaulenko or Sam Kekovich were seen as pretty exotic amongst the Smiths, Browns and Joneses. Now the talent scouts have a huge pool of young people from all corners of the globe to help grow into future household names and youth role models.

I can still remember being very pleasantly surprised while visiting a local high school recently one lunchtime. Apart from the evocative smell of school lunches well past their use-by date, what struck me was the sound of kids playing footy on the school oval at lunchtime. As I walked past, the cry went up, 'Mohamed, Mohamed, kick it to me!' It struck me that our multicultural society has certainly come a long way since I was a kid, and it is a good thing.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the work of all those volunteers and staff connected with next Saturday's Walk Together, with special mention to Mohammad Al-Khafaji, a former refugee himself, who is currently the chief executive officer of Welcome to Australia. I look forward to seeing as many members of parliament at the event as possible.

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