Premier Brumby, Ted Baillieu, leader of the opposition, members of Parliament, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
Welcome and Shalom. It is wonderful to see so many friends of the Jewish community here from such a wide and diverse range of backgrounds.
Before I go further, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and pay tribute to their elders, past and present. I also want to thank both the Premier and the leader of the opposition for their wonderfully chosen words a few moments ago.
Whilst some of our guests have a long standing relationship with the Jewish community and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, I know that some of you are less familiar with the activities of the JCCV and the wonderful contribution to Victoria our community makes. I will therefore tell you all a little bit about the JCCV and some of our community’s activities.
We are the peak body of the Victorian Jewish community. We have 56 affiliate organisations that comprise a very wide range of social, religious, cultural, political, sporting and other organisations. We are the voice of our community with government, media, the police, and other communities amongst others. The JCCV has regular plenum meetings to which representatives of all affiliate organisations together with non affiliated members of the community are invited. This allows us to engage in very robust and comprehensive debate on issues that affect our own community and affect us as Victorians. This ultimately empowers us to speak very sensibly and in a representative way on behalf of our community.
I want to reinforce that we are in reality the Victorian Jewish community and in that respect, we see ourselves as Victorians. There are many issues that affect the Jewish community, many of which also affect the wider community and in this respect, we are always anxious to make a positive contribution that will benefit all Victorians.
One issue that concerns us, is of course racism. Now whilst the Jewish community suffers from anti-semitic attacks, we see racism in the broader sense as something that we must tackle as part of the Victorian community. There has been much publicity given recently to the spate of attacks upon Indian students. We deplore these and any racist attacks. We stand by the Indian community and we stand as one community in tackling this issue. We are very active in the fight against racism. This specific task is undertaken for us very effectively by the B’nai B’rith Anti Defamation Commission. We are always looking at new ways to deal with this issue that involve education, dialogue and bringing diverse groups together in a variety of circumstances. The multifaith Youth Leadership Training course that was run in February this year was an outstanding demonstration of this commitment.
We have also liaised with Victoria police and provided positive, constructive and useful input into the development of strategies to deal with this problem. I was indeed delighted to read the Attorney General’s recent announcement concerning amendments to the Sentencing Act. We see this as an excellent first step and commend the government for taking this initiative. I again say here and now, that our community stands ready to assist in any way it can in continuing to deal with these issues and developing any necessary reforms to deal with the problems of racism. I have had a number of conversations with Minister James Merlino, the Minister assisting the Premier on Multicultural Affairs and with other MP’s from both sides and I am certain that this open, informative and constructive dialogue will continue so that together we can overcome the problem of racism and enhance our multi cultural Victoria.
As an extension of this, the Jewish community has also been particularly active in the areas of multifaith and interfaith activities. I see the need to break down barriers and build bridges between different groups within our community as essential. We recently held events with the Catholic community, the Anglican community and will shortly be holding events with the B’hai community, the Buddhist community, the Indian community and hopefully the Muslim and other communities. It is only through this constant interaction with other communities that a greater level of understanding and the erosion of barriers can be achieved.
Unfortunately, for all of us, this year got off to a terrible start with the tragedy of the bushfires in February. I know the cleanup is far from over, the rebuilding is just beginning and the forest regeneration is years from completion. This tragedy saw an outpouring of grief and more importantly assistance from the Jewish community. Donations of every type were sourced by numerous community organisations including schools, MDA & Jewish Aid to name a few and distributed to the needy. JEMP, our community emergency management team assisted in the staffing of the Red Cross emergency rooms and JNF, an environmental group donated a very large sum of money to be used specifically for forest regeneration. I was very proud to be associated with our Jewish community.
Another event that warrants special mention is the function we held in December last year to honour William Cooper. Cooper, a 77 year old indigenous Australian led a protest walk from Footscray to Albert Park in 1938. The purpose of the walk was to lodge a protest with the German Consulate over the treatment of Jews in Germany. Following our tribute function, the Israeli embassy, with the assistance of our community arranged for William Coopers grandson, Uncle Boydie Turner to travel to Israel and plant trees in honour of William Cooper. We will not allow the actions of William Cooper to be forgotten and indeed we welcome here tonight, Uncle Boydie Turner, together with William Cooper’s great grandson, Kevin Russell and other members of the family.
But the emphasis here this evening really must be on our jointly celebrating Israel’s 61st anniversary. I commend Danny Lamm, and the Zionist Council of Victoria for the way in which they connect Israel to our Jewish and wider community and the way they represent our community.
As I said, it is wonderful to see so many of our friends here to join with us this evening in congratulating Israel on her 61st Independence Day. I know the safety and security of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East which shares so much in common with Australia is important to all of us here this evening. It is also wonderful to have an event like this, where we can all come together and be reminded that there is so much that we have in common and, in reality, so little to divide us.
Thank you for coming this evening, thank you for showing your support and thank you for being friends to the Victorian Jewish community.
Finally, I thank the staff of both organisations who worked so hard organising this evening’s event.