Thursday, November 8, 2007

Dr. Hans Blix receives Sydney Peace Prize:

On Thursday November 8th in the Great Hall of Sydney University, Hans Blix was the 10th recipient of the international Sydney Peace prize. Other recipients have included Hanan Ashrawi (possibly the most controversial peace prize winner), Desmond Tutu, Muhammad Yunus, Sir William Dean and Irene Khan amongst others. The Award was presented by Paul Keating to an enthusiastic packed audience of Sydney intelligentsia. A large contingent of Labour supporters thumped the floor when Paul Keating spoke, reflecting on past history including the Cold War, the role of the US and his own contribution to recent history.

The ceremony was chaired by Mary Kostakidis – missed by many of the audience from her former role at SBS. Emeritus Professor Stuart Rees - the driving force behind Sydney University’s Peace Foundation, spoke about the history of the Peace Prize which has developed into an internationally significant prize and is the only Australian international award for peace. Also in attendance was a former peace prize winner - Sir William Deane who is the only Australian to be awarded the prize. There appeared to be a notable absence of senior members of the Liberal and Greens party, although the Australian Democrats Dr. Arthur Chesterfield Evans and Silma Ihram were present.

It is vitally important that the initiative begun by Prof Stuart Rees is supported by our political parties. Its drive to keep the acquisition of peace on the agenda is imperative considering the threats to humanity from global movements of people due to the ongoing wars in Africa, the Middle East and the impending economic refugees that are expected from future climate change. The world is changing rapidly and conflict is an almost inevitable product of change unless there is adequate discussion and planning by our academics, community leaders and global entities directly targetted not at war - but peace.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Accept Diversity and Make It Work

Democrats Candidate Silma Ihram has called on Pat Farmer – Federal Minister for Macarthur, to meet with her in order to address his constituents concerns about the proposed Islamic school in Camden.

In her letter to Pat Farmer Silma said “In reality, Muslim schools are now part of the private school fabric of Australian society and are actively engaged in the fight against extremism and ensuring a diverse and integrated society.” In response to a perception that the area does not have a significant Muslim community and that many students may be bussed in, local residents have complained that this will result in their town changing.

Silma has expressed concern about an apparent concerted campaign where leaflets are being distributed to local residents and sms sent in order to alert them to concerns about an increase of Muslim families into the area. One speaker at Monday’s Rally of a 1000 protesting residents alleged that terrified families were moving from Bankstown “which used to be a really nice town” into country areas. Another speaker warned that the community would be hoodwinked, and that Australia should “watch out!”

This kind of hysteria is reminiscent of the pre-Cronulla riots activities where locals banded together against a perceived threat from Muslim visitors. Neither Labour nor Liberal have taken a tough enough stand on the issue of our diverse community. The Australian Democrats have long held to policies that ensure our diverse society is well integrated – and specifically geared to ensuring that the individual needs of our diverse communities are respected and met.

“We need to accept that Muslim schools are part of the answer to an integrated and diverse society, not part of the problem. They have come under scrutiny from all levels of government and bureaucracy – it’s time they were recognized for the valuable work that they are doing. If there are any real concerns about traffic or about local amenities, there are laws and regulations in place to deal with it just as for any other development proposal.” Silma has requested the local community to talk to the various representatives of the Muslim community, and to meet with her and other representatives. She has urged them not to respond to any racist or inflammatory propaganda, but to work constructively to resolve any real issues of traffic or amenity in the area.