Westgate, religious diversity, and hansard

Our little community received a mention in the Australian Parliament this week, as the House of Representatives debated the (now failed) Religious Discrimination Bill 2021. Here’s part of what our local MP, Tim Watts, an atheist, said:

Respect for diversity of religious faith is a normal part of our experience in my community in Melbourne’s west. And we are so much richer for it, because, while their source of faith might be diverse, their motive towards community service is universal. We tell our kids to, in a crisis, look for the helpers. Well, in my community all too often in a crisis the helpers are driven to go to the scene and help by their faith. Sikh Volunteers Australia have become famous Australia wide for their constant presence anywhere where there is a crisis in our community. Where there are members of our community in distress, you can bank on the Sikh volunteers being there in their famous high-viz vests, colourful turbans and smiling bearded faces. Across the Black Summer bushfires and the two years of the pandemic that followed, they have served well over 100,000 free meals from their trusty Free Food Van, taking the langar of the Gurudwara on the road to where it’s needed most. Look for a crisis and you’ll see them there. We’re so proud of them.

Then you have the Australian Islamic Centre volunteers from the Newport mosque—an architectural icon of Melbourne’s west that we are so proud of in its own right, a powerhouse community group. They don’t just look out for people in our own backyard but go looking for fellow Australians in need everywhere. During the Black Summer bushfires, volunteers from the Newport mosque collected five semitrailer loads full of donations, drove them to Bairnsdale at three o’clock in the morning and, with the assistance of the MFB and the CFA, put on a breakfast sausage sizzle for exhausted firefighters. It was quite the logistical enterprise and it earned them international television coverage. I’m so proud to be their representative in this chamber.

We’re also home to one of Australia’s largest Buddhist temples in Melbourne’s west, Quang Minh Temple. Their volunteers delivered $33,000 worth of donations to the CFA in Bairnsdale and the CFA District 11 Headquarters Brigade during the Back Summer bushfires. Senior Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan, the abbot of Quang Minh, is a model of ethical leadership in the country and someone I know all local political representatives in Melbourne’s west draw guidance and inspiration from. He’s a great bloke to spend time with.

Christian groups, too, are a wonderful source of charitable works in our communities, staffing food vans for the disadvantaged and providing essential support for the vulnerable, especially the significant asylum seeker community in Melbourne’s west. The Westgate Baptist community shares its ministry and facilities with a growing congregation of Karen refugees from Myanmar and has for many years provided direct material support for refugees in the camps on the Thai-Myanmar border, as well as providing direct support for our refugees in our own community through the ministry of Westgate Refugee Support.

These people of faith in our community in Melbourne’s west make our community a better place. They’re the kinds of people of faith who make me embarrassed of the militant atheism of people like Richard Dawkins, who are so arrogant in their intellectual certainty that they can’t recognise fundamental human decency when it’s right there in front of their eyes. I would be furious if anyone discriminated against any of these people of faith in my community on the basis of their religion or religious practices.

Tim’s full speech can be accessed here.