Sep 5, 2017

Afghan Community in Australia Speech – 5 Sept 2017

I rise tonight to speak about the Afghan-Australian community. On Tuesday, 22 August, I was delighted to attend the Afghan Independence Day celebrations at the Springvale Town Hall. On the night, over 300 local Afghan-Australians attended the celebrations. I wish to thank Dor Aschna, President of the Afghan Australian Philanthropic Association, for organising the wonderful event that had a great spirit of unity and purpose. I also wish to thank Alande Mustafa Safi from the Paragon Business Group for sponsoring this event. The Afghan Australian Philanthropic Association was formed in 1999. It specialises in providing Afghan refugees with settlement assistance and establishment in everyday life in Australia. Each year, the Afghan Australian Philanthropic Association organises Afghan Independence Day celebrations to bring local Afghans living in the city of Casey and the city of Greater Dandenong together for a joyful celebration. Afghan Independence Day is celebrated in Afghanistan on 19 August to commemorate the Anglo-Afghan Treaty of 1919 and it also marks the date that Afghanistan regained full independence.

Since migrating to Australia, Afghan Australians have made a wonderful contribution to our nation. According to the 2016 census, we now have 53,082 Australians of Afghan ancestry residing in this country, with 18,116 living in Victoria, mainly in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne. In Australia, the first Afghan people came to this country during the 1860s as cameleers. I don’t think many Australians would know that, for a period of time from the 1860s to the early 1900s, the Afghani cameleers and their ships of the desert became the backbone of the Australian economy. Afghani cameleers transported the supplies and equipment needed to construct some of Australia’s earliest and greatest infrastructure projects, such as the Overland Telegraph and the Trans-Australian Railway. It’s estimated that, from 1870 to 1900 alone, more than 2,000 cameleers came to Australia.

It’s worthy to note that the famous Ghan train service from Adelaide to Darwin has an emblem which is an Afghan on a camel, in recognition of the efforts of the Afghanis who opened up the inhospitable interior of our country. They also assisted many explorers like Burke and Wills, even on that ill-fated expedition. Without them, we would not have discovered significant portions of the interior of our country. In debates about the contribution of our Afghan community in Australia, I certainly would draw to the attention of the Australian community their significant contribution to the development of our country. The second group of Afghani immigrants arrived in Australia following the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union, which increased the Afghan-born population to about 1,000 people during the early 1990s. A severe drought in 2000, as well as ongoing war in Afghanistan, which has continued, led to a new influx of Afghan refugees and migrants fleeing persecution who now call Australia home.

Last week, I had the opportunity to meet one of the recent members of the Afghan-Australian community, Dr Iftikhar Ahmad. He is the new imam at the Omar Farooq Mosque in Doveton. At times, I thought this meeting would never take place. It was a long and drawn-out process for Dr Ahmad and his family to come to Australia—a three-year process to be exact. In those three years, the mosque was left without a permanent imam, a source of much anguish to the local Afghan community.

At this point, I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the immigration minister, Minister Dutton, and his staff with regard to this matter—specifically, their assistance in providing updates, where possible and appropriate, on the progression of Dr Ahmad’s visa application. It’s no surprise, therefore, that Dr Ahmad’s arrival has been met with much excitement and enthusiasm from the community, as well as a healthy level of expectation. Dr Ahmad has big shoes to fill. The former imam, the late Noorullah Noori, whom I’ve spoken about previously in this place, was highly respected and was, in fact, a revered and esteemed leader whose lasting legacy of compassion and support for the community is still prominent in the memories of all who knew him. In meeting Dr Ahmad, I’m confident that we have someone who can follow in Mr Noori’s substantial footsteps. Dr Ahmad is imminently qualified for his position. He holds two masters degrees, as well as a PhD in Islamic studies, and speaks five languages. These are qualifications and skills that will stand him in good stead when he engages with the community. The Afghan community has made, as I have just outlined, a great contribution to our country and will continue to do so in the future.


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