Shorten praises the Jewish community

September 1, 2009 by J-Wire Staff
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The Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Children’s Services launched the Monash University study of the Jewish Community. His speech follows….

Bill Shorten

Bill Shorten

Perhaps the biggest surprise from any survey of the Australian Jewish population is how few of you there are.

The contribution made to business, philanthropy, science, the arts and community leadership by Australia’s Jews has always been one far disproportionate to its numbers.

The Rudd Government is a strong supporter of diversity, and the multicultural make-up of Australia’s population. We recognise the unique and enduring contribution to this country made by its Jewish community.

The 120-130,000 members of the Australian Jewish community – including the 60,000 in Victoria –  are guardians of a proud tradition.

A tradition of maintaining a strong and distinct identity while contributing to and enriching the broader community.

There were 14 Jews on the first fleet. There was Jewish involvement in the initial settlements at  Hobart, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Australia’s first police constable was Jewish, as was the printer of the original “Australian” newspaper and the composer of our first opera.

To go through the list of great Jewish-Australians since then would take more time than I have, but men such as Sir John Monash, Sir Isaac Isaacs, and Sir Zelman Cowan (who is still with us, and will shortly be celebrating his 90th birthday here at the Gandel home) and generations of business leaders and philanthropists, such as Frank Lowy, the late Victor Smorgon, and, my friend, the late Richard Pratt. The contribution to creation and fair distribution of wealth through the business and charity work performed by them, and their families, has helped countless numbers of Australians.

Jewish women such as Eva Cox, Judy Cassab, the Archibald Prize winning painter, and Vida Goldstein, the suffragette who, in 1903, became the first woman in any part of the British Empire to stand for Parliament

Melbourne owes its present civilisation in no small part to the Holocaust survivors who came here in the 1940s.

They brought with them the memories and the texts and the traditions, the song and the sorrow, the music and the ritual and the family obligations of a remembered way of life that were smashed and burnt in the great aberration that was briefly Hitler’s Europe.

They settled and built networks. They resumed the business of the tribe and the culture, and their children studied hard, as always, and passed with honours the necessary exams.

And as academics, doctors, lawyers, businessmen, musicians, artists, actors, directors and entrepreneurs they refreshed again the European habits of mind and joy of pursuit and honour of attainment which had nearly been wiped out by the worst war in history.

They restored the tradition. They built the new life, here in a far land. They set up the charities, underwrote the scholarships, funded the university departments and that study of the past from which all understanding flows.

Having seen the worst of times they proposed to build, with diligence and honour and mercy, the best of times for their children, and the coming generations of their new-found land, Australia.

They paid their dues, and did the work, they joined the politics and argued the issues.

This gang of survivors and strugglers, played their part in the amazing fabrication of this proud European city, that has now become the great inclusive destination for the other fugitive tribes in hurried exodus from persecution, and a vast and colourful container of all the cultures of the earth.

There has been anti-semitism in Australia, and one of the worrying findings of this survey is that it is on the increase.

But Australia is one of the few countries in which jews have settled, where there have never been any laws that discriminated against them, or attempts to exclude them overtly from public life.

We have always respected the right of the Jewish community to maintain its own identity, and we have been rewarded in return.

The survey we are launching today has taken into account the views of 6000 Jewish people.

It will be of great benefit to the Jewish Community, and given it is the first comprehensive survey of any ethno-religious group in Australia, should form a basis for further research.

It was conducted under the guidance of Professor Andrew Markus of Monash University and was funded by the Australian Research Council, Jewish community organisations and leading foundations, including Gandel charitable Trust, the Pratt foundation and Besen Family Foundation.

Research shows us the importance of Jewish identity within a very diverse community.

Between 80-90 per cent of Australia’s Jewish population sees their “Jewishness” as an important or defining characteristic of their lives.

80 per cent also feel a connection with the rest of the Jewish community.

Interestingly, Jewish-Australians are slightly more likely to say they are satisfied with their lives as a whole than the rest of the community.

Whether this is a bit of statistical white noise, or if it is the result of the benefits of being part of a supportive community, is a subject worthy of further study.

Another finding that interested me, was that poverty is at a relatively low level, but those at greatest risk of poverty were people with a disability who were unable to work.

This is not an issue that is unique to the jewish community and one that I am determined to tackle.

One finding that alarmed me, was that 45 per cent of respondents reported incidences of anti-semitism, and the majority believed that anti-semitism was worse than five years ago.

We pride ourselves in Australia on our tolerance, our sense of a fair go and our success as a multicultural nation.

But we must always be aware that success in the past does not automatically equate to success in the future.

We need to ensure that minorities do not become scapegoats, or blamed for events happening overseas.

Any attack on Australia’s Jewish community is an attack on Australia, on all of us.

Because it attacks the core Australian values of being able to live your life in peace, be considered worthy of respect and equal treatment regardless of your origins, and to follow your religion without fear of persecution of interference.

I cannot imagine by what cursed highways and under what duress and the shadow of what great suffering many of Australia’s Jewish community and their ancestors came to our nation.

But you have blessed it with your endeavours. We are glad you came here, and found somehow the audacity of hope, the entrepreneurial cunning, and the creative fire and common sense, to achieve what you did in this city and this nation, things numberless and wonderful for which we thank you tonight.

It’s an honour to be here and to share with you, and your extended family, this knowledge of the common good.


One Response to “Shorten praises the Jewish community”
  1. Sylvain Mouw says:

    Dear Bill Shorten,

    Your outstanding report on the Jewish people of Australia is inspireing and interesting.

    This summary is in sharp contrast to the present ‘tidal wave’ of emotive, anti Jewish reporting by the World media, and others, void of any realistic conent or credibility.

    The reason for this is obvious. You have surely employed great time and care in basing your presentation on well researched FACT. The rewards of your efforts, in putting the mighty pen to paper, are abundantly clear. You Sir, have produced a balanced report, to which others can only hope to aspire, and for which you are to be congratulated and admired.

    What you had to say on the subject, not only touched me deeply, but I learnt so much from your meaningful article.

    I have emailed this report to my entire mailing list, many of whom reside in the USA.

    Thank you for delivering a genuine “Pearl of Wisdom.”

    With best wishes, and in gratitude,

    Sylvain Mouw.

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