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PAWAN LUTHRA on NSW Govt’s grand plans for next March
Bicentennial Park was the chosen venue for the inaugural NSW Harmony Day dinner. It was an appropriate site indeed for the state to acknowledge the 200 different nationalities and backgrounds of the gathered guests. The park was created by the state and federal governments during the 1980s to celebrate Australia’s Bicentenary in 1988, and 224 years after the arrival of the First Fleet, the WatervieW restaurant in Bicentennial Park hosted dinner for the rich tapestry of the multicultural communities of NSW.
“200 nationalities and language groups in this room, United Nations, eat your heart out”, proclaimed an excited Stepan Kerkyasharian, the Chair of the Community Relations Commission, who has been largely appointed as the man who drives forward the vision Premier Barry O’ Farrell and Minister for Communities and Citizenship Victor Dominello have for a multicultural NSW
The vision is indeed grand. While Premier O’Farrell is keen to harness the commercial benefits of what multicultural NSW can offer, Minister Dominello has to actually put the strategy in place – where the diverse community of New South Welshians, in which 25% are born overseas, and 40% have at least one parent born overseas, can actually rally together and give back their talents and expertise in helping NSW become the number one state in Australia. Dominello has set up a blue print for just that. Next year, rather than just devoting a single day for Harmony Day, the entire month of March will be celebrated as ‘Multicultural March’.
While the Harmony Day dinner will be an important landmark this month, another feature will be The Voices in Harmony Concert which will immerse the audience in a cross cultural experience to remember. The vision is for this concert to focus on the celebration of choral music from a variety of cultures, attracting, entertaining and connecting people across various boundaries.
As a lead up to the concert, the Community Relations Commission (CRC) will be holding a competition, open to every resident of NSW, to design a banner promoting the month of March as a time to celebrate the unique diversity in our state. Also tagging along will be a poster competition open to all private and public schools and TAFE colleges to celebrate multicultural NSW, and a song writing competition, open to aspiring singers and songwriters celebrating cultural diversity. There is also a desire to combine a multicultural youth “tropfest” short film competition and a condensed foreign film festival.
The Multicultural Action plan will also unveil new honours for outstanding members of ethnic communities who give extraordinary service to the New South Wales community, which will include the establishment of an Honour Roll of leading migrant figures who have distinguished themselves in the past.
Initiatives will also be established to give ethnic communities every opportunity to be fully involved in Australia Day activities, to bind the multicultural and mainstream communities together.
With these cultural issues, the Premier and his Minister are also keen to focus on using the multicultural strengths to attract key international events and conferences to NSW. Building on the commercial links of the communities, the Premier has already established the Multicultural Business Advisory Panel with its Business Summit held six months ago.
“It is all about economics”, said Premier O’Farrell. “When the Irish came here in the 1850s, they were fleeing famine in Ireland, and Australia seemed as good a place to be. They came here and found the gold boom”.
Also sharing their multicultural experiences were SBS TV News presenter Peta Jane Madam and Principal of Punchbowl Boys High School Jihad Dib. Recounting their experiences of working in media in Australia, Peta urged the need for a well balanced presentation of multicultural Australia by the mainstream media while Jihad, funnily recounting of the “random” checks he has to endure at Airport screenings because of his name, also spoke about the need to speak out in case you find any injustice in the society. “Believe you can make a difference and stand up for it, this is what I tell to my students at Punchbowl High School,” he told the 600 guests at dinner, with all of them getting his message that they need to speak up also as leaders in their communities.
Victor Dominello summed it best when he tried to put a figure on the value of a multicultural society: “priceless”.