Executive Director’s end of year message 2019

As we approach the conclusion of another decade, we look back to see the growth of the Australian Intercultural Society (AIS) and the role it continues to play in improving understanding of each other whilst acknowledging there is no finish line to enhancing social cohesion. We thank the many people and organisations who worked with the AIS to make a difference to our society.

Keeping the gaze to more recent programs, one such initiative we were proud to be a part of which yielded tangible benefits was the ‘The Bystander Intervention Program’, where individuals learned techniques and felt empowered to take a stand against religious vilification. After running 8 sessions across Victoria, we were buoyed to see there is an appetite to run more sessions. We hope to bring more good news about this program in 2020. Another major program on the AIS calendar was the Colours of the World festival held at MCEC late in October, where youths performed through song and dance to enhance global fellowship. We brought the best out of the Muslim & Jewish comedians at this year’s instalment of the ‘Not-So Holy Comedy Debate’. The range of formats on offer here just shows you could never be creative enough to provide opportunities and platforms for people to cross paths and get to meet one another.

Looking back as far as January we were saddened to hear about Hakeem’s plight in Thailand. Fortunately, this tragic story had a happy ending ! It brought out the best of the renowned Australian spirit. The AIS were proud to play a role in reliving Hakeem’s story. Hearing from Hakeem’s football club President along with the PFA CEO & SBS’ chief football commentator and human rights advocate Craig Foster recount the pressure they exerted on the authorities, demonstrated that a collective will, when channelled in the right manner could produce extraordinary results.

It goes without saying Victorians love sport ! Why wouldn’t they ? It is a unifying agent and can mobilise so many people to take action for the good. It was important to stage a ‘Women in Sport’ panel this year talking about female participation and their triumphs. Adding to this, Ms Nicole Livingstone OAM highlighted the great strides taken in the AFL code where the organisation has been successfully growing a brand and inspiring many young girls to dream big. There shouldn’t be any glass ceilings for females to smash through as there isn’t for any men. However, inequality still exists unfortunately, so it was important to hear Victoria’s leading female parliamentarians call for equality as they shared their stories in overcoming naysayers and self-doubt to step into public life. These short snippets of success stories weave into a stronger theme calling for greater equality and inclusion. These are fundamental principles for EEON, who for the last four years have collaborated with the AIS to bring a conversation about improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace.  

Taking a stand against injustice is not only our right as a citizen but a moral duty. We should encourage each other to be more vigilant about equality and the rule of law; and not take it for granted as reminded to us by the Chief Judge Peter Kidd. However, compared to many other nations, which are mired in some form of conflict – maybe even contending with terrorism – our governance structure seems to be fairing relatively well though challenges still remain. Good governance requires a free media, a cornerstone of a liberal society, which shouldn’t be compromised or undermined by the people we elect as our political leaders. Yes, things are changing. Some for good whilst others require desperate attention – refugees, climate change, youth employment, homelessness to name a few.  We could be forgiven for thinking the world is becoming confusing but we do remain optimistic about the future.

The AIS was honoured to host some international guests this year including Prof Robinson (UK), who gave insights on the importance of maintaining ethics, whether it be on political leadership or dealing with aged care. Prof Clooney from Harvard Divinity School (USA) shared his experiences of the time he spent in India, where he crossed paths with the richly diverse community of the largest democratic nation on the planet. We also hosted Dr Pahl (USA) who had written a book on Fethullah Gulen’s impact to improving social mobility. We co-organised a lecture to hear Prof Gaber (Canada) explain her research on the changing role of the Mosque, its sacred space, for the Muslim community.

This year’s Ramadan calendar was a busy one with many new faces joining us at the dinner table; breaking the fast together, starting new conversations and friendships is always a delight. It was an honour to co-organise some new iftars such as the VIC Bar Iftar dinner, Media Iftar dinner and the Muslim – Catholic Youth Iftar dinner. We also welcomed our new MP co-hosts for this year’s VIC Parliament Iftar Dinner and took the Ambulance VIC Iftar Dinner to the SE of Melbourne. We farewelled the VC of Deakin University at this year’s Iftar Dinner and continued the strong partnership to bring in a diverse audience to the Victoria University Iftar Dinner. There was also an intimate Noble Park Uniting Church community iftar dinner where both Muslim & Christians shared perspectives on the notion of fasting. The AIS can’t do a lot in Ramadan without the support of the community, as the majority of the heavy lifting in terms of home iftars was borne by them. This year, some 32 families opened their homes to folk who were strangers until they stepped inside to form new friendship. Sharing stories about each other’s lives, their family and aspirations gives us a buzz that these small initiatives have a long lasting impact and are constructively adding to social resiliency. We thank the host families for supporting us with this initiative and are looking forward to another round of Ramadan programs in April – May 2020.

On behalf of the AIS, I’d like to wish you and your loved ones a joyous festive season and a Happy New Year. To those celebrating Christmas, I wish you a Merry Christmas. Peace and love to you and your loved ones.