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Indian Independence Day

Dr GEOFF LEE ( Parramatta ) ( 11:58 ): I move:

That this House:

(1)Recognises the importance of Indian Independence Day on 15 August.

(2)Notes the strong cultural ties between New South Wales and India.

(3)Notes the important contribution of the Australian Indian community in New South Wales.

I move this wonderful motion to recognise the importance of Indian Independence Day on 15 August. There are very strong ties between New South Wales and India. Never have our cultural, economic and personal relationships been so strong. In the five years that I have been in this place I have come to know the various organisations that play a significant role in the Australian Indian community. I will highlight some of those organisations. The Swaminarayan Mandir in Blacktown is an important organisation. I recognise the good work done by its devotees.

The temple and community centre started life in 1996 as a group of friends coming together for prayer. Today the organisation has grown to be a centrepiece for worship and community-based activities in Western Sydney. I commend the outstanding community of the Swaminarayan Mandir and pay tribute to the Mandir leaders. They include Dr Khimji and Hansa Vaghjiani, Dilip Darji, Mahendra and Maya Amin, Dr Kiran and Parul Amin, Mukesh and Shetal Amin, and Vimal and Megna Amin. The centre plays an important community role through its delivery of children's cultural programs, senior citizen outings and excursions, and charity events such as flood relief work. It also hosts Indian festivals that give devotees an opportunity to come together and celebrate their rich Indian cultural heritage. I acknowledge the great work done by Swaminarayan Mandir in building a stronger and harmonious community.

The Sikh Temple Gurudwara Sahib at Glenwood is renowned throughout Sydney and New South Wales. The Australian Sikh Association Incorporated is the largest registered body of Sikhs in the Southern Hemisphere. The association manages the Gurudwara Sahib at Glenwood, which serves the Sikh community throughout Sydney and New South Wales. I commend the outstanding community of the Sikh Temple Gurudwara Sahib and pay tribute to the temple leaders and all the devotees, including Mehnga Singh Khakh, the chairman; Manjit Singh Purewal, the vice chairman; Jagtar Singh, the general secretary; Captain Sarjinder Singh Sandhu, the president; Jaspal Singh, the treasurer; and Mohan Singh Pooni, the chief finance officer. The Gurudwara Sahib at Glenwood is the hub of religious and community activities all year round. The temple offers a place for prayer, meditation, teachings and hymns from Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. The temple also provides important community services, including the running of a Punjabi language school and a library, the provision of English and computer classes for the elderly, and other charitable activities. I acknowledge the great work done by the Sikh Temple Gurudwara Sahib at Glenwood in building a stronger and harmonious community.

I bring to the House's attention the Vednata Centre of Sydney in Ermington in my electorate of Parramatta, which goes from strength to strength. I commend the outstanding community of the Vedanta Centre of Sydney and pay tribute to the Vedanta leaders. They include Swami Sridharananda, president; vice presidents Mrs Vandana Sarathy, Mr Prakash Chand and Swami Atmeshananda; and Paul Nothold, secretary. The centre plays an important community role through its delivery of classes on Indian scriptures, meditation and yoga, as well as programs in performing arts, including music, dance, drama and skits. It has held five international yoga conferences since 2004. The centre runs spiritual counselling and children's classes and has collected funds for disasters in Australia and abroad. I acknowledge the great work done by the Vedanta Centre of Sydney in building a stronger and harmonious community.

I also mention the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, also known as BAPS, and the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Rosehill—again in my electorate. BAPS is a worldwide community‑based spiritual organisation that serves communities and families. BAPS upholds the Hindu belief that there can be unity in diversity. It values living in harmony with others and working in unity towards a better world. BAPS is committed to serving the community through its various activities, which include participation in council events such as the Rosella and Riverbeat festivals; organising blood donation drives under the auspices of the Australian Red Cross; taking part in Clean-Up Australia and National Tree Planting Day campaigns; organising walkathons for local charities—at the last walkathon earlier this year, BAPS raised more than $8,000 each for the Westmead Medical Research Foundation and the LBW Trust—organising prayers by BAPS children at Westmead Children's Hospital; organising health expos in partnership with local organisations such as WentWest for the benefit of local and migrant communities; and organising its youth wing to run prayer services at Parramatta Park for world peace and tranquillity.

Volunteers are the backbone of BAPS. For the past 10 years, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Rosehill has stood as a centre of community, culture and spirituality. Its spirit of volunteerism is commendable. I acknowledge the great work done by BAPS in Rosehill in serving our community. I have known these organisations throughout my five years in this place. They are just a few of the exemplars of organisations that bring the community together and provide help for those newly settled in Australia. For those people who are bringing up families, they provide the right values and leadership. Without community organisations like these, New South Wales would be a much poorer place. I commend the motion to the House.

Mr KEVIN CONOLLY ( Riverstone ) ( 12:05 ): I support my colleague the member for Parramatta on this motion recognising the importance of Indian Independence Day on 15 August and noting the strong cultural ties between New South Wales and India and the contribution of the Australian Indian community in New South Wales. As those in this place probably know, India is one of the largest nations on earth—it has a population of 1.25 billion—and it is a democracy. That is a tremendous statement: India is the largest democracy in the world. India's independence is therefore worth celebrating, as it stands as a beacon of modern civilisation, democracy and freedom around the world. All nations have their challenges, and no doubt the people of India would acknowledge that they do too, but it is wonderful that we can make such a statement about a nation that makes up such a large part of the world's population.

That Indian population is increasingly engaging with us here in Australia. Indian migration has become much more significant in recent years. I believe in the most recent period—the past three or four years—India is the largest source country for migrants coming to Australia. That has created very significant change in communities such as that of the member for Parramatta and mine in the electorate of Riverstone, where many people of Indian background are settling. They are becoming wonderful Australian citizens and are making a huge contribution to the welfare of our district and our great State. Many of these immigrants from India are entrepreneurial. They start up businesses. They jump in and work hard to make a livelihood for themselves, their families, their relatives and their broader community—and, in the process, they create economic activity and jobs for the wider community of New South Wales. We are grateful for that. We recognise that contribution and encourage more of it—the sharing of their talent and the entrepreneurial spirit and energy that they bring to our community.

My friend the member for Parramatta talked a little about Gurudwara, the Sikh temple at Glenwood in my electorate of Riverstone. It is a significant religious hub in the western part of Sydney to which Sikhs look for spiritual guidance and nourishment. It is also a wonderful social contributor; it reaches out in many ways to become part of the Australian community. It is a trait of so many of the new ethnic communities settling in Western Sydney that they wish to reach out almost immediately. They do not just look inward and look after their own; which of course they must do; they also look outward and contribute to the welfare of the broader community in which they settle. I commend the Australian Sikh Association for being one of those organisations that does exactly that, and contributes to the benefit of the wider community of which it forms a part. I will highlight another group that so far has not been mentioned, the Council of Indian Australians [CIA], which has its home in the Blacktown council area and, more particularly, in my electorate of Riverstone. The council holds many events at Blacktown, at The Ponds or at other venues in Western Sydney.

The Council of Indian Australians has specifically reached out and fostered engagement between people of Indian background and the broader community. The main focus and charter of the CIA is to ensure that people whom it serves within the Indian community feel part of the broader community and form connections and build bridges with others. Each of its celebrations held at The Ponds in recent years has brought that kind of focus to bear. It is a very positive development that has been well received by the local community. An offshoot of the CIA is the support centre for the Indian community at Pendle Hill, which is in the electorate of the member for Prospect. It is a great initiative that supports newcomers to Australia. The Indian Support Centre has reached out to people in relation to qualifications issues, domestic violence, isolation in the community, language needs and a whole host of other challenges that all newly arrived migrants encounter.

The most recent waves of migrants from India face the same challenges as people who arrived in Australia in decades past. The Government has recognised the massive injection of energy, investment, talent and entrepreneurial spirit that New South Wales is receiving from Indian migration. It is a pleasure to know that former Premier O'Farrell and Premier Baird both visited India during their terms of office and that New South Wales was privileged to receive a return visit from Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. He received a magnificent reception from the New South Wales Indian community.

Dr Geoff Lee: Rock star.

Mr KEVIN CONOLLY: As my colleague said, the Prime Minister had a rock-star reception at the Homebush Bay Olympic site, where thousands and thousands of people gathered to hear him speak. His reception as a popular figure was rivalled only by that which was reserved for the member for Parramatta, whose presence was acknowledged most generously. The relationship between New South Wales and India is growing, deepening and broadening, which is overwhelmingly good for our community and signals a bright future for both sides of that equation. As we celebrate Indian Independence Day it is worthy of note that Indian migrants with a rich historical and cultural background will contribute to our society and the progress of New South Wales and of Australia. I commend the Indian community in New South Wales and I congratulate them on Indian Independence Day.

Ms JULIA FINN ( Granville ) ( 12:12 ): I refer to the motion moved by the member for Parramatta in relation to Indian Independence Day on 15 August. This year is the seventieth anniversary of India's independence, and it is a momentous occasion and a great opportunity to reflect on that achievement. India is the world's largest democracy, with more than a billion people. It is a united multicultural, multilingual, multi-faith society that is developing rapidly, with economic growth averaging around 8 per cent a year. India is an incredible country that is changing rapidly. The number of people who have been taken out of poverty in recent decades is staggering. Millions and millions of people have entered India's growing middle class in recent years.

The very close relationship between Australia and India has produced not only huge numbers of Indian migrants to Australia but also much more trade between the two countries, which offers fantastic opportunities for Australians and Indians. Those opportunities have been taken up by many in the Australian Indian community. An area of particular growth at present is dairy exports between the two countries. Our dairy products are of extremely high quality and India has the largest dairy market in the world. It is also the largest producer of dairy products globally, but it has a strong appetite for dairy products produced in New South Wales, which is great to see. The growth in our relationship in the past few years has included the export of uranium. That is a more contentious issue, but it is strongly supported by the Indian community in Australia who were very proud to—

Dr Geoff Lee: It wasn't supported by Labor, though.

Ms JULIA FINN: Yes, it was. It was initiated by Julia Gillard as Prime Minister and supported by the National Conference of the Labor Party. The growth in exports is enormous. Earlier this year I visited Ahmedabad and met with the Gujarat Chamber of Commerce, which wants to deepen ties with Australia. Gujarat is the sister state to New South Wales. The chamber of commerce wants to set up a process of sharing data about its membership and the membership of Australian chambers of commerce in order to create better business opportunities. The Gujarat Chamber of Commerce does that with other countries, and it is something we should look to do to grow our markets. In Sydney the celebration of Indian Independence Day by our very proud Indian ex-patriot community—who are also very proud Australians—is growing each year, with functions increasing in size and number. They demonstrate a great pride in the growth of India and its success. In recent years India has been the largest source of skilled migrants to Australia and the most migrants overall, who are making a great contribution to this country.

We talked about the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha—or BAPS—community in Rosehill last night. We also have the oldest Hindu temple, the Sri Mandir in Auburn—which I will be attending later today—and the Indian Crescent Society, which was formed recently to represent the quite large Indian Muslim population. They are very proud of their Indian culture and of being Australians. Celebrating the seventieth anniversary of India's independence is a huge achievement for democracy and something that the Indian can be very proud of.

Mr MATT KEAN ( Hornsby ) ( 12:16 ): It is appropriate that the Assistant Speaker is in the chair for this debate about Indian Independence Day because Coffs Harbour is home to the largest Australian Sikh community in the nation. I always get excited about celebrating Indian Independence Day for two reasons. First, India's non-violent struggle for freedom is an inspiration to countries around the world. Its rejection of terrorism, extremism and its belief in democracy and the rule of law are things that Australians also hold dear. Secondly, no-one knows how to throw a party quite like the Australian Indian community. We saw what was best about the Australian Indian community recently at a series of events held to celebrate the seventieth anniversary of India's independence. It started off with all the fanfare of an Indian dance festival. I cannot dance to save my life.

Dr Geoff Lee: You tried, which is good.

Mr MATT KEAN: I certainly tried. It was a wonderful festival that highlighted the best of the Australian Indian community, with all its pageantry, wonderful dress and not to mention the brilliant food. I note that the member for Granville, the member for Parramatta and the member for Riverstone also celebrated this wonderful occasion. I pay tribute to the organisers of this fantastic celebration of Indian independence, the Council of Indian Australians [CIA] and president Praful Desai, vice-president the outstanding Mohit Kumar—who is a very good friend of mine and who represents what is best about the Indian Australian community—secretary Nitin Shukla, joint secretary Keyur Desai, treasurer Dr Baalu Vijay and joint treasurer Amit Tripathi.

Last Sunday the member for Parramatta and I attended another outstanding celebration with the Federation of Indian Associations. The 15,000 people in attendance at Parramatta Park on the day celebrated the wonderful history and culture of the Australian Indian community with lots of great food and colourful dress. I congratulate Dr  Yahdu Singh on yet another outstanding event—his involvement always ensures the success of an event, and this year's was no exception. I also pay tribute to the United Indian Associations and John Kennedy for the Indian Independence Day celebrations held last Monday night.

The relationship between Indian and Australia has never been more exciting. We are on the cusp of signing a free trade agreement with India, which, in my opinion, will underpin the defining relationship for both our countries for decades to come. It will underpin economic growth in Australia and contribute to the continued rise of India. Indeed, my generation more than any other will be the beneficiary of the India-Australia relationship. This will be one of the defining partnerships of the twenty-first century for both our countries, and I am looking forward to contributing to that. Every day we see examples of the great contributions that Indian Australians make to this country. They epitomise what is best about modern Australia—namely, a multicultural, vibrant and tolerant society that we have created together.

Mr JOHN ROBERTSON ( Blacktown ) ( 12:20 ): A significant number of my constituents are descendants of migrants or are migrants from the great nation of India. India is a great example of a multi-faith nation—whether Sikh, Hindu, Catholic or any other religion. Indian Independence Day gives us an opportunity not only to talk about that but also to acknowledge the great contribution that people from India make to the Australian economy. Last Monday week I was privileged to attend the Indian Consulate General to celebrate Indian Independence Day. A number of those opposite were also in attendance. One of the greatest highlights of my life was when I stood on the stage as Narendra Modi addressed people from the great nation of India. In fact, when he arrived it was like standing on stage at a rock concert. I will share a personal story with the House. As I stood on that stage at Homebush, my daughter and my son-in-law were watching the address on their television in India. My son-in-law was very excited and told his family, "That's my father-in-law on the stage with Modi." His family comes from Gujarat, which is where Modi comes from, and they were also very proud.

We are very fortunate to have so many people from that great nation in Australia because they bring with them entrepreneurship, drive and commitment to the place in which they live. Those who have chosen to live here demonstrate that commitment and loyalty to our nation. Many operate businesses in my electorate and I am privileged to represent them in this place. These people not only contribute to the economy but also are charitable. They participate in community activities and give more than just employment opportunities. Our communities also benefit from their cultural contributions. We are fortunate that they are here and I am proud to contribute to this debate on Indian Independence Day. Gandhi demonstrated that much can be achieved in a peaceful manner. The Indian story is a demonstration of the fact that independence does not always have to involve physical conflict; it can be achieved significantly differently from how most people would expect a nation to gain independence. The Indian people are very proud of that. I congratulate the member for Parramatta on his motion.

The ASSISTANT SPEAKER: Before calling the member for Parramatta, may I say to all participants in this debate, "Sat sri akal ji".

Dr GEOFF LEE ( Parramatta ) ( 12:25 ): In reply: I thank members representing the electorates of Riverstone, Granville, Hornsby and Blacktown for their contributions to this debate. They have clearly demonstrated bipartisan support for the Indian Australian community in New South Wales. The member for Riverstone has the Gurudwara Bangla Sahib in his electorate and he reflected on how the Indian Australians in his community make great Australians and significant contributions to the Australian way of life. The member for Granville, who is a good friend of the Indian Australian community, reflected on the Bochasanwasi Shri Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha—or BAPS—community, which we debated last night as a matter of public importance. I also thank her for her support in furthering business relationships with our sister state, Gujarat.

It is wonderful to see that 70 years of independence has truly catapulted the largest democracy in the world into a leading nation. No member in this House has a closer personal contact with Gujurat than the member for Blacktown—his son-in-law is Gujurati. The member is very proud. He often talks about his daughter and his son-in-law and his wonderful relationship with his new family. We wish them well and we are looking forward to seeing some photographs.

Mr John Robertson: Perhaps I can table them?

Dr GEOFF LEE: We will not be tabling any photographs from the member for Blacktown's phone. The member for Hornsby, who is another great supporter of the Indian Australian community, spoke about his good friends Dr Yahdu Singh and John Kennedy from the United Indian Associations. President Praful Desai and Vice President Mohit Kumar from the Council of Indian Australians are also good friends. The member for Hornsby spoke about our countries being on the verge of a free trade agreement and said that he is looking forward to enjoying more exciting relationships in the future. The signing of that free trade agreement will be a defining moment, particularly for those of the member's generation. On behalf of the New South Wales Government— including the member for Drummoyne who clearly wanted to speak to the motion but did not get the opportunity to do so—and other members of this House I commend the wonderful contribution that the Indian community makes to Australia.

Motion agreed to.


To see the Hansard Transcript, click here.