Australia, the lucky country. Regardless of what the author Donald Horne might have intended, I think most people would agree: We are indeed fortunate to live in a very special corner of the world. What makes us the envy of other countries? There are many reasons.
Now ... is the time for Victorians of all faiths to stand together, and focus on the common bonds and values which unite us, not the points of difference on which ignorance can prosper and fuel division.
But one which resonates strongly with me is our history of multiculturalism. This isn't mere lip service: We can all feel proud of a tradition that has embraced new arrivals from all parts of the globe and celebrated the cultural diversity this has brought us.
Sadly, this proud tradition appears under threat, our reputation for warmth and generosity is increasingly at risk from a new wave of intolerance that appears to be gaining traction in some parts of the country.
On Saturday, activists will stage a number of rallies against Islam at mosques around the country, mirroring similar activities in Britain, the US and Canada.
The vast majority of Victorians will be dismayed by this activity, which will require many police officers to be located across the state to keep the peace. I would rather their presence was not required.
At Victoria Police we have a fundamental responsibility to uphold the rights of citizens, including the right to free speech and the right to protest peacefully. But we also place enormous importance on the rights of people to practise their religion free from intimidation and persecution.
The shooting in Parramatta on Friday last week horrified us all. I understand that tragedies such as this – and more broadly the elevated profile of terrorism over the past year – will have made many Victorians feel uneasy. The attack in Parramatta is a reminder to us all of the need to be vigilant and report suspicious activity.
But none of this should be used as an excuse for intolerance. Now, more than ever, is the time for Victorians of all faiths to stand together, and focus on the common bonds and values which unite us, not the points of difference on which ignorance can prosper and fuel division.
Throughout our history, tolerance and acceptance have been the cornerstones on which our multicultural society has been built and we need to protect them.
There is no place for religious vilification in Victoria, yet increasingly police members hear of sections of our community who are feeling isolated and targeted.
Gosford Anglican Church, Saturday 10 October 2015
Which brings me to this Saturday, and the small bands of militant protesters who are making their plans to rally. They must not overstep the mark. If protesters use violence they can expect to face the consequences.
(And in a similar vein, we have seen "counter protests" in recent months by groups opposing racism. Much of their behaviour has been equally deplorable, and they too must act within the law.)
Everyone has the right to protest. But protests should always be peaceful and in a manner which is constructive, not destructive to our community harmony which thrives on inclusivity and shuns discrimination in all its forms.
We all want to live in a cohesive and harmonious Victoria, a place we can be proud of where people feel safe and included. That is the ideal Victoria Police aspires to, and we stand together with all communities in our shared journey towards achieving this.
- Graham Ashton is Chief Commissioner of Victoria Police.
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