Prime Minister Scott Morrison unveiled the Mahatma Gandhi statue at the Australian Indian Community Centre in Rowville, Victoria on November 12. Here is the transcript of his speech at the event.
PRIME MINISTER: Namaste. Happy Diwali, everyone. Can I acknowledge the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation, their Elders past, present and future. Can I also acknowledge any servicemen and women, veterans who are here with us today, including those who’ve, who fought alongside our Australian Forces in so many times in so many places around the world.
Can I acknowledge Alan Tudge for the tremendous work you do here in your community. I work closely with Alan as, of course, he’s a key member of my Cabinet team, and we’ve worked together in many different roles over the years. But I know one of the roles he cherishes more than any other is his local community, and particularly his wonderful association with the Australian Indian community. We’ve been at many such events over the years, over quite a number of years, and we’ve always enjoyed them, as much as I know, I know you do.
And to Jason Wood, who’s here. Jason is Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, but also in your own community in La Trobe, working across so many different multicultural communities. But I know you have a very, very big soft spot for the Australian Indian community.
To Matthew Guy, as patron, as well, along so many different areas of the multicultural communities of Victoria. And I know that’s something that you hold very dear as a Member of Parliament, as the Leader of the Opposition, and you’ve demonstrated that over a lifetime of parliamentary service, and I’m really pleased you are here with us today, Matthew, to share in this.
And Consul General, can I thank you very much. Can I particularly thank you very much for the very kind and generous donation of the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Thank you very much, thank you. It is the second occasion where I’ve had the great honour to be able to unveil a statue of Mahatma Gandhi. Here, of course, today in Victoria, and some years ago when the President of India was in Australia and I had the great honour to join him in unveiling the statue in Parramatta. In so many ways, like the very community we’re joining here with, Vasan who’s been a great leader of the Indian community here in Victoria for a very long time.
Can I congratulate the Australian Indian Community Charitable Trust, and Vasan especially, on this wonderful community asset. You know, Australians have a way of appropriating everybody’s parties. Now, you really know that a community is just at one with Australia when we start to celebrate the same cultural festivals with even more gusto and vigour than some, some of the others. We’ve seen it, of course, with Chinese New Year, Lunar New Year. So, that’s a great opportunity for a party, Australians join in with that one. And I’m really thrilled that that’s happening with Diwali now. I mean, it’s been happening for many, many years. But I think this is as particularly as the the size and and awareness, in a really positive way, of the Australian Indian community has grown. And so many things that go to Indian culture are appreciated here in Australia. And I must admit, I am a hopeless fan. I am absolutely hopeless fan.
Jenny was hoping to be with me here today, obviously to attend Bert’s funeral, but also to be here today, and she wanted me to send her best wishes. She very much, well she would have enjoyed that Bollywood dancing. I would not have been able to stop her from getting from there and joining in. I’ve seen her do Bollywood dancing. It’s pretty good, I can tell you, it’s pretty good. And she loves to dress in a sari, and any time she has those opportunities, she loves it. And I think that says just a lot.
There is just an easiness, a natural connection between Indian culture and this wonderful land. And it just sits very comfortably and it comes so naturally. And that’s why community centres such as this are so important. But, also, between Australia and India, we do, we do share very important beliefs and values in democracy and liberal democracy, in believing in the individual, their enterprise and their freedom, in particular. And to unveil a statue in honour of Mahatma Gandhi, this is a very important opportunity for us to reflect on that particular element of the relationship.
You know, he sought peace over violence, an idea that transnationality, race, creed, culture and time itself. And when he passed, the Anglican congregation at St Paul’s Cathedral here in Melbourne, offered this prayer: ‘And they said hear, he said hear the cry of India, bereft of that leader whose frail person so often stood in the gap, whose life was devoted even unto death, to his country’s cause.’
An Australian Anglican congregation all those years ago, attesting to the great significance of the life of Mahatma Gandhi, not just in India, but to the world itself, as the Consul General remarked earlier.
Next year marks the 75th anniversary of Independence. I plan to celebrate. I’m sure you do. It’s going to go off in here. I have no doubt there will be great celebrations here, and up in Harris Park in Sydney and over there in, in the Western Australia, where I had a wonderful visit earlier in the year to be with the Indian community there.
I caught up with my very good friend Narendra Modi, just a couple of weeks ago, and he, he is also a great leader, internationally. A strong leader who believes passionately in the principles of democracy and the future of his country. And together in Washington we were, we were together in the G20, together at COP26, and next week we will be virtually sharing a platform at the inaugural Sydney Dialogue with ASPI, talking about cyber and technology.
We first met here in Melbourne many years ago at the MCG when he came to Australia and I was fortunate enough, I was the Minister for Immigration at the time and I was seated next to him, and we had a long conversation that night. I wasn’t expecting because, you know, he’s a rock star and I thought he would be absolutely overwhelmed by everybody in the room, but thankful to security that night, he and I had quite a nice and friendly chat, and we’ve remained friends ever since. And, so, I’m hoping that we will see him here next year. And we’ve spoken about it many times, but I owe him a visit there, which we’ve had to postpone because of COVID and the bushfires here in Australia. And I’m very much looking forward to going there. And, in fact, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, I asked to be my Special Envoy and to go and see him in India recently, in New Delhi. And, of course, the Trade Minister Dan Tehan has also been there. So, we continue to, we continue to mark those relationships.
During the pandemic, too, can I thank you all very much for the tremendous job, Vasan, and Consul General, that the Indian community have done. Community centres here keep the bonds of community. It’s just a building. Of course, it’s just a building. But it’s what happens in the building, what the building enables, in terms of being able to bring people together and to keep up the bonds of community. And the bonds of community, of course, have come under great pressure and great stress during the course of this pandemic, and particularly, as Matt knows, here in Melbourne, particularly here in Victoria, where Victorians and Melbournians have have had the worst of it. And when it comes to having to, you know, struggle through and push through in COVID. And in the Indian community in particular, so many small and medium-sized businesses in this community.
It’s one of the things, I think, that, that the Indian community is so renowned for, your entrepreneurial can-do spirit, getting on and doing things, even amongst great adversity. Your commitment to family and raising up the next generation and wanting the best for them. These are wonderful values and you’ve lived those values throughout the pandemic. You’ve lived the values of community during the pandemic. You’ve reached out to each other, you’ve supported each other and you’ve kept those community bonds strong.
And I really want to thank you Vasan and Consul General for the way that has been achieved, not just here in Melbourne, but I’ve seen it right across the country, and Jason would have seen that as well in his role. So, I want to thank you very, very, very much.
You know, we’re looking forward to Indian students coming back to Australia, Alan. Not too long now, not too long now. We’ve recognised, of course, the many Indian manufactured vaccines and, through the Therapeutic Goods Administration, and that will be facilitating the return of, of Indian students and Indian travellers to Australia, I think soon, and already, as you know, we expanded the definition of immediate family, which I know was very important to the Indian community, who had been separated from their parents for some period of time. And I’m so pleased that we made that change, and I suspect many were able to be here and be together for family as, while Diwali was on, as well. And I couldn’t be more pleased about that.
Now, finally, can I talk about Dr Dinesh Parekh. The Dr Parekh Museum India is a wonderful gift and I want to pay tribute to him. Around us we see his passion for sharing Indian culture and history. His collection, which is around and about us, is nothing short of extraordinary. They are a portal to the past, a rare and precious picture of the millennia long history of India. In one of those fascinating coincidences, Australia’s second Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, a great Victorian, travelled to India as a young man and he wrote a book about it, and he described India as truly a land of wonders. And in that same year he was, book was published, which was 1893, an Indian man named Hajee Mohamed travelled to Melbourne, and he too wrote a book about his travels, and he compared Melbourne to the glittering cities of Europe. ‘On Saturday night,’ he wrote, ‘Melbourne was brilliant with illuminations and crowds of pleasure seekers. I wandered about in amazement and wonder till a late hour.’
Well, that is going on again here in Melbourne, thankfully. Two men are brought in each other’s countries, each struck with wonder by each of them, and we can all learn so much about the world we share when we see it through others eyes. And that’s exactly what this centre here is about. It provides an opportunity, of course, for community connections, but it also creates an opportunity for outreach, for inclusion, for coming together.
Australia is the most successful multicultural immigration nation on the planet. Alan and I have both served as Ministers for Immigration and there’s, and and Woody has, in many different roles and particularly this current one, and it’s, that is a proud boast of Australians. And I don’t say arguably because it’s not arguable, it’s absolute. It’s a fact. And one of the reasons for that is because we’re a tolerant country. We’re a country that likes to learn from each other, and we’re a country that likes to understand each other better, and centres like this and the, the outreach that will come from here, I think, will only further contribute to those great bonds.
It’s one of the things I’m most proud of when I travel overseas, and people do know this about Australia. They say to me, ‘How do you, how do you guys get this so right?’ And, you know, no one does it better than Victoria. Victoria, of all the communities, has always had a keen understanding of this, right across so many nationalities and language groups. And it’s something I think the rest of the country continues to learn from and seeks to emulate.
So, thank you again for inviting me to unveil your new statue of India’s spiritual leader and father of Independence. The only, there’s only two people missing from today’s event. One is Jenny and the other one is Narendra. And perhaps we’ll be able to remedy that next year sometime.
Gandhi’s life is his message, a message that endures. It’s not a whisper from the past, but a teaching embedded in the hearts of millions around the world and reflected in every respect of this building, every aspect. So, congratulations, and I win, I wish, I should say, this centre a long and illustrious life, but more importantly, I wish the vibrancy of this community every success. Namaste.