Martin Place Siege

Click here to watch Sharon’s speech

Ms BIRD: (Cunningham) (19:07): I would like to take the opportunity to also make a contribution in this place in support of the statements made to the parliament by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in recognition of what were terrible and tragic events that unfolded in Martin Place in Sydney on Monday, 15 December. Seventeen people started their days with the simple rituals that so many of us are familiar with—that is, buying a cuppa, having a quick catch up with friends or colleagues, grabbing a quick takeaway perhaps to take to work with them—and these 17 were then caught up in just over 16 hours, as the Leader of the Opposition said, of an 'unimaginable nightmare of one man's making'.

Like so many other Australians, as the member who spoke before me, the member for Swan, just outlined, I watched the events unfold with great concern for those who were caught in the cafe, and for their terribly anxious families and friends who waited and hoped for their safe release. We watched the police, the AFP and emergency service personnel as they worked professionally to achieve that result. And we grieved for the loss of two Australians who had a lifetime ahead of them; we grieved for their families and friends who had simply wanted them home.

We share the loss of Katrina Dawson, who was loved by a husband and three children, her wider family and very many friends. She was a person who was respected and, as the Leader of the Opposition acknowledged, a brilliant barrister. We mourn with the partner and family of Tori Johnson, who was the cafe's manager. A beautiful story emerged the next day of his kind and loving gesture to a Wollongong family, as reported in Fairfax Media newspapers by journalist Lisa Visentin, including in the Illawarra Mercury. I will just quote part of that story to the House. It said:

When Tori Johnson heard that six-year-old Henry Hinchcliff had never eaten a Easter egg, he was determined to fix the situation.

The Lindt cafe manager invited Henry and his family to visit him in Martin Place and collect a bag of Easter goodies he'd had specially made for them.

And so one day in April, Mercedez Hinchcliff and her children, Henry and Kate, set off from their home in Wollongong for the ultimate chocolate experience.

"It's definitely something that stuck out in his mind as being one of his best days," Mrs Hinchcliff said of her six-year-old son, who has a rare disease that limits his diet to fewer than 50 foods.

"It taught him that people go out of their way for people."

It was the only time Mrs Hinchcliff met Mr Johnson, 34, who was killed in the siege on his cafe, but the kindness he showed her family on that day has stuck with her.

The article tells us of a thoughtful and caring person lost to his partner, Thomas, his parents and his family.

The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition and all members contributing in this debate pay our deepest respect to the families of Katrina and Tori and affirm our promise to hold them in our national heart. We extend that deep care and concern to all of the other hostages who survived the events but who still live with its effects, as do those who love them, and to the all the police and emergency personnel affected by that day and night. The legacy of this loss and suffering should be the renewed strength of our care and concern for all in our community and a reaffirmation that our national character is one that does not give into hate, to fear or to prejudice.

On 25 November last year I reported to this parliament about the formation of a wonderful group in my local area called Illawarra People for Peace. This is an association that was created to establish a commitment to peace and harmony throughout the Illawarra. It is comprised of members from the Lumen Christi Catholic Parishes in Wollongong, the Bilal Mosque in Cringila, the Omar Mosque in Gwynneville and the Church on the Mall in Wollongong; representatives from other faiths; and people who are community leaders, like myself and the member for Throsby. The group came together to form an organisation to promote peace between people of faith and people of no faith. It promotes coming together in harmonious ways in our communities.

On that occasion I reported to the House that we had gathered together for a large community barbecue. There were jumping castles, face painting and families just sharing a meal together and having a lovely time. On that occasion we heard from Father Aloysius Mowe from the Jesuit Refugee Service, who is a priest with a Malaysian background who has worked with both Christian and Muslim communities. He recited a very moving story of his own father's funeral in Malaysia. I said to the House at the time:

It was a wonderful event that I have to commend the organisers for. I look forward to many harmonious events in Wollongong in the future.

Only too soon, on 19 December, we saw the need to gather the group together again with our community to hold a peace service for those affected by the Martin Place siege. Local leaders, including our lord mayor and councillors, met in Market Square with families, children, students and individuals as well as a very strong presence of local police officers to demonstrate our determination to remain a united and peaceful community and nation. Gary Ismail and Father Ron Peters welcomed everyone and opened with a prayer, we heard a recitation with translation from the Koran and reading from Matthew's Gospels, the Beatitudes, and joined in silent reflection and prayer for peace.

I would also like to acknowledge the wonderful spontaneous participation of so many locals and so many Australians in the #illridewithyou hashtag action to express our rejection of any expression of hatred and division through social media. In my area this also developed into a very Illawarra event, as reported by Joshua Butler in the Illawarra Mercury on 17 December. He wrote:

The "I'll Ride With You" movement took over social media this week, a show of solidarity for Muslims who feared retribution in the wake of the Sydney siege.

A team of water safety educators hopes its "I'll Surf With You" tagline picks up as much steam.

A group of 11 Muslim women took to Sandon Point Beach on Wednesday for a safety program run by Surf Educators International and Welcome To Australia.

Afghan, Iraqi and Indonesian women learnt about rips and safe swimming, but Kathleen Bleakley of Illawarra Multicultural Services said the program had taken on new meaning after recent events.

"At a time like this, it's important to choose unity over division," she said. "It's about fun, but also helping people appreciate beach culture. It is such an important part of Australia, and it's good to welcome these women and have them be part of that."

Clara Saddi, of Welcome to Australia, said the program was trying to push the "I'll Surf With You" line as a way of encouraging Australians to interact and embrace those with foreign backgrounds.

"It's so easy to ask someone to the beach, and so rewarding to share that with someone," she said.

Husna Alatat arrived in Australia from Indonesia two years ago. She had swimming experience from home, but said Wednesday's program gave her a new appreciation of Australia's beach culture.

"I used to swim, but I got some information about things like swimming in the flags," she said.

"It has given me more confidence and knowledge."

Sadly, only today Illawarra journalist Agron Latifi has reported that the ugly face of racism reared its head again with an event that left local lady Nina Trad Azam 'shaken but far from beaten'. His story tells of an occasion last month when an elderly woman made racist comments and threw religious abuse at Mrs Azam as the pair waited in line to at Officeworks in Fairy Meadow. Mrs Azam also tells of the abuse she suffered 13 years ago by three young men in a car that caused her to stop wearing the hijab and that she had only recently found the courage to start wearing it again.

I would like to read directly from the conclusion to Mr Latin's article:

A medical practice manager and palliative care social worker, Mrs Azam only recently found the courage to wear the hijab again.

The 44-year-old said her desire for world peace is far greater than her desire to look attractive as a woman. She wants a stronger spiritual connection and is adamant that nothing will deter her from wearing the hijab - not even the "hate crime" on January 20.

"She [her abuser] was persistent in her determination to disempower, provoke and demonise me and my faith purely because I was wearing a hijab," Mrs Azam said.

"She said Muslims were all evil people who caused trouble all over the world.

"I tried to reassure her that she should not believe everything she hears in the media but she wouldn't let up," Mrs Azam said.

"Even when I tried to tell her about my experience of victimisation when I was seven months pregnant, she kept going, saying that Muhammad had 66 wives.

"Having devoted most of my life to voluntarily caring for the elderly, I was in fact shocked and genuinely hurt that she could be so hateful, bigoted and offensive without personally knowing me."

But it was only after Mrs Azam nearly drowned while kayaking that she decided to report the incident to police.

"I felt helpless, I felt stupid, I felt vulnerable and scared that I would drown but at the same time I was bargaining with God that if he helps me get back to my family I won't be the coward I was 13 years ago and I'll stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves," she said.

I will meet Mrs Azam next week, and she has reported the incident to the police, who are investigating. As so many others have stated in this place, in our communities and in our media; the tragedy and loss of Martin Place will not be replaced by fear and division in any of our communities.