Talking about war, returning soldiers and the veteran experience: A Morning Conversation with David Elliott, Minister for Veteran Affairs

On Tuesday 7 November, Affinity Intercultural Foundation continued their popular Morning Conversation lecture series, with a conversation between David Elliott MP, Minister for Counter Terrorism, Emergency Services and Veteran Affairs and Catalina Florez, Senior Journalist from Channel Ten.

The morning kicked off with a special ney performance from Furkan Cicek before David and Catalina delved into the topic of Veteran Affairs. The Minister shared how growing up in a working-class family in Bankstown helped shaped his career – from a young age, he was fascinated by war museums and memorials, which led him to begin a career in the army.

“I thought my mum was an enlightened woman – she is an enlightened woman – for taking me to all these museums and art galleries, but it turns out she took me because they were free to visit!” Minister Elliott laughed.

The Minister described this firsthand experience serving in the Australian army as the “perfect apprenticeship” for his current role as the Minister for Veteran Affairs.

He believes this experience allows him to understand the needs and support structures that are necessary for modern Australian soldiers.

“For soldiers, moral depends on how much support they receive from home.” he said.

In regards to supporting veterans and returning soldiers, the Minister highlighted the government’s employment programs, which have helped returning soldiers transition back into civilian life.

‘The government has implemented veteran employment programs that have placed returning soldiers back into employment,” he said.

“The vast majority of soldiers return to a military post, and there have been occasions when post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) does occur…but it’s hard to tell the exact rate at which soldiers experience PTSD, as it may take years for soldiers to share their experience.”

The Minister also highlighted the importance of diversity within the armed services, stating that, “the modern army of today is becoming reflective of Australian society…when you join the military, all your differences are broken down; existing prejudices gradually break away.”

He further added that, “the ANZAC spirit of courage, conviction, discipline, education and tolerance is important in the modern Australian army.”

The Minister concluded his insightful talk by sharing fond memories of his most recent trip to commemorate the Centenary of the Battle of Beersheba in Israel.

We are on but we are many: Michael Carr gives an insight into the diversity of the NSW independent schools sector

On Wednesday 25 October, Affinity Intercultural Foundation hosted a Lunchtime Lecture with Michael Carr, the Acting Executive Officer of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW (AISNSW). The program was facilitated by Professor Mark Hutchinson, Dean of Education, Arts and Social Sciences at Alphacrucis College.

The event attracted a turnout of more than 40 guests, who attended his presentation titled, We are one but we are many: independent schools making a difference.

The AISNSW is the peak body for independent schools in NSW and represents the interests of all independent schools in consultation with governments, statutory authorities and a wide range of other education stakeholders.

The non-profit body focuses on offering quality support to its member schools in areas of governance, employment relations, compliance as well as professional development and educational consultancy services.

Michael used his presentation as an opportunity to demystify many of the myths surrounding the New South Wales independent schools sector. He also profiled the sector as a whole and provided insights into ‘typical’ independent schools.

He shared that presently, the AISNSW has 421 member schools, with 31% of those being non-faith based while 69% are faith based. There are 41 special schools that cater to students with specific needs, as well as 53 boarding schools. Forty six per cent of these schools enrol fewer than 200 students and 65% have a socio-economic statue of less than 104.

Michael also examined the sector’s demography in terms of its relationship with Indigenous students, students with disabilities, multicultural based schools and the contribution independent schools make to Australian society.

He also shared the statistic that independent schools in NSW enrolled 8,774 students with a disability and 3,759 Indigenous students.

Michael shared that an increasing number of students are choosing to send their children to non-government, independent NSW schools due to a number of reasons, including the primary fact that an independent school education provides a greater focus on well-rounded education as well as high academic standards.

Michael concluded his talk by commenting on the education standards of independent schools in NSW.

Overall, NSW independent schools have a diverse range of students who generally perform well regardless of cultural background. In particular, students from migrant backgrounds perform at least as well or better, than students who were born in Australia.

What is the price of safety: NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn delivers a Lunchtime Lecture at Affinity Intercultural Foundation

On Wednesday 4 October, Affinity hosted a Lunchtime Lecture with NSW Police Deputy Commissioner Catherine Burn. The program was facilitated by Judith Whelan, Head of ABC Spoken Content.

The title of the Deputy Commissioner’s work was What is the price of safety? The role of policing in our new security environment. In her talk, Deputy Commissioner Burn discussed the wider impacts of Australia’s current security environment and its implications for public safety.

Deputy Commissioner Burn outlined the threats that exist, as well as the changes to policing as an outcome of increased threat.

“The area that most changes in security measure will occur, is in the realm of cyber security,” she said.

“There will be new legislation in place for internet and data related cyber-crime…we need to be able to have powers to disrupt, interrupt, contain and control, as well as be adaptable.

“If I could have anything more, it would be to have greater information systems and sharing information.” she said.

The Deputy Commissioner also provided statistical evidence around terrorism and fear, and questioned whether there will be a time when we will view the threat differently.

“In the last 15 years, only 0.05% of deaths from terror attacks have occurred in western countries,” said Deputy Commissioner Burn.

“The majority of deaths from terrorism don’t occur in western countries. This is perhaps not what we feel when we see the paper or watch the news. It is not what we are made to feel.

“Islamic fundamentalism is not the primary driver of terror attacks – right-wing and other forms of radicalism are.”

She concluded on an optimistic note, stating that things are actually not as bad as we tend to think.

The event saw an impressive turnout of 50 guests. Special guests in attendance included members of the judiciary, Consul-Generals, as well as journalists and CEOs from various religious, community and media organisations.

Multicultural Australia: Strong, United, Successful

On Thursday 28 September 2017, Affinity hosted a Lunchtime Lecture with the Hon. Zed Seselja, Liberal Senator for the ACT and Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs. The program was facilitated by SBS World News presenter and journalist, Ricardo Goncalves.

The title of the Senator’s was Multicultural Australia: United, Strong, Successful, which is also the name of the multicultural statement that the Australian government released in March 2017. This statement served to renew the government’s commitment to a strong and prosperous multicultural Australia, as well as marking Australia as the most successful multicultural society in the world.

Using this document, Senator Seselja discussed how cultural diversity is one our strongest assets, and why we shouldn’t take our harmony and prosperity for granted. He also presented the Government’s vision and priorities going forward for Australia as a strong and successful multicultural nation.

Senator Seselja used statistics from the 2016 Census data to provide an insight into the complex story of Australian faith. “Although we all saw the headlines of 30 per cent of Australians identifying as not having a religion, the vast majority – 60 per cent – more than 14.1 million people – do identify with a religion.” he said.

“Australians come from about 300 different backgrounds and we speak more than 300 different languages, including Indigenous languages. We are becoming increasingly diverse – a fact that underscores the importance of the Government’s work in the multicultural affairs portfolio, and the work that organisations such as Affinity do to promote intercultural connection and understanding.

“While we are a nation of diverse cultures, we are united by common values. As an Australian of faith, I value the protection of freedom of speech, freedom of enterprise and freedom of religion and the importance of mutually respectful dialogue and understanding. Today, we bridge our diverse backgrounds, increasing opportunities for open and honest dialogue.”

Senator Seselja stated that Australia is one of the most multicultural societies in the world, due to our “fundamental values of mutual respect and mutual responsibility; our approach to a multicultural society is to maintain a safe and prosperous nation based on respect for Australian law and our shared values of respect, equality and freedom.”

The Assistant Minister ended his talk with an optimistic statement: “We are not a perfect country, but with consistent and deliberate effort from governments and local communities, we have built a diverse and inclusive, prosperous and free multicultural Australia. And that’s something we can all be proud of.”

The event saw an excellent turnout of 50 guests. Special guests in attendance included members of the judiciary, Consul-Generals, as well as journalists and CEOs from various religious, community and media organisations.

Photos and video recordings from Senator Seselja’s talk can be found below.

Twin talks: A Recap of Professor Scott Alexander’s 2017 Sydney tour

Professor Scott Alexander, from the Chicago Catholic Theological Union delivered two talks during the Sydney leg of his Australia and New Zealand tour in August with a presentation titled, Reforming Reform: Hizmet and the survival of ‘Civil Islam’ in contemporary Turkey and another one titled Difference in Dialogue: Promise or Peril?

The first event was held on Monday 7 August at Western Sydney University’s new Peter Shergold Building in collaboration between Affinity Intercultural Foundation and Western Sydney University’s School of Social Sciences and Psychology.

The talk included a response from Professor Kevin Dunn, Dean of the School of Social Science and Psychology and Professor in Human Geography and Urban Studies from Western Sydney University (WSU). The conversation was moderated by Associate Professor Cristina Rocha, WSU’s Director of Religion and Society Research Cluster.

Special guests in attendance included Deniz Erdogan, Executive Principal of Amity College, Laura Beylerian, Multicultural Community Liaison Officer from the Department of Social Services as well as Commander Jodi Radmore from the NSW Police Force.

Professor Alexander began his talk by giving a background of Islamic renewal and reform, before highlighting its contemporary iterations, which include Neo-Modernist, Neo-Traditionalist, Puritan and Shiite thought.

He discussed Secular Nationalism and the seeds of “civil Islam” (a term coined by Professor Ihsan Yilmaz) in the Nurcu and Hizmet Movements and proceeded to highlight the principal teachings of Fethullah Gulen, which are inspired by Said Nursi and the Nurcu Movement.

For Professor Alexander, the survival and future of “civil Islam” in Turkey and other Muslim majority societies will depend on a “re-evaluation of the role of the state in post-colonial social renewal and reform, as well as the depth of popular commitment to an intersectional approach to building strong civil societies.”

Professor Alexander’s second presentation was on Tuesday 8 August with a Lunchtime Lecture at Affinity Intercultural Foundation’s offices in Sydney on the topic of Difference in Dialogue: Promise or Peril?
The talk included a response from Professor Neil Ormerod, Professor of Theology at the Australian Catholic University. The conversation was moderated by retired ABC radio journalist, John Cleary.

Special guests in attendance included Leo Oaeke, Papua New Guinea Consul, Karl Hartleb, Austrian Consul-General and Anthony Long, Chief Inspector Commander of the Engagement and Intervention Unit, Anti-Terrorism and Security Group and Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Command from the NSW Police Force.

Professor Alexander prefaced his talk with a positive affirmation. “Coming together for the fellowship of ideas is a sacred act…intercultural dialogue is like stepping into someone’s garden. You don’t know where the seeds are planted” he said.

In his talk, Professor Alexander interrogated what he refers to as the ‘sameness platitude’ and questioned what inter-religious forms of dialogue would be like if they were founded on the alternative premise that we are often more different than we are alike.

He quoted verse 13 from the Surat al-Hujurat from the Quran to highlight that “human difference is not an accident of history, but instead an outcome of divine providence and design.”

According to Professor Alexander, our difference should be viewed as, “an opportunity for growth…in knowledge and awareness of one another, self, and ultimately God through the process of relational encounter in difference.”

He questioned why in the present day, society is still afraid of difference. He offered that one reason is because we have “become so attached to the necessary but limited sense of security we get from homogeneity and the familiar, that we erect it as a false idol and lose the capacity to see the inherent beauty and transformative power of the heterogeneous and the strange.”

He proposed that dialogue and education be viewed as “sources of hope” to counteract hostile views of difference. Professor Alexander concluded his talk with a hopeful message about looking inwards and self-reflecting to realise our potential and begin to take positive action in our daily lives.

“Oftentimes we find ourselves spending a great deal of time waiting for governments and the powerful to act in the face of injustice…if we can turn our foci from waiting to doing, from the expectation that it is for others who are more powerful to act, we will never open ourselves to the miraculous ways in which God can act in and through us.” he said.

Overall, it was a wonderful event as many in the audience remarked on the well-delivered and thought-provoking presentation and discussion.

You can view the recordings and photos from the event below.