The importance of championing diversity and inclusion were key themes at Australian Catholic University’s (ACU’s) fifth Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast at Parliament House in Melbourne on 26 November.
Over 150 guests attended, including more than 45 faith leaders and 40 parliamentarians.
Former NSW Premier and ACU Chancellor the Hon John Fahey AC, GCSG welcomed guests, while Victorian Deputy Premier the Hon James Merlino MP and Leader of the Opposition the Hon Michael O’Brien MP gave speeches that noted strength as a community rests in shared values of diversity and inclusion.
The leaders of five different faiths delivered readings on the importance of religious freedom, leadership, service and community harmony, and prayed for wise deliberations and good governance.
Deputy Premier Merlino said, “One of Victoria’s greatest strengths is its history of multiculturalism and religious diversity. We are uniquely home to a culture that aims to ensure people of all backgrounds and beliefs can freely and proudly practice their faith. That is why a breakfast like this is so important. We know that our state is infinitely stronger because we refuse to let those differences divide us—we use those differences to unite all of us.”
Opposition Leader O’Brien said a harmonious, well-functioning multicultural society requires a genuine appreciation of our differences. “Our different birthplaces, our different languages and ancestries, our life journeys and experiences as well as our different beliefs. Together it is our responsibility to foster this interfaith understanding and to protect religious freedoms as an essential element of ensuring community harmony,” he said.
Australian Race Discrimination Commissioner Mr Chin Tan said events like the Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast play an important role in shaping the framework of rights protection in Australia. “Interfaith dialogue is a powerful tool for overcoming bias through open communication, empathy and education. Ongoing conversations between different faith groups highlight our similarities and build respectful understanding of our differences. These differences are the colourful threads in the tapestry of modern multicultural Australia. Sharing in the diversity of Australia’s faith groups is an opportunity to better understand not only our community but the wider world in which we live,” said Mr Tan.
Archbishop of Melbourne Peter A Comensoli, who was also a guest at the event this morning said, “This is a simple and joyful celebration of our freedom in Australia to practise our religion. It is inspiring to see members of Parliament sharing a coffee with religious leaders and listening to them with respect. We need more moments like this in contemporary Australia. We can all be thankful to Australian Catholic University for taking the lead in bringing different faiths together to pray and to talk with one another.”
ACU’s parliamentary interfaith breakfasts have become a popular event on the calendars of both parliamentarians and the leaders of faith communities. This year, parliamentarians had the opportunity to meet with leaders from more than 17 faiths—including various Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and other communities—with the intention of celebrating shared values.
ACU Vice-Chancellor Professor Greg Craven AO, GCSG said Australians were fortunate to live in a country that valued human rights and the ability to observe our own faiths.
“These should not be privileges; they should be fundamental to our existence as individuals, and collectively as a community,” Professor Craven said. “Religion should always be a legitimate voice as a source of values within public life and within public affairs. People of faith should be able to express their religious freedom, to explore our differences, and to rejoice in our shared beliefs. And as leaders—whether in law, government, faith, industry, education or society—it is our responsibility to champion, uphold and protect these important freedoms, so we can continue to express our faith, and live in harmony and mutual respect.”
ACU held its inaugural Parliamentary Interfaith Breakfast in Sydney in March 2014. Subsequent breakfasts were held in Canberra in 2015 and 2017, and in Sydney in 2018.