LEBANON INDEPENDENCE FESTIVAL
Mr THOMPSON (Rockdale) [5.33]: Last Sunday, 24 November, I attended the Lebanon Independence Festival held at Wylie Park. More than 10,000 people attended a celebration of Lebanese culture in Australia. The festival was organised by the Lebanese Community Council of New South Wales, the President of which is Mr Hussein Hawshar and the Secretary is Mr Hussein Hage. Both gentlemen and their organisation are highly respected, not only by Lebanese people but also by those in the broader community. In November 1941 Christian and Muslim leaders declared independence and, in 1943, reached an understanding that distribution of institutional power in the new State should reflect its religious composition. In 1943 senior members of the then Lebanese Government were imprisoned by colonial authorities for proposing to amend the Constitution by deleting reference to the French mandate and to modify the articles dealing with the power of the French High Commissioner.
Independence Day is celebrated on the anniversary of their release, which occurred on 22 November 1943. The Lebanese actually gained their independence, in the official sense, on 1 January 1944. The Independence Day celebrations help to focus attention on the Australia-Lebanese community in the first instance, and on the major issues of immigration and multiculturalism in the broad sense. Lebanese migration to Australia dates back to the 1880s, and can be divided into three distinct waves. The first wave, from 1880 to 1947, involved small scale, individual and chain migration. The second wave, from 1947 to 1975, involved mostly Lebanese Christians. The third wave, from 1975 to date, involved mainly Lebanese Muslims who arrived from Lebanon as quasi refugees following the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon. The first wave of migrants were classified as Syrians, and then recognised as Lebanese after 1920 when Lebanon came under the French mandate.
In 1911 Australia had 1,527 Lebanon-born and Syrian-born immigrants. By 1947 that figure had risen to 1,886. The majority were Maronite, Melkite and Orthodox Christians, and a smaller number of Druze. The second wave involved a sustained intake from Lebanon, with rapid increase in the mid 1960s and early 1970s. By 1966 Australia had approximately 10,500 Lebanon-born immigrants. That total increased to 24,218 in 1971 and 33,424 in 1976. The majority were Christians, with smaller numbers of Druze and Sunni Muslims. The third wave began with the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon in late 1975. More than 16,000 Lebanese arrived between 1976 and 1981. By 1981 the Lebanon-born population in Australia was just under 50,000. By 1986 the total increased to 56,332 and by 1991 the Lebanon-born population reached just under 69,000.
A significant change was that 35.9 per cent of all Lebanese migrants between 1971 and 1976 were Muslims, compared with 34.6 per cent Catholics - Maronite and Melkite - and 14.2 per cent Orthodox Christians. The 1991 census shows the Lebanese as the fourth-largest overseas-born group in New South Wales after those from the United Kingdom, Italy and New Zealand. In my address at the festival I complimented the Lebanese Community Council for the organisation of the day, and noted the great contribution of the Lebanese Australians to all walks of Australian life. I also referred to the current controversy that arose from comments made by Pauline Hanson and Graeme Campbell, in particular. I put to the many people present what I believe to be a self-evident truth: tolerance is a practical necessity for the survival and success of Australia's multiculturalism.
Lebanese Australians together with other minority communities of ethnic backgrounds realise that while Aborigines and Asians are prime targets at the moment for intolerant and intemperate people, it could easily be their group or any other group in the future. I told the gathering last Sunday that people cannot take anything for granted. They must continue to work together, as Australians, at maintaining and further developing a harmonious and just society in our great country. Those of us in a position to do so must, I believe, speak out against prejudice and intolerance whenever they occur. The Lebanese-Australian community has demonstrated over a very long time a full-blooded commitment to, and support for, multiculturalism in Australia: a fair, just and tolerant multicultural Australia - in short, a fair go for all regardless of background. I told the gathering that the festivities to celebrate Lebanon's independence were ample evidence of that commitment. I congratulate the entire Lebanese community on its contribution to the enrichment of Australian society, particularly on the occasion of Lebanese Independence Day.