Mr GEORGE (Lismore) [5.42 p.m.]: I wish to acknowledge a function I had the pleasure of attending last Friday evening. I refer to the Australian Lebanese Association of New South Wales Independence Day Dinner, which was held at the Bellevue Bankstown Function Centre. This afternoon the Premier made a ministerial statement about the contribution of brother and sister George and Nola Mezher, who received the award of Australian Lebanese Citizens of the Year. I add my congratulations on the magnificent job they have carried out in the city of Sydney. I was honoured to attend the dinner, not only as the son of Lebanese migrants but also as one of a number of politicians from both sides of this House, and to acknowledge the contribution made to this country by the Lebanese community. I felt honoured, coming from a Lebanese background, to see so many members of Parliament at the function.
As the Premier said this afternoon, he attended the dinner, together with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the National Party and many other members of Parliament. Also present was the Hon. Philip Ruddock, who said that he was pleased to be with the Lebanese community to celebrate his reappointment as the immigration Minister in the Federal Parliament. Also present were Mr Michael Doueihi, President of the World Lebanese Cultural Union, Mr Mohammad El-Harake, Consul General of Lebanon, Ms Eileen A. Malloy, Consul General of the United States of America, Mr Marc Finaud, Consul General of France, Bishop Cremin, Bishop Hitti and, of course, Mr Phillip Rizk, President of the Australian Lebanese Association of New South Wales.
I have mentioned some of those who attended the function to show the enormous respect that Australia has for Lebanese people. Lebanese people do not take independence, sovereignty and freedom for granted. At the dinner the Lebanese people, in celebrating Lebanese Independence Day, reflected on how that privilege was won. The Lebanese community must take action today to strengthen Lebanon for the future. As Australians of Lebanese origin, they have a significant role to play in this country. They have chosen to make Australia their home, but they will never forget their heritage. I admire them for that. They have exhibited their loyalty to Australia and they have a proud history of contribution to this country. The Australian Lebanese community has produced outstanding leaders in business, sports, arts and politics. Phillip Rizk, in his speech as President of the Australian Lebanese Association of New South Wales, said:
Over the past couple of years our community has been singled out in New South Wales and subjected to unjust attacks from public authorities and the media. When will people accept that our children are as Australian as Paul Hogan's children?
He went on to say:
Tonight I delivered this message to the leaders of the Free World—please remember that Lebanon too has suffered for far too long. In the current international climate I ask you to include Lebanon in the pursuit of a peaceful existence—a Lebanon that is free from all foreign occupation. And that means the removal of all Syrian, Iranian, Palestinian and Israeli forces from Lebanese territory.
So let us then, as Australians of Lebanese origin, unite in strengthening our community at home here in Australia, and let us also unite in strengthening our country of origin, Lebanon, for centuries to come.
I was honoured, as I am sure was every other member who attended the function, to help the Lebanese community celebrate the fifty-eighth anniversary of Lebanon's Independence Day. I congratulate Phillip Rizk and his committee on the magnificent night at the Bellevue Bankstown Function Centre.