Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (11:22): I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak today about the fantastic work of my local Hume City Council. Just in the past two weeks, Hume City Council has hosted two very successful and important events.

The first was the Freedom of Entry Parade into the City of Hume, which was conducted at the Broadmeadows Town Park on the weekend of 15 November. Freedom of entry is a medieval tradition whereby municipal authorities would grant military units entry into the city as a symbolic gesture of the trust and bond between the regiment and the community. The tradition is thought to have begun following Charles II's accession to the throne in 1660. It is said that the regiments believed that they were entitled to enter the City of London, whereas the Fathers of the City of London claimed that they had the right to forbid bodies of armed troops entering the city precincts. Thus, a process was formalised whereby the city would grant troops entry into the city in an official ceremony for regiments with peaceful intent. This tradition became known as Freedom of Entry. In the absence of a Freedom of Entry agreement, military forces were often turned away at city gates. Whilst this custom finds its roots in 17th century Britain, it continues to be celebrated in a number of Commonwealth countries to this day.

The new mayor of the Hume City Council, Councillor Helen Patsikatheodorou, had the honour of granting the Freedom of Entry right to the 4th Combat Service Support Battalion based at the Maygar Barracks in Broadmeadows. The 101-year-old Maygar Barracks site is named after Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Cecil Maygar, a Victoria Cross recipient, who established the base to train soldiers for World War I. The soldiers participating in the parade two weekends ago serve in those very same barracks, making this particular Freedom of Entry into the city very timely for us to honour and acknowledge our military, especially in the centenary year of the First World War.

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (09:54): I rise to express my disappointment at the suspension of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project at the Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation centre, otherwise known as MITA, located in my electorate in Broadmeadows. News of this was brought to our attention by Sister Brigid Arthur who was interviewed on ABC radio yesterday. We were subsequently contacted by others expressing their surprise, concern and disappointment. The Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project has been in existence for 15 years. For the past four years, a small number of volunteers have been able to take people, including children, out of detention in MITA at various times throughout the year for excursions. Past excursions have included visits to the Collingwood Children's Farm, the zoo and the various parks around our beautiful city. These outings have been very successfully run for four years without incident. They were put on hold, pending review, six months ago without warning or explanation, and to date there has been no conclusion to this review. The program provides an invaluable social and education interaction for the children detained in MITA who, otherwise, are missing out on the normality, the curiosities and the simulations vital to the healthy development of their childhood.

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (11:01): I move:              

That this House calls on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to support a parliamentary debate during the current sitting on the Australian Government's strategy in response to the crisis in Syria and Iraq.

In moving this motion, I want to first acknowledge that 29 November is UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. This day is important for Palestinian history in two additional ways: it also marks the anniversary of the 1947 UN vote to divide Palestine into Arab and Jewish states; and, in 2012, it was the date when the UN recognised Palestine as a non-member observer state. 

Following the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, the UN established the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, known as UNRWA. There are 570,000 Palestinian refugees registered with UNRWA in Syria. These refugees are decedents of about 80,000 Palestinians who fled to Syria during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. It has been more than four years since civilian popular protest against President Assad drew a brutal and barbaric response from the Syrian authorities, the culmination and continuation of which we witness today. Those who have suffered the most are, as always, minorities: Christians, Yazidis, Kurds and, indeed, Palestinians who have become refugees for a second time.       

There are a multitude of Syrian cities and towns that are war-torn and under siege, but, according to Amnesty International, the siege of Yarmouk Camp for the Palestinian refugees in Damascus has 'had the harshest impact, and has caused the largest number of deaths from starvation'. This intolerable humanitarian situation has precipitated at mass exodus of Palestinians from Yarmouk. However, their access to neighbouring countries is very difficult. Early in the conflict, Jordan and Turkey effectively closed their borders to Palestinian refugees from Syria, or PRS. Lebanon followed suit in May 2014. Thankfully, some 90,000 Palestinians did manage to leave Syria, and mostly ended up in Lebanon and Egypt. Unlike Syrian refugees, the PRS, who constitute less than three per cent of the ex-Syria refugee population, have been denied registration by the UNHCR. The reason offered is that the PRS are already registered to another UN agency, namely UNRWA.

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (17:14): These are the words of one of my constituents, Dr Evangelia Axiarlis:

The Australian mainstream media portrays a skewed stereotypical and overly negative image of the Muslim community. The pervasive representation of Muslims as a monolithic, homogeneous entity is both inaccurate and harmful to our social cohesion. Australians of Muslim faith have much to contribute to the broader society and should be welcomed. Constantly referring to and identifying Muslims in terms of their religion is patronising and belittling.

Evangelia lives in Broadmeadows with her husband Ismail and their three young children. She and Ismail teach at our local Ilim College and she recently published a book on political Islam and the secular state in Turkey. Dr Axiarlis grew up in Melbourne's south-eastern suburbs. She is the daughter of Greek and Greek Cypriot migrants, a dedicated teacher, who converted to Islam, and by all accounts is a typical Aussie of migrant extraction, just like me and lots of other people in this country, and indeed in this chamber.

This past week has been a very big week in my electorate. Of course 11 November, yesterday, marked the 40th anniversary of the sacking of the Whitlam government, and I got the opportunity to be reminded of the dramatic momentum of that tumultuous period when I attended the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Broadmeadows Sporting Club last Sunday afternoon. Sunset Boulevard Jacana is the site of the Broadmeadows Sporting Club. Set in the Jacana Valley and surrounded by sprawling wetlands, Broadmeadows Sporting Club is an iconic presence in our local community. The club is a non-profit organisation. It runs sporting and social events and sponsors local community groups, and its longstanding service and committee have seen the club successfully service the Jacana-Broadmeadows area and the surrounding suburbs for the last four decades. It also enjoys a very special footnote in Australian political history, for it was here on 10 November 1975 that the then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, came to lay the foundation stone for the club. This event in Broadmeadows was to be the last official function conducted by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. He would later of course return to Canberra where, on 11 November 1975, he would be sacked by Governor-General John Kerr. This memorable piece of history has forever linked the club with Prime Minister Whitlam and the 1975 constitutional crisis of the dismissal.

Ms VAMVAKINOU (Calwell) (15:44): On a more serious note, I am very pleased to have been given the opportunity to speak on this MPI today because the last two federal budgets have been very difficult for the majority of the people living in my electorate. These budgets have been very harsh and very unfair, and the cuts that have been associated with them have affected a very large number of the people that live in Calwell. The news for them, unfortunately, has not been good news, and it continues to be very bad news.

The cuts to carers' payments and the loss of the schoolkids bonus—to mention just a couple—have taken their toll on already stretched and stressed household budgets. Now, of course, there is the additional prospect of further cuts to the family tax benefits. Cuts to services such as child care, health and welfare payments and benefits are tough enough, but when you add these to the huge problems of job losses, industry closures and underemployment that have disproportionately affected people in the north-west of Melbourne, the claim by this government that they want the burden of economic reform to be shared fairly becomes absurd and unbelievable.

I was delighted to be involved in the Roxburgh College Year 10 Sociology project, exploring the issues of forced marriage through active theatre.  The theatre workshop was led by Thoiba Saeedh, a University of Melbourne intern who has been working in my office for the past few weeks (pictured here with me in Canberra).  Thanks to Roxburgh College Principal, Mr Fernando Ianni,  staff members Tony Wakefield, Yolande Suffern, Denise Rimoni, Angela Greet, the students from Roxburgh College, and Elizabeth Payne who worked with the students on behalf of ACRATH.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of welcoming to Parliament House Mr John Salisbury, who had just completed a 10-day trek in support of recognition of Palestinian statehood. John is a passionate advocate for the rights of the Palestinian people and, like the majority of Australians, he believes strongly that this parliament should follow the lead of the 136 of the 193 member states of the United Nations who have now recognised the state of Palestine.