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Noranda shul honoured in Federal Parliament

The following is a transcript of a speech in Federal parliament by Luke Simpkins MP, Federal Member for Cowan. Note that Mr Simpkins uses the Northern Suburbs Hebrew Congregation as an example of the benefits of South African immigration to Australia.

I rise today to speak in support of the International Tax Agreements Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2008. This bill gives force of law to the updated tax protocol with South Africa, signed in March this year. The bill amends the existing treaty to ensure that taxpayers of one country operating in the other country do not experience tax discrimination. Of course, this bill is very important to the 12,000 to 13,000 South African immigrants that come here each year, permanently or temporarily. Overwhelmingly they stay, and for good reasons. I understand that around 75,000 South Africans permanently relocated to Australia between 1995 and 2005. This reflects the Howard government’s commitment to reducing the skills shortage. I also understand that the number of South Africans migrating to Australia last year rose by 10 per cent but still fell short of the 35 per cent increase from the highs established in 2002 and 2003. Last year, 4,293 South Africans successfully applied for permanent residency in Australia, compared to 3,895 the previous year. In 2002, the number soared to 6,538. For two years prior to that, the number topped 6,000. These numbers include 1,395 primary applicants for visas and almost 3,000 members of their families and dependants.

During 2006-07, South Africa was the sixth place for country of origin, with almost 4,000 South Africans migrating to Australia during this period. Australia has recently increased the numbers of places allocated for skilled migrants by 31,000 for the 2008-09 financial year to a total of 133,500 places. This represents a 30 per cent increase from the previous year’s intake. South Africans represent only a small fraction of Australia’s overall migration numbers, however. South Africans make up less than five per cent of the total of new migrants coming under the skilled migration program. By contrast, 25 per cent come from the UK, 16 per cent from India and 15 per cent from China. Clearly, by the interest shown in migration to this country, there is a great affinity between South Africans and Australia. I, for one, welcome the contribution made by South Africans to the great state of Western Australia and particularly within my electorate of Cowan.

I would like to take the opportunity to focus on a particular group of South African people who have migrated to Australia and made their homes in and around the suburb of Noranda in the south-east of Cowan. This bill will be of benefit to them. I refer to the members of the Northern Suburbs Hebrew Congregation. Twenty-one years ago a group of Jewish South Africans determined that they no longer wished to live under the apartheid regime in South Africa. As we all know, Jewish people have suffered through the ages because of their beliefs and faith. The state of Israel has been effectively under siege and the target of terrorism for every year of its modern period since 1948. Given the persecution, it is little wonder that Jewish people are rightly sensitive to such regimes as existed at that time in South Africa.

It was, however, Australia that benefited from their departure, and Perth in particular. There are about 250 families that are members of the Northern Suburbs Hebrew Congregation, with around 220 being originally from South Africa. In looking over the congregation’s website, the historical link to South Africa is abundantly clear. There is even a list of congregation members and where they had their bar mitzvahs, the majority being in South African synagogues. As I said, the majority came to Perth 21 years ago with nothing. They could not take their assets with them and so they started in Australia with nothing. Like every person from South Africa that I have met, they are grateful to be here and are all now Australians. In recent years, more South Africans have come to Perth and joined the congregation. This later group have welcomed the move to Australia, like so many other South Africans, because they have escaped the crime and violence that afflicts that country so tragically.

When the majority arrived 21 years ago, for the first five years they had no rabbi, yet they still gathered to worship and they generated great community strength. They were also well supported by the City of Bayswater, which rezoned land to allow the construction of Noranda Shul in Garside Court, within my electorate. Spiritually, the Northern Suburbs Hebrew Congregation is now principally looked after by Rabbi Larry Brown. I was at his inauguration on 13 July this year. Apart from Rabbi Brown, the congregation also has amongst its membership Rabbi Chaim Davidowitz and Rabbi Shalom Coleman. Both these Rabbis have served the congregation for many years. I would like to comment on the positive leadership of Rabbi Coleman. Although he was born in England, he did serve as a rabbi in South Africa. In preparing for this debate, I had a long look at the Northern Suburbs Hebrew Congregation’s website. I saw on the website a picture of Rabbi Coleman from the Bloemfontein Synagogue’s golden jubilee in 1953. He was at that time the chief minister. Therefore, although Rabbi Coleman was born in England he forms an important part of the South African heritage for the Northern Suburbs Hebrew Congregation.

I also remember when Rabbi Coleman thanked the former Minister for Foreign Affairs after a visit before the election last year. As I recall, Rabbi Coleman spoke about the support provided by Mr Downer and the coalition government for Israel and Jewish people. Apart from the traditional strong and unequivocal support for Israel and Jewish people in Australia always provided by the coalition, last year there was also direct support provided by the former government. This was in the form of a National Community Crime Prevention Program grant of $43,000 to assist in the security arrangements at Noranda Shul. I was informed yesterday that work on a security wall is progressing as we speak.

Apart from spiritual guidance, leadership at the Northern Suburbs Hebrew Congregation is also provided by the president, Mr Ivan Cohen. He is ably assisted by his vice-presidents, Mr Shalom Hadassin and Charles Fridlender. Although the members of the congregation make great contributions to the Perth community, I would like to just pick out Mr Charles Fridlender as an example of such a contribution to the economy of Perth. Mr Fridlender runs Wavtech, a company that won a Telstra Business Ideas grant in 2001 and a Water Industry Award in 2002. Mr Charles Fridlender is the employer of a number of local people and he contributes towards industry and business in the Osmond Park area, which is outside of my electorate. He has certainly been hardworking and a great advocate. He is a person who has greatly contributed to the economy of Perth and Western Australia.

Before closing, I would also like to mention another South African, who is not actually a member of the Hebrew congregation and is not Jewish. Mr Michael Sutherland was recently elected as the new state member for Mount Lawley. Mr Sutherland brings a wealth of experience from his time as Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Perth. I welcome his entry into state parliament and the work that he will do. He is a great advocate for South Africans and people of South African origin. In summing up, I know that for all South Africans and for people of South African origin, this bill will be of great benefit. It will allow them more certainty in the future for their business dealings and I know that it will be welcomed by all people of South African origin and South Africans who operate in Western Australia. I commend the bill and the efforts of South African people within Cowan and within Perth.

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