The majority of my professional life has been spent working in the third sector, or the not-for-profit sector.  What has been a consistent theme in my experience is that each organisation I have worked for has been values based. They may have used different words but the language was consistent, the language of social inclusion and acceptance. I guess one could say social inclusion and social justice runs deep in my veins. I felt compelled to write this article in response to what has occurred in our parliament this week.

Firstly, I must say that I am not writing this from a political bias, I am merely making comment about how I view what I see and hear on our media outlets. What occurred in our Senate with a female Senator, non-Muslim,  wearing a full burqa, was appalling.  Such actions are disrespectful and do nothing to build a socially inclusive society, in fact they fuel fear and misunderstanding. I know that there are many in our community who have decried such actions notwithstanding our PM who stated   “mutual respect is not just the foundation of our success as a multicultural society…… (it) enables us to live together, work together, in harmony.”

So what makes an inclusive community and why is diversity so important?  An inclusive community values everyone, eliminates forms of discrimination and actively promotes equal opportunity and treatment. Acts of exclusion, mistreatment, signalling out or injustice are not tolerated. Diversity is important, it provides a richness to our world and offers us experiences that enable us to grow. I want to live in a society that values diversity and welcomes those that are different.

It is not just those with different religious beliefs, but those who are poor, homeless, disabled, suffer from a mental illness or have a physical disability that require us to think about what we can do to build social connection and acceptance. It is in the language we use, it is in the interaction we have in the line-up at the checkout, it is what we say to our children, it is the multiple small interactions that we have every day that will ultimately impact on the type of community we live in. Yes, our politicians can set the broad agenda but it is you and me that really makes the difference. Next time you see someone just a little different to you have the courage to make eye contact, smile and say hello. Join with me in breaking down the barriers of fear and exclusion.