SYDNEY // The first Muslim elected to the Australian federal parliament has urged the country’s Islamic community to do more to condemn extremism and religious violence. Ed Husic, 40, is the son of Bosnian immigrants and will represent the western Sydney seat of Chifley.
“Being elected as an MP is enormously humbling because it reflects the diversity of Australia. It is a very multicultural nation,” Mr Husic said in an interview at his office in the blue-collar suburb of Mt Druitt, where affordable housing has attracted migrants from the Middle East, the Balkans and Turkey. His victory is satisfying for Australia’s 300,000-strong Muslim community, where Mr Husic’s election is seen as a step towards greater acceptance by mainstream society.
Mr Husic explained that while Australia’s Muslims had often pleaded for more understanding and tolerance, it was vital they raised their voices to distance themselves from Islamic fundamentalism both at home and overseas. “We need to strongly denounce terrorism being carried out by people who claim to be Muslim because frankly no religion could tolerate the deaths of people in the way that they have occurred,” Mr Husic said.
“There absolutely have been tensions since 9/11, but I think no one person can contribute to easing that tension. It has to be a genuine collective approach.” The former trade union leader was elected on August 21 and will join colleagues from the governing Labor Party in Canberra when parliament meets for its inaugural sitting this month. During the campaign, Mr Husic was the victim of smears by a political rival, David Barker, who said Muslims had no place as legislators. He said Australia was in danger of becoming an Islamic country. Muslims make up about 1.5 per cent of the total population.
Mr Barker’s conservative supporters were embarrassed by his comments and distanced themselves. “I was surprised that someone in a modern, pluralist society could attempt to use religion as a political device to take support away from their opponent,” Mr Husic said. Mr Husic said that years working as a union negotiator and two failed federal election campaigns had given him the “thick skin” needed for political skirmishes.
He is not the only Muslim to have political success in Australia. Shaoquett Moselmane is the first Muslim to be elected to the New South Wales state parliament. Like other working-class migrants, he was drawn to the Labor Party. Mr Moselmane has been involved in Australian politics since he emigrated from Lebanon in 1977. He said he has had to cope with some discrimination. “There is no doubt there were some difficulties. The reality being that the Muslim community was new in Australia and all things new were not readily accepted by other people. Over time people grow to accept and understand.
“That breaks down barriers and as a result you become part of the overall Australian community,” said Mr Moselmane, who said his Middle Eastern heritage and Islamic faith have given him a greater insight into his adopted homeland, where one-quarter of the population was born overseas. “I can be a torchbearer but my grassroots understanding helps me build bridges between different communities,” he explained. “I see myself as an Australian first and foremost, but I understand other communities and how they tick, whether it is Muslim, Christian or Chinese.”
Academics have said Mr Husic’s break into federal politics was long overdue. George Williams, a professor of law at the University of New South Wales, believes that minority groups in Australia have been ignored by the major parties too often. “It is a breakthrough, but you do have to say why is it in this day and age that we’re only [now] having these breakthroughs? It says a lot about our political parties in particular and their failure to put up good, electable candidates from communities that are an important part of the nation but often fail to get even the most basic form of political representation.”
Mr Husic’s triumph has reverberated beyond Australia’s shores. “I did receive a number of emails and messages from people of Bosnian heritage from all over the world in Canada and New Zealand,” he said. “For my relatives in Bosnia, it was something that they would never have believed would occur. From their background, democracy was not always a fellow traveller and it is something they’re celebrating.”