Welcome Speech 2013 - Hon. Michelle Hopkins Roberts MLA, The Parliament of WA

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Traditional owners

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all here today. Buddhism is one of the great religions of the world, and for many has pointed a profound path out of the business of the world to the quiet of contemplation and meditation. I want to begin my remarks today in the fifth century before the common era. That was a great century for the history of Australia, because that was the century in which the ancient Athenians developed the system of government that we call democracy. While Democracy means a very different thing to us than it did to the ancient Athenians, our democracy celebrates the diversity of our community; our democracy values the range of opinions, views and faiths with which our citizens enrich our common life; our democracy sees the rights of free speech, association and religion as fundamental building blocks of a healthy community.

At the same time as the Athenians were struggling to defend their democracy against those who would pull it down, a young prince in India sat down in the shadow of a tree. The fruit of his long meditation proved every bit as influential in world history as the Athenian experiment in democracy.

In an open and pluralist society like ours, such values come easily together.

According to the 2011 census, Australia is home to 528,977 Buddhists. Those Buddhists come from many lands, many places. They are to be found in all walks of life, all places in our community. It is one of Australia’s fast growing faiths.

Buddhists have also been contributors to the history of our country, and our communal life, for a very long time. It is possible, for example, that there were Buddhists amongst the Macassan fisherfolk who traded with the Yolgnu people of the north-west for trepang. In the 1850’s many Chinese Buddhists came to Australia in search of wealth on the goldfields.

In 1867, a troupe of Japanese Buddhists entertained the country with their agility and acrobatics. After that time, many more began to arrive to participate in the pearling industry. Two Bodhi trees still stand on Thursday island in Queensland, great testimony to the long association of Buddhist immigrants to the pearling industry. From those beginnings, and despite the long decades of the White Australia Policy, Buddhism in its many forms has flourished here. The conference that begins here today is, in many ways, reflective, of the development of Buddhism in Australia. There is a judicious mix of presentations from Australians and those who have travelled here from overseas.

In the same way, Buddhism in Australia very quickly laid down roots and developed such institutions as temples; local Buddhists also benefited profoundly from their links with the many Buddhists in other lands. The conference today continues that fine tradition. Even if it does not feature a troupe of Japanese acrobats, there is nevertheless much wisdom to impart and much learning to share. Moreover, and speaking as a graduate, there is no better place in this state to confer than the University of Western Australia. Here at St George’s College, there are fine resources, and a peaceful space to withdraw and reflect. One final thing is worth noting here. Your conference represents a very considerable work of learning. It is a learning that we all may share. It proclaims, through open intellectual deliberation, offered to the community at large that there is great virtue in learning, and in particular, about learning in public.

Such were the great traditions of the founders of democracy.

Such is the great activity to which I commend you now.

Thank you for your kind invitation to speak with you this morning and make some remarks to open your conference.