Ms JODI McKAY ( Strathfield ) ( 18:15 ): I bring to the attention of the House the work of Bassam Maaliki, an impressive young man from my electorate. I will share his story and his amazing work with his organisation, UBELONG. Bassam is a 15-year-old student from Homebush Boys High School who, despite dealing with schoolwork and teenage life, has accomplished a great deal. His resume includes that he is: YMCA NSW Youth Parliament member for Strathfield, a Save the Children Youth Ambassador, a finalist for the 2017 Human Rights Medal, a NSW Youth Collective Ambassador, a NSW Multicultural Youth Ambassador for Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network [MYAN], and the NSW Youth Member at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Most recently, he was the recipient of the Youth Medal at the New South Wales Premier's Harmony Dinner. It is safe to say that Bassam is one of the most impressive 15-year-olds.
What is most amazing about Bassam, however, is his passion, empathy and determination in the service of others. It is these qualities that led him to create UBELONG, an organisation dedicated to ensuring that all refugees and migrants—no matter their background or ethnicity or wherever they live—feel a sense of belonging in Australia. The message of UBELONG is materialised in the form of a key, that symbolises the "key to belong". The key is worn to represent our shared commitment to diversity, inclusion and respect. It is a key to unlock society's barriers and restrictions, and to feel, in a real way, that sense of belonging. Through the sale of these keys, he has raised more than $10,000 with funds going directly to organisations committed to helping and supporting refugees in Australia.
When discussing with Bassam why he chose to pursue this particular cause, he states beautifully yet simply, "Just because refugees have changed houses, it doesn't mean they're without a home". If everyone showed that compassion and empathy that beams from Bassam, I know that this world would be a significantly more welcoming more unified place. However, as Bassam knows all too well, the road to inclusion and respect is often blocked by those who seek to divide and isolate our community. Bassam is proud of his Lebanese heritage and Muslim faith. I should mention that Strathfield is one of the most diverse multicultural and multifaith electorates in New South Wales, a fact that I celebrate.
Despite this, Bassam has faced bullying and torment. He has been told to, "go back to where he belongs", even though he was born here. He has had his Facebook account hacked because of his work with UBELONG. What is disappointing is that this type of torment and bullying is all too commonplace. Public figures such as Pauline Hanson use racism and bigotry to divide our communities. It would be all too easy for young people such as Bassam from different backgrounds and religious beliefs to feel discouraged about speaking up and celebrating their diversity. But let me tell you how Bassam responds. In his words, "We must respond with kindness, we must respond with love and, above all, we must respond with respect."
I was at the Homebush Boys High School assembly about two years ago, and on my seat on the stage was the key that Bassam uses, this amazing key—hand-painted and cut out. I thought, "What is this for?" So I did what I thought I should do: I pinned it on my lapel. Afterwards I emailed Bassam, and said, "I want you to come in and I want you to talk with me about why you do this. What has motivated you? What does this mean?" He came in and I asked him to make a video, which I then put on my Facebook page. In that video, he explains so well why he is so proud of his Lebanese heritage and his Muslim faith, and the fact that, given everything he had gone through, he had two options: He could either retaliate and hit back or he could respond with love, compassion and respect, and he chose that path.
In the first speech I gave as the member for Strathfield, I advocated in this place for the greater inclusion of young people in the democratic process. I have witnessed first-hand the enthusiasm and the drive of young people in my electorate, and in New South Wales, who want to speak up for others. Bassam is an example of why I have such hope in our young people. He not only sets an example for those who want to participate in important issues, but he fights for those who do not have a voice. The message posed by Bassam and UBELONG is simple: "Where I am, you belong". I commend the work of Bassam and UBELONG to the House.