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Mark Burton’s Diwali Festival Address

Mark Burton’s Diwali Festival Address

Honoured hosts, Dinesh Patel – President, Indian Cultural Society and Executive, my Parliamentary colleagues and friends – Dianne Yates and Martin Gallagher, Deputy Mayor, Grant Thomas;

To all of those who have organised the diverse programme of events and performances taking place tonight,

And to all those members of the community gathered here tonight to celebrate with the Indian Cultural Socirty this most important of festivals –

Greetings and thank you for the opportunity for Carol and I to join you in the celebration of Diwali.

I bring also the warm personal greetings and best wishes of Prime Minister Helen Clark to all who have come together for this Diwali Celebration, 2002.

Thank you to the Indian Cultural Society—you have done excellent work in fostering Indian culture, language, literature, and peaceful links with other communities throughout New Zealand.

Many members of the Indian community migrated to this country to begin a new life in a new land.

But you have not lost your sense of who you are. You continue to celebrate your Indian heritage, and you express that heritage through music, dance, debate and group discussion. I commend you for the work you do to nurture and protect your cultural identity.

Diwali is one of the most important and colourful of the Indian festivals and is celebrated by Indians all over the world. It marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year and is seen as a brand new beginning for all.

Diwali is a celebration of light, a light that represents many things: the triumph of light over darkness, goodness over evil and hope for the future. In short, Diwali is about enlightenment.

Tonight, we have an opportunity to share not only in the celebration of Indian culture, but to reflect upon the meaning of enlightenment for today’s world.

As smaller ethnic communities have developed in New Zealand, they have contributed to the increasingly diverse and varied society in which we live. None more than the Indian community, which has built a reputation for hard work and strong family values.

This Labour-led government welcomes diversity. Indeed, we want to promote the development and well-being of ethnic communities here in New Zealand – whether new settlers, or 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation New Zealanders.

You will be aware that this government was the first to establish a portfolio for ethnic affairs – a position held in our first term by the Hon. George Hawkins. Since the election in July, I know that my colleague Chris Carter has taken great pride in being appointed by the Prime Minister as Minister of Ethnic Affairs.

Our approach is to engage directly with communities, groups and organisations.

By establishing the Office of Ethnic Affairs we acknowledged the need to work closely with communities and to promote the acceptance—indeed, to promote the celebration of the diversity of cultures, languages and lifestyles that we have in New Zealand today.

Organisations such as the Indian Cultural Society play a vital role in strengthening New Zealand's growing cultural diversity. I commend your work in ensuring that your young people can grow up as New Zealanders with a strong understanding of, and pride in, their cultural heritage

But there is also a role for the Government - to ensure that we continue to develop and support an environment where cultural diversity is free to grow and thrive.

This Government shares a vision for New Zealand to evolve as a society in which the contributions of all peoples are recognised, appreciated and valued.

Children brought up in culturally diverse communities have the advantage of absorbing diversity rather than having to be taught to accept differences and appreciate cultural equality.

Such children know that just because someone isn’t exactly like you doesn’t mean they aren’t equally valuable.

However, it is fair to say that that which we don’t instantly recognise can seem frightening. Fear of the unknown is a fairly normal human trait.

But the reaction to this fear is what matters, and that reaction can have two radically different outcomes.

Some step towards bigotry, breeding anger and hatred. Sadly, there are those in our current political climate who have chosen to foster this for cheap political gain. But those who choose to advance themselves through the exercise of prejudice and hatred must be rejected.

An entirely different choice can be made. Instead of pushing away all that seems unfamiliar or frightening, we can move step by step—perhaps diffidently at first—towards exploring and sharing those differences. Then comes understanding and, finally, a celebration of each culture’s unique contribution to the whole of our society.

After all, while the things that make us different or divide us are important, it is our similarities—those inner shared qualities of our true being, in which we find common ground, our shared humanity.

The fact is, what is important to most of us is the same. It is to put a roof over our heads, to feed and clothe our families. It is the health and education of our children. It is the opportunity to work and contribute to the society we live in, while being respected for who we are and what we believe.

It is the chance to live in a world where light triumphs over dark, and tolerance is the norm—a world that is enlightened in every sense of the word.

In 1994, I made my maiden speech to the Parliament. I quoted American Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King, Jnr, who said, “I have the audacity to believe that peoples can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centred people have torn down, other-centred people can build up.”

I, too, have the audacity to believe in this vision. I believe that, as a people and as a nation, we can grow, and are growing, beyond selfishness, hatred and greed—that we can be, and that most of us are, motivated by principles that put a higher value on the quality of life for the whole community, of which we are all a part.

So, we must support initiatives that promote positive relations. We must work hard to ensure that the aspirations and contributions of all people are taken into account in all aspects of decision-making.

It is true that there are many challenges ahead for New Zealand – but they are challenges we can meet – together. So this is an exciting time to be in Government.

We are working hard to promote a society where all our diverse communities are seen—heard–included–accepted–and celebrated.

And tonight, that is what we are here to do - together. To celebrate Diwali–a time that brings together families, friends and communities in harmony and happiness, to give and receive blessings, forget and forgive past differences, to share food, and to celebrate our cultural richness.

In Diwali tradition, small oil lamps are lighted and placed around the home. They are used to pray for health, wealth, knowledge, peace and fame. It is my hope that the light of those prayers will reach those who are yet to appreciate, or celebrate, the rich cultural heritage Carol and I are privileged to share with you here tonight.

Thank you again for inviting us to celebrate this Diwali Festival with you.

Happy Diwali.

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