NSW’s first Muslim parliamentarian arrived in Australia as a seven year old child from Lebanon. Shaoquett Moselmane went on to graduate as a lawyer, finished up as a long serving local government councillor, a mayor and is currently a parliamentarian in NSW’s upper house, in his second term. While family building, with his Japanese wife, and valuing the Australian legacy he is leaving he has never forgotten those he left behind in Lebanon but also the narrative of disadvantage the world over.
Mr Moselmane has focused his parliamentary career on those less fortunate, in trying to improve their lot. His humanitarianism is an example to others and should be particularly so to politicians in general. I have come to know Shaoquett reasonably well in the last several years. Together, we have worked on several projects.
Mr Moselmane founded the National Indigenous Human Rights Awards, establishing these awards to recognise “the greatest human rights struggle on this continent, that of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters”. He said that this nation “cannot be properly defined until this human rights struggle is completed.” With the Deadlys now vanquished because the federal government cut the funding, the NIHRA fill some of the vacuum. Mr Moselmane also founded the National Multicultural and Indigenous Media awards to recognise the voices of this nation that often the mainstream media give a miss.
The human rights awards are in their third year and the media awards in their fifth year, a solid effort from this dogged parliamentarian.
Australia is one of the world’s most culturally and linguistic diverse nations. In fact, more than one in four Australians were born overseas. The Australian population of 24 million is comprised of around 6 million migrants. The United Kingdom and the United States of American both have 13 per cent of their total populations comprising migrants. However the demography of this nation is not reflected in our parliaments, not at the state and territory levels, and certainly not at the federal level, where of the 226 federal parliamentarians, more than 90 per cent are the children of White privilege.
I am involved with a charity, Wheelchairs for Kids, Perth-based, that manufactures rough terrain children’s wheelchairs. These wheelchairs are built in accordance with World Health Organisation guidelines for regions of our world where there is little likelihood of maintenance and repair. They are built for durability, with puncture proof tyres and it is hoped that they last a childhood. More than 36,000 rough terrain children’s wheelchairs have been built and donated from a little factory in a northern suburb of Perth. Led by founders, 83 year old Gordon Hudson and 72 year old Brother Ollie Pickett, more than 170 retiree volunteers give of their time to manufacture, assemble and pack the wheelchairs. Containers of 167 children’s wheelchairs are shipped all around the world – thus far to 71 countries.
When I first mentioned Wheelchairs for Kids to Shaoquett, I picked up the look in his eyes that he had needy children in mind.
In the last few years, Shaoquett has galvanised Sydney’s Arabic, Chinese and Pakistani communities to fundraise and donate kindly to Wheelchairs for Kids and to also sponsor the shipment of children’s wheelchairs to first time destinations. Thanks to the relationship with Mr Moselmane we have shipped container loads of wheelchairs to Libya (340 children’s wheelchairs), to Syria (340 wheelchairs), to Lebanon (340 wheelchairs), to Iraq (340 children’s wheelchairs), to Pakistan (506 wheelchairs), to China (334 wheelchairs). Last week another shipment (167 wheelchairs) left Perth for China’s oldest and largest orphanage, the Shanghai Welfare Institute. The orphanage cares for nearly 2,000 babies and toddlers, the majority abandoned by impoverished parents. The majority of the children have various disabilities. Mr Moselmane and I visited the orphanage last July and we learned that the orphanage needed 150 wheelchairs; children use railings along corridor walls and up alongside stairwells to get about. I made a commitment to the orphanage that Wheelchairs for Kids would address the unmet need and we have.
A major Australian news outlet phoned me last year to question why I would ship wheelchairs to war torn Syria and had we considered the shipment could be seen as aiding an ‘enemy’. I responded that we are shipping them through the Red Crescent, and that there are no children anywhere whom I consider as our ‘enemy’. Nevertheless, the region was not in any suggested ‘enemy’ hands. Our bit is that wherever, whenever we work to improve the lot of others, in this case some of the world’s most deprived children. A wheelchair is mobility, it is access to education, it is independence and it is a relief for families. It is the right thing to do at all time.
We are in the midst of shipping two more containers to children in Pakistan and another to Syria – to a region freed up from the warring.
Years ago, I used to coordinate a computer recycling program through an organisation I founded, Students Without Borders, and we donated tens of thousands of recycled refurbished computers throughout Western Australia and overseas. Mr Moselmane asked if we could do likewise for the civil strife strewn Bint Jbeil province of Lebanon. In good time around 1,000 computers will be shipped to Bint Jbeil. Mr Moselmane fundraised to make this possbile. The children of Bint Jbeil have few resources to work with at school and at home but education is the light at the end of the tunnel for the majority. Lebanon opened up its borders to Syrian refugees. Unlike fortress Australia, Lebanon has not turned away Syrian families despite the burden to the little civil strife strewn nation. One in four of Lebanon’s school children are Syrian refugees. That is what humanity should be more about. Bint Jbeil has an even higher proportion of refugees than the rest of the little Lebanese nation.
At every turn, Shaoquett and one of his brothers, Mohammed have both assisted me with people less fortunate, in particular large homeless families. For the most part, their generosity and deeds remain unknown but today I decided to write this humble piece in admiration of Shaoquett and Mohammed.
The political life should be one where it is understood as a calling, for the service of humanity. Shaoquett Moselmane is the finest example of this that I have come across and I have met many politicians. He does what others only talk about.
If anyone would like to get involved with Wheelchairs for Kids, a 100 per cent charity – no one is remunerated – you can contact me or Wheelchairs for Kids. The more rough terrain children’s wheelchairs we manufacture, the more children around the world whose lives will be improved, changed. It does matter what we do with our time on this earth. We are soon to ship 167 rough terrain children’s wheelchairs for the first time to Mongolia, the 72nd nation.