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Maria Vamvakinou MP calls for unity and respect

"Putting the blame on migrant communities for voting 'No' is backwards in itself"

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17 November 2017

Victoria has been dubbed the "progressive" state, giving same-sex marriage a resounding 'Yes' in the postal survey, altogether garnering 64.9 per cent; three percent above the national average.

Only two out of the 37 Commonwealth electoral divisions in Victoria voted against changing the law: ALP-held Calwell and Bruce, with 56.8 and 53.1 per cent respectively.

Amidst celebrations some chose the path of recrimination instead of cheering, blaming migrant communities for being "un-Australian" and "stuck in their backward ways".

"I have had to be put through that on a number of occasions since Wednesday," Labor's Maria Vamvakinou MP, Federal Member for Calwell told Neos Kosmos.

"I would have thought that the 61 per cent that voted for marriage equality should have been spending these days being happy that the majority of Australia is in favour of change, not shifting the blame."

"To those who have decided this is about winners and losers and blame game, I say to them, that this attitude is the exact attitude that will continue to divide people instead of bringing them together," Ms Vamvakinou continued expressing her disappointment towards the divisive mentality and the migrant-blaming comments on mainstream social media posts.

"I've seen the comments; I know what they can do. I know it's just social media but social media has the tendency of becoming the norm - it starts to develop as a narrative. This kind of narrative is dangerous and sadly it's coming from the people who've won the pole; people who have been fighting for rights. One would hope they would have the foresight to understand, not to go on a finger pointing blame."

Ms Vamvakinou highlighted the importance of rejecting such narratives that could divide the community, a community built from "migrants' blood sweat and tears".

Calwell, according to last year's Census, is home to one of Australia's most religious demographic: with 34 per cent of its residents Catholic, almost 18 per cent Muslim, and 5.4 per cent Orthodox. Residents' ancestry amounts to 24 per cent identifying as being of Australian or English heritage, with people of Italian and Turkish descent comprising 8.7 per cent and 6.2 per cent respectively. Of the 165,000 people living in the area, over 50 per cent are married or de facto and only 14.6 per cent have a university degree, with an equal number of residents working in trades, professional, or clerical roles.

"I have held this seat since 2001 and although I will be voting for the legislation, a large portion of my electorate has conservative views. From my point of view, I understand what my community has done but I won't have it attacked because they are one of the two electorates that voted 'No'," Ms Vamvakinou said adding that she was not surprised with the outcome.

"I know my constituents and I know where they're coming from. I understand that they cannot cross that bridge – but I also know that they will respect my view and the view of other people, different to theirs and at the end of the day I will continue to work with them. Some people have faith while others don't. It's in neither group's [interest] to impose their views on the rest of the society. Faith and family values are very strong amongst members of my electorate and it's those values too, that create and service the broader community."

The Labor MP went on to stress that she is proud Australia is moving on; becoming more inclusive and respective. Even though she understands that many of the 'No' voters are in her electorate – she is certain that they won't harbour any resentment again those who voted 'Yes' and is committed to promoting respect in the rights of people to hold a different opinion, by focusing on mutual acceptance in coming together as a community.

"It is the majority of Australia's will, there is no denying that and it must be accepted," Ms Vamvakinou emphasised.

"As a member of federal parliament I see the broader national view - and this issue is in the final stages of being dealt with. It is crucial that legislation moves forward with respect. It is a great win but blaming the migrants, name-calling and suggesting that their values and way of life is un-Australian takes away from it."

"More than 61 per cent of Australia has voted 'Yes', as I have voted for the legislation, but 39 per cent of Australia hasn't. I don't understand why people are surprised that there are members in the community that at this stage, disagree. I must ask, is the entire 39 per cent of non-Anglo descent or fully comprised of migrants?", she fired back stressing that on a national level, some of the strongest opposition to same-sex marriage legislation came from Australia's own hardcore conservative groups, predominantly of Anglo heritage.

Ultimately, Mrs Vamvakinou expressed her resentment towards the latest social media attacks towards migrant communities, calling negative commentary myopic and racist.

"I've been hearing comments the likes of 'If they can't live by our standards, they should not come here at all', to me, it is this mentality that is un-Australian. The idea that those who voted 'No' are not living by Australian standards is factually wrong and makes people defensive.

"Let's not stereotype migrants again, it's racist. Let's not again divide the community. Gay people fight against homophobia, it's the same situation to be stereotyped like that and blamed. Sometime before this year the Marriage Act will change, and it will be enacted, and everyone will go back to their lives. There only way forward is through dialogue and reconciliation."

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