LOETUS Chair Rathi Ramanathan (third from left) is working with the migrant community to create a welcoming space.
LOETUS Chair Rathi Ramanathan (third from left) is working with the migrant community to create a welcoming space.

Grafton: One year on from Christchurch shooting

AS WE approach the one-year anniversary of the Christchurch tragedy, media attention will undoubtedly focus on the terrorist's home town of Grafton. My community.

In the face of this tragedy, the Grafton community came together to display resilience and compassion for the victims, their families and the Christchurch community. In the tragedy's aftermath there was concern Grafton would be tarnished with the same brush as the terrorist.

LOETUS, (Language Other Than English Together with Us) a regional migrant advocacy group in Grafton recognised the Christchurch tragedy provided a pivotal opportunity.

Sensing the changing mood supported by the shifting national conversation from the post-9/11 narrative of the existential threat of Islamic extremism to include white nationalists and supremacist groups, LOETUS led a sustained campaign to change the perception of Grafton.

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The campaign focused on cultivating strategic relationships with powerful white allies to speak out against bigotry and intolerance, while being sensitive to the country values of local residents.

Campaign strategies also included surveying the culturally and linguistically diverse community in the Clarence Valley to help identify key issues and support requirements; a declarative statement signed by over 25 signatories from key community leaders denouncing extremism, racism and hate speech; a public education and awareness campaign with the leading regional newspaper; and bringing social cohesion Muslim advocate Ali Kadri to speak on World Peace Day in Grafton with no community backlash.

LOETUS was always determined the campaign would be positive, aiming to showcase the Clarence as being committed to social inclusion.

Multicultural NSW also recognised the need to encourage these initiatives in the region and have offered invaluable help.

The growing threat of white nationalist groups has been reaffirmed in a recent report by ASIO director general Mike Burgess. He said the Christchurch tragedy was instrumental in his agency beginning a new direction in the targeting of far right groups who have become more organised through global networks.

Unsurprising to the migrant community, he also reported there is now a spike in online propaganda spreading messages of hate toward migrants.

On February 22, a group of like-minded supporters of social cohesion including the Clarence Valley Council and the Christ Church Cathedral workshopped an action plan to preserve community resilience in the face of possible growing threats in the coming years.

The Grafton community now understands we live in an interconnected world and that global events can negatively impact on social cohesion and we must be vigilant.



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