ACT News

Australia Day Honours 2016: Diana Abdel-Rahman receives Order of Austalia Medal for multicultural community work

Diana Abdel-Rahman has received an OAM but would like to do see more done to spread the multicultural message.
Diana Abdel-Rahman has received an OAM but would like to do see more done to spread the multicultural message. Photo: Rohan Thomson

Diana Abdel-Rahman is used to being asked where she comes from and the bemused looks when she answers ''Brisbane'', in her broad Aussie accent.

But the advocate says she dreams of a day when someone with brown or black skin is no longer asked the question but is thought of as a "great Aussie" when they stand up to do something good.

"Unfortunately people still do the 'Oh, I wonder where they're from' without realising to be an Australian you can be any colour under the sun … we need to get to that point," she said.

"My parents are Lebanese … [but] in my family we've now got the fourth generation born in Australia."

Ms Abdel-Rahman received an OAM in the Australia Day honours' list for close to 25 years' service to the community through a range of multicultural organisations since moving to Canberra 28 years ago.


Receiving a Centenary Medal in 2001 was her greatest accolade up until now.

While she finds herself surrounded by people with a similar community work ethic, she said a strong multicultural policy was needed more than ever despite a tendency for governments to forget its importance, signalled by its absence from the immigration department name.

"We now have issues of racism and people still migrating," she said.

"[In] a country like Australia, where we purposely bring in people from all around the world … a strong multicultural policy eases the integration and the acceptance from those that are already here."

While the ACT has a "fantastic multicultural festival", Ms Abdel-Rahman said she would love to see more done.

"Multiculturalism is about culture, the race and the make-up of the individual and how we can come together and celebrate the cultural successes we have, and not just food and dance," she said.

She said similar gaps existed in advocacy for the Muslim community with members often feeling like they have to speak out when things happen overseas despite it being out of their control.

"I can't be responsible for what happens overseas, equally as I can't be responsible for what my brother does," she said.

"There's so many ideas and projects in my head that I'd like to do when it comes to the Muslim community here in the ACT but we are hamstrung when it comes to funding … and that's across the multicultural side of things too."

Her latest project is setting up a multicultural women's organisation through the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum to address issues such as domestic violence, health, wellbeing and language – particularly focused on young women.

"This is the next generation, one of biggest things I'd like to do is train up the youth," she said.

Doing more to ensure the Indigenous community is recognised as the first nation of Australia is another key priority, she said.

The Australian Muslim Voice president has been a senior member or supporter of 14 multicultural organisations in her time.

While she said she never thinks about the lengthy list, she remains compelled to keep saying yes through a sense of duty.