Victoria's Sikh community has been the focus of many funding announcements from both Labor and Liberal parties, in the lead up to the November 24 state elections. The latest announcement comes from Premier Daniel Andrews, who told SBS Punjabi that a permanent landmark in the name of Guru Nanak (the founder of the Sikh religion) must be inaugurated next year to mark his 550th birth anniversary.
Spearheading Labor's campaign for the November 24 elections, Premier Daniel Andrews was at the Blackburn Gurudwara (Sikh temple) over the weekend, where he announced funding of $1 million for the refurbishment project being undertaken at the premises.
Victoria is home to the biggest Sikh community in Australia. According to the 2016 census, Sikhism is now the fifth largest religion in the nation. With 126,000 followers, 53,000 Sikhs reside in Victoria and both major political parties have been out to woo the community.
With his head covered with a traditional head covering, Mr Andrews paid obeisance to the Sikh holy scriptures at the Blackburn Gurudwara and sat among the devotees, before addressing the congregation.
He hailed the Victorian Sikh community as representative of "strong Victorian values like inclusiveness, kindness, love, and generosity."
"A multicultural Victoria would not simply be the same without the contribution of the Sikh community, and the Indian community more broadly has made over decades and decades," he said.
"Hard work, generosity, community-mindedness, getting on and creating wealth and opportunity: we are forever in the debt of the Sikh and the broader Indian community, in this prosperous, modern Victoria."
Congratulating Victoria's Sikh community which has just celebrated Bandi Chhor Diwas, the Premier spoke of the significance of the festival that "celebrates light over darkness and good over evil."
In a speech made to the congregation, Mr Andrews used many traditional Punjabi words like praying for 'Sarbat da bhala' (welfare and happiness of all) and leading the slogans 'Bole So Nihal, Sat Sri Akal', as well as 'Waheguru ji ka Khalsa, Waheguru ji ki fateh'.
The Premier said, "I understand the importance of religious and cultural observances, and the significance of passing on the heritage to our children."
To that effect, he made a significant announcement about next year's landmark celebration of Guru Nanak's birthday.
"We would allocate $200,000 so that in the city, in the heart of Melbourne, we could have the biggest Guru Nanak 550th birthday celebration, outside of India. And I think that is appropriate. It is a special and unique way that we can thank the Sikh community by honouring your founder on that special occasion," said Mr Andrews.
"I very much look forward to the Nagar Kirtan - the march all the way from Parliament House to Federation Square on that occasion. And I will be pleased and proud to be at the front of that important parade. It's not happened before and I think this is something that will enrich our state and our multiculturalism," he added.
The Premier went on to say that since it is such a significant occasion, Victorians must celebrate it in a more 'permanent' way.
"We'll bring the Sikh community together and have a discussion on what kind of permanent landmark in the name of Guru Nanak should be created," he said.
"It could be a street name, it could be anything - now I don't want to suggest what it should be, but if we win the elections, we will sit with all Sikh leaders in Victoria and decide what it should be. It is such a significant occasion and we must do something to mark that occasion as a permanent acknowledgement."
In addition to this, Mr Andrews announced a $70,000 funding for celebrating Vaisakhi Federation Square, which he said would be "the biggest Vaisakhi celebration in Australia."
As SBS Punjabi has reported before, Victoria's Liberal party has also made some significant announcements for the Sikh community in the lead up to the elections.
Matthew Guy, the leader of the Liberal party in Victoria has announced $200,000 for the Sikh March from Parliament to the Federation Square, to mark the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak. An additional $150,000 has been allocated for 2019 National Sikh Games to be held in Melbourne, and a further$70,000 to celebrate Vaisakhi at the iconic Federation Square.
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