Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s visit to a Buddhist temple in Melbourne following the April 21 suicide bomb attacks in Sri Lanka has caused confusion and debate among Sri Lankan communities who call Australia home.
On April 22, during the Federal Election campaign, the Prime Minister visited the Shakyamuni Sambuddha Vihara in Melbourne’s South eastern suburb of Berwick in the marginal seat of La Trobe, where he and his wife Jenny were welcomed by the resident monks, young girls doing a traditional dance and a large gathering of Buddhist worshippers. He later described it as “an incredibly warm and beautiful welcome”.
To the wider Sri Lankan community however, the fact that the prime minister chose to visit a Buddhist temple when the majority of victims in the bomb attacks were Christians specifically targeted during Easter Sunday prayer, has become a matter for conjecture and debate.
Many shared the sentiments of Kalani Rajaguru, a 33-year-old Sri Lankan mother living in Melbourne. She commented on Scott Morrison’s Facebook post about the visit: “All Sri Lankans do really appreciate your words and support on behalf of all Australians during this hard and emotional situation.”
But many others questioned the motives of Morrison, and even his knowledge of the Sri Lankan situation.
“It is the Christians in Sri Lanka who were slaughtered for their faith – doesn’t make sense why you are addressing a Buddhist audience? Not sure if you are aware of the history of the Nation of Sri Lanka,” Mark Perera said in response to the Facebook post.
Many others have since accused the prime minister of playing politics with the tragedy.
“Of course, there are more votes in Buddhist temples than in churches,” said David Field, an Australian man married to a Sri Lankan woman. “It is not hard to see why he would choose to go to a temple at this time when a Federal Election is just a few weeks away.”
However, committee members of the Shakyamuni Sambuddha Vihara have denied any ulterior motive in the Prime Minister’s visit. Champika Yatawara, a member of the temple committee, stated that Mr Morrison’s visit was scheduled many months ago and was meant to bring news of a $280,000 grant for a language and religion school the local Sri Lankan community was building in the temple premises. The timing, coming just a day after the bombings, Yatawara said, may seem somewhat planned, but the prime minister simply took the opportunity to voice his shock and sadness over the bomb attacks in Sri Lanka.
“A cloud of immense sadness is shrouding our hearts,” Yatawara said. “And the Prime Minister’s words of solidarity were comforting. Instead of bickering among ourselves, we should all unite as one at a time like this.”