Dr Rifi migrated to Australia in 1984, learnt English, and completed his studies in medicine. He became a GP, set up his own practice and threw himself into the service of our community. He became a founding member of Australian Muslim Doctors against Violence and the Australian Christian-Muslim Friendship Society. He has been awarded a Human Rights Medal and has become the President of the Lakemba Sports and Recreation Club. In the wake of the Cronulla riots, he was the driving force behind the On the Same Wave program-a community reconciliation program that enabled young Muslim women to become surf lifesavers for the first time, wearing ‘burkinis’.
Last week, the member for Cook and I traversed the Kokoda Trail with Dr Rifi, bringing together young people from the beaches of Cronulla and the suburbs of Bankstown. I think it is fair to say that we would never have got across the Owen Stanley Range without Dr Rifi-without his self-deprecating sense of humour, without his compassionate professionalism and without his leadership and encouragement.
We affectionately called him the ‘Panther’. He would appear at camp every night in a new costume, a product of bush ingenuity and his razor sharp wit. One morning, Dr Rifi walked up to an older group of trekkers, resting at the top of a gruelling climb, and he asked them if it was seniors day and invited them to pull out their Medicare cards.
But he is not just a funny man; he is also a fine doctor. Our trek leader, Charlie Lynn, a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, said that Dr Rifi was the best doctor he had seen in his 20 years on the trail. In difficult conditions he took his hippocratic oath to new lengths. Physically exhausted himself, he not only looked after our team but also treated local guides and villagers. He told me that the highlight of the trek was the opportunity to treat a real hero, Faole Bokoi, one of the few surviving fuzzy wuzzy angels.
After eight days walking along the trail with Dr Rifi I now understand why he is held in such high esteem by so many. He is a trailblazer-a man committed to breaking down the barriers of ignorance and intolerance, a doctor helping to heal the body and the soul of our community and a community leader worth following. In January this year, Dr Rifi was named the New South Wales Local Hero of the Year as part of the Australia Day awards. It is a fitting tribute to a man who is a real hero to many people in our community, including me.’