Wednesday, 3 April 2019
On behalf of the community that I'm privileged to represent in this place, can I extend my condolences to the families of the victims of the terrorist attack in Christchurch 19 days ago, to the people of Christchurch and to all of the people of New Zealand. As you well know, Mr Acting Deputy Speaker Laundy, I represent a part of Australia where every Friday a lot of people do what those 50 people were doing on that peaceful Friday afternoon in Christchurch: they gather in mosques and community halls and they pray. For that reason, it's affected my community more than many others in Australia.
That night I got a text message from a friend of mine telling me that his little boy was too scared to leave the house. At Lakemba Mosque that night, there were thousands of people gathered out the front and inside—people of all different faiths and backgrounds. Some were crying; many, like my friend's son, were scared; all were grieving. But very few of the people that I met and spoke to at the mosque that night were surprised or even shocked. So many of the people that I represent in this place have lived in fear of this, almost expecting this, for a long, long time. But that doesn't answer the question: how does something like this happen? How does somebody do something so monstrous—walk into a room where people are praying and just start shooting? How does somebody kill the person at the front door who welcomed him in, kill schoolkids, kill a three-year-old little boy? A three-year-old little boy!
That little boy's name was Mucad Ibrahim. He was three years old. I've got a little boy at home and he's almost three. He woke up the other night crying—he'd fallen out of his bed—and I calmed him down. He told me that the monsters had pushed him out of bed. I told him that monsters aren't real, they're just pretend, and put him back to sleep. I didn't tell him the truth that night—that monsters are real. How else do you explain what happened in Christchurch a couple of weeks ago? And it's not just Christchurch. We see the same horror story play out in other parts of the world—different monsters and different warped ideologies, but all driven by the same insane hate. Except that's not the right word, because it's not insane; that's an excuse that people like this don't deserve. It's a deep-seated hate full of racism and bigotry.
But how does it happen? I don't think it's good enough for us to just blame the internet. It's part of the problem—it's a big part; search around enough on the internet and you'll find the sorts of things that can poison people's minds and help turn them into monsters—but we've got politicians in this place that preach the same sort of hate, the same sort of bigotry and the same sort of ugliness that you can just as easily find online. And I'm not just talking about Fraser Anning. He is the worst of us—he is the worst of us—but he's not the only one. There are people in this place who have made an art out of scaring good people by telling them that bad people are coming to get them, to swamp them, to change their laws or to take their jobs. There are people in this place who have described Islam as a disease. They've described someone's faith as a disease.
What I think we need in this place is the sort of leadership that we've seen in New Zealand in the last few weeks—the sort of leadership that Jacinda Ardern has shown. In the worst of all possible circumstances the Prime Minister of New Zealand has proven herself to be an exceptional leader, everything that her community needs: compassionate, caring, strong, decisive; binding the wounds of her country with her words and with her deeds.
But it's not just what Jacinda Ardern has done that we should look to New Zealand for for inspiration. It's how the whole community has reacted, from non-Muslims standing guard while Muslims pray, to the elderly man who only survived the gunfire because he was shielded by his wife and who forgave the monster who killed her. His name is Farid Ahmed. What an extraordinary human being.
The people of New Zealand haven't been divided by what has happened; they've only come closer together. And we can do this here too in Australia if we try. Whenever there's a terrorist attack anywhere around the world and the perpetrator is a Muslim, I often get asked to comment. And I often get asked, 'What more should the Muslim community be doing to stop this from happening?' I say that you can't blame a community for the actions of one monster, of one demented mind. But I also say there's always more that we can do, that mums and dads can do, that teachers can do, that medical professionals can do and that community leaders can do. In this case the terrorist was a white supremacist born here in Australia, and so let's ask the same question: what else should we be doing? What else should we all be doing to stop the spread of this sort of hatred in our community—not just on the internet and not just here in this parliament but everywhere? If we learn anything out of the horror of what happened in Christchurch, I hope it's the answer to this question.
At the memorial service on Friday, the New Zealand Prime Minister asked of her country this:
… be the place that we wish to be.
A place that is diverse … kind and compassionate. Those values represent the very best of us.
… we are not immune to … hate …
But we can be the nation that discovers the cure.
Let us aspire to be that nation.
I would like to echo the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition yesterday. The attacks in Christchurch were a disgusting manifestation of the worst side of humanity. Our hearts go out to the people of New Zealand. The people of New Zealand aren't our neighbours; they are our family. We live together, serve together, compete in sports together. In fact, our first success as a country in international tennis was as Australasia, with the great champion Anthony Wilding and Norman Brookes winning the Davis Cup. That went back to 1905. When tragedy strikes here, it is felt there, and this has been shown by the outpouring of grief here. We feel their loss most keenly.
It would be tragic if this was a senseless attack, but, if anything, this is worse because the deranged shooter thought he saw sense. His extremist views weren't a product of his own mind; they were fostered and nurtured by others around the world. He did what he did because he saw it was a logical endpoint for his thoughts and beliefs. This means there could be others out there harbouring similar thoughts, and there are definitely people out there who are encouraging extremist views. We must be ever vigilant in the fight against these views.
Sadly, we have people here in this parliament who have stoked these tensions. I've spoken in this chamber before about the disgusting nature of the views held by some senators, but I've never considered the effect they could have on an unhinged mind who would act on these racist words. Thankfully, there is no shortage of people lining up to condemn the words of Fraser Anning, and I note that a censure motion is going through the Senate as I speak. This is particularly poignant because it is also his last ever day as a senator—good riddance!
It's good to see that our public debate is ready to condemn hateful words like his but it is sad that we need to, and concerning that there are people who listen to the hate speech in the first place. Whereas the story in Australia quickly turned to the hateful comments of the senator, thankfully, across the ditch, we had an example of how to behave in the face of tragedy. Jacinda Ardern has been the perfect leader in recent weeks—caring and sympathetic, yet so very strong. She has ensured that the focus of the disaster has been on the people of Christchurch and the community that uses this mosque. They are the victims we must be listening to and the heroes we must be celebrating. Jacinda has ensured that this has happened, and we must congratulate her for that.
The opposite reaction came from the President of Turkey. He played footage of the event at political rallies and tried to utilise the apparent schism between the West and Islam as a political tool ahead of the general election. This has been roundly condemned and seems not to have helped in the polls. I obviously agree that his comments were tasteless and his use of the footage disgusting but we must temper our condemnation, no matter how hard it is to do so. The gunman knew his actions would not end a war; he was looking to start one. He was looking for escalation, and escalation is easy to achieve when the stakes are so high. It is the easiest thing to start a war of words over these actions and point a wider finger of blame, but to do so would be exactly what the gunman would have wanted. I want to condemn the Turkish leader's remarks because they are exactly how the gunman wanted him to react, but I can't condemn them because that is how the gunman would have wanted us to react in turn.
I have already seen racist and neo-Nazi graffiti in my electorate, which is one of the most diverse in the country but also one of the most harmonious. We must condemn hatred and condemn all extremist actions, but we must do so by targeting those at fault—those who have committed and incited these atrocities—not by targeting broad sections of the community in which we live. We must come together as friends across communities, religions and ethnicities. We must stand against hatred and extremist ideologies from all corners and condemn those equally.
Some of the most moving words of the remembrance service in Christchurch went to Yusuf Islam. He spoke of opposites—how an act so barbaric can actually foster unity and harmony, and people coming together against such an atrocity. He spoke of how Christianity and Islam are brothers, religious brothers, worshipping the same god, both preaching peace, and he spoke of love.
I'd like to end with a thought on my past career. People regularly ask me about what I learnt from playing tennis—'How could playing a sport relate to real life?' Well, sport teaches you to get up when you're down. Sport teaches you to respect those around you, and, at the beginning of every tennis match, the score is 'love all'.
Many of us, no doubt—probably everyone in the country—remember where we were when we heard the terrible news from Christchurch coming through. For us in Melbourne on that Friday, many would have been at Friday prayers and the mosques would have been full as usual. Many people would have been going about their ordinary business. Many of us were watching the best of Melbourne and the best of humanity on display, as thousands of students were marching in the street calling for a better future. All of us had our hearts broken. It was a heartbreaking moment for Melbourne and the grief was palpable, especially, as is the case now, as people ended up hearing the news come out, as the reports got more informed, and people started to learn about the heroes who went back in to save others, only to find themselves getting shot. We heard about children as young as my own children losing their lives. We heard about people who were doing nothing more than taking time at a very special moment to reflect in a place of worship, only to find that it turned into the worst day of their lives. They and their family members will bear the grief of that for the rest of their lives.
At that time we saw Melbourne coming together and expressing support for the people in New Zealand. The connection with New Zealand amongst many members of the Somali community in Melbourne is especially close—as is the case for broader Australia. What meant a lot was seeing people from across faiths stand up and express their support. We saw strong representation in Melbourne from members of various faiths at the various services: the Sikhs, Anglicans, Catholics and even the Jewish faith. They stood up and talked about what happens when hatred like this is allowed to spread, and that support meant a lot.
I spent that evening and throughout that whole weekend talking to members of the Muslim community in my local electorate. The message that they wanted me to convey to everyone—to this parliament and to the community more broadly—is that the coming together at that time and in the form of this motion actually means something. That weekend, coincidentally, happened to be weekend that the Islamic Council of Victoria had set aside for the open mosque weekend. They made what I think was the right decision—I know they had to think about it, but they made the right decision—to keep that going over the weekend. They kept the doors of Melbourne's mosques open to the population.
I went to two mosques in my electorate that day, to the ICV Mosque in West Melbourne first. It was standing room only. I've been into that place many times, but never have I walked into it and found that I had to navigate my way through a narrow doorway that became even narrower because of the number of flowers that people had come and laid at the door. Looking inside, I saw a sea of people. They were not only coming in upstairs, to listen to the sheik and the various members of the ICV board speak and to hear other members from across the political spectrum and across the community speak but also coming in downstairs and going through the prayer spaces.
People were understanding and wanting to reach out for the first time, not only to have a better understanding of what happens inside these places of worship but also to say, 'We're here for you.' It was the same at the Albanian mosque in Carlton, Melbourne's first mosque. The flowers stretched out onto the footpath. As we went in and were invited to join in the prayers, again, it was standing room only. There were people who had walked past that mosque many times. Perhaps there were some who didn't even know it was there. They wanted to come in and say, 'We are with you.' The message from people was, 'By attacking you they have attacked us.' This was because Melbourne, like New Zealand, is a place where everyone has a place. It is a place where we never want to see hatred on the basis of race grow. We never want to see that. People turned out in their hundreds and then in their thousands to send that message as the vigils were held during the week.
It shouldn't take tragedy to bring out the best in us, or perhaps to send Australia in a different direction to the one it had been going in. But if there is anything like a silver lining—if we can even talk about a silver lining or anything good that can come out of it—it is, hopefully, that the best of what is in all of us stood up over that weekend and in the weeks since to say, 'We are with you,' to say to our Muslim sisters and brothers, 'We are all with you.'
But perhaps one of the hardest things for me to hear over that weekend as I was talking to members of our Muslim community—our sisters and our brothers—was how many of them said, 'Well, actually, we're not surprised; we expected something like this to happen,' or, 'Actually, some things like this are happening all the time.' That was a truly shocking thing to hear. This shocked most of us. It broke our hearts. It came with the full force of, potentially, the unexpected.
To hear people say, 'No, it's not unexpected; don't be at all surprised that things like this happen,' is in many ways a confronting thing to hear, but actually they're right. Whilst I am pleased that the Prime Minister has moved this motion and we're having this moment of reflection, much of this has been coming for some time. The conditions that have been created for what has happened in New Zealand have, in many ways, been created here in Australia. I'd say to the Prime Minister—and Melbourne wants to say to the Prime Minister—thank you for moving this motion, but you don't get to wipe your hands of it now, when for the last decade or two you have overseen the normalisation of hate speech and division in this country.
It started when Pauline Hanson was elected to the House of Representatives and said, at that time, that she was worried about 'the Asians'. Yes, after that we saw her be excommunicated, but we also saw the government effectively pick up pretty much all of her policies. We saw it when John Howard was prepared to lie to people, to the Australian public, in saying that people who were doing nothing more than coming here to seek safety were throwing their children overboard. For the sake of winning votes, he was prepared to lie and to demonise people. Yes, those people might have been perceived to be different from us, but they were actually the same. When you say that people are almost subhuman in that they would throw their children overboard, you start to normalise people's being treated as less than us—not only different but less than us.
We've had 15 or 20 years of saying that refugees are somehow less than us; that, because they're a threat to us, we need to treat them as less than human with less-than-human rights. In outer Melbourne over a decade ago a young Sudanese man was beaten to death by people who said, 'We're here because we want to take our town back,' and a Liberal Party minister in the federal government at the time stood up and said, 'Africans are failing to integrate.' They blamed someone who had just been beaten to death rather than calling out the hate for what it was. When, in an attempt to win votes, the Minister for Home Affairs comes to Victoria and says that people are worried about going out to eat because of African gangs—
Mr Watts interjecting—
Right. He says, to try to win votes, people are worried about going out to eat because of African gangs—in a town that he knows next to nothing about. I'm reminded that he didn't even have the courtesy to come to Melbourne to say it. He said it from outside to try to influence a state election and, hopefully, a federal election; to try to sow fear and division in Melbourne and Victoria just for the sake of winning votes. When you say that maybe it was the wrong decision to allow Lebanese Muslims to come here, because there's a problem with integration, then you have a role in creating this climate of hate. You've overseen this climate of hate and fear in a grubby attempt to win votes. So, no, you do not get to wipe your hands of it with a condolence motion. You need to stand up and say, 'We are at a crossroads and we can do better.'
You don't have to look far to see what real leadership looks like; you just have to look over the ditch to see what real leadership looks like. So many of us were waiting for that real leadership. Instead, what did we get a couple of days later? We got: 'By the way, this election campaign is still going to be run on immigration. This time we're going to blame the refugees for the trains being full, instead of blaming it on our own failure to fund infrastructure properly.'
People have sussed you out. People have worked out that using hate, fear and division to try to win votes creates the conditions where others will pick up that message and take it to the worst extreme. The worst thing is that so many of us have been warning you—pleading with you—not to do this, because we know where it ends. People have been pleading with the senior figures in government not to use race and division to win votes, because it unleashes demons. But no. It was thought that you could keep doing it with no cost. Well, we know that there's a cost. And of course it's not just the government; others play a role in it as well. The media plays a role in it as well. The media has taken people who get just over one per cent of the vote in this country and given them a national platform every week to speak. Then the media acts surprised that the shooter's manifesto reads like One Nation's policy—yes, and you've been giving that policy an airing for the last 15 years. We should not act surprised.
But we can do something about it, and people are wising up. I say to those who would use hate and fear to try and win votes: the country is coming to rip that dog whistle off you. People have had enough. I hope, as we head into this election campaign—which will be fought hard, as every election campaign is; that's what you expect—that we can go back to the time that we used to have, certainly in Victoria when I first got elected, when there seemed to be a consensus that you wouldn't use race to try and win votes. One of the best bits about my job when I first came to this place, back in 2010, was going to events where the Liberal Party state Minister for Multicultural Affairs would get up and say, 'The good thing about Victoria is that we've got Labor, Liberal and the Greens all here, all accepting that multiculturalism is the defining feature, and you're never going to find us trying to divide people to win votes.' I hope that we can go back to that. I hope that that's what the coming weeks will be like, because they could potentially be defining weeks for us.
To our Muslim sisters and brothers: know that we are all with you, and know that we have heard what you are saying and that you want Australia to remain a place where everyone has a place. That is what I hope that Melbourne will always be.
There is much I could say on that contribution, but I shan't. As somebody who represents an electorate and a community that hosts some 216 different cultures, I'm proud to say that we very rarely, if ever, see discord and division. I'm blessed to live in a community where those cultures work together harmoniously and for the betterment of the community for all involved. The events of Christchurch a couple of weeks ago are a sad indictment of the lengths that some people can go to to treat their fellow human beings so poorly, with such disregard and such disdain.
In my electorate I have a population of six per cent or more whose heritage is Maori or New Zealander, according to the 2016 census. It is one of the abiding privileges of living in Australia, and our relationship with New Zealand that goes back so many years, that all of us in our communities have a large number of people who have New Zealand and Maori heritage. Equally, there would be many Australians who live in the New Zealand community. My fellow chair of the Australia-New Zealand parliamentary friendship group, Joel Fitzgibbon, and I took the opportunity shortly after the atrocity occurred to contact the New Zealand High Commissioner to Australia, Dame Annette King, and pass on our condolences. We also wrote to the high commissioner and to the New Zealand government and people to express our condolences and support for the New Zealand community.
I think, as many others do, all we can do in this place is condemn such a senseless act as occurred at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch on 15 March, which claimed the lives of 50 innocent men, women and children. My prayers and thoughts go out to all of those affected and to the whole of New Zealand. Equally, my thoughts and prayers are with my local Muslim community, including those at the Eagleby Kotku Mosque and the Baitul Masroor Mosque. I've met with a number of those people over the past couple of weeks, just in general conversations, and passed on my condolences and thoughts to them.
As I said at the outset, one of the great things about the community in which I live is that I don't see the things that, sadly, the member for Melbourne spoke about earlier. I see a community that is united, that seeks to ensure that the issues that may occur in other communities do not occur in ours. Irrespective of race, religion, colour or creed, we work extraordinarily hard to ensure that we have community harmony and unity. I want to call out the fact that there is no place in our communities for the hatred that was demonstrated in Christchurch. Events like that do nothing to build in our society and our community the cohesiveness and integrity that we need as a country, or as countries, to move forward.
As somebody who grew up in a migrant family—my parents came to Australia in the mid-1960s—I've had a variety of experiences, and I can say some of those weren't always pleasant. But I've tried not to let those experiences define me and, with my background, I'm very conscious to ensure that when I see those things happening in my community I call them out. I'm always focused on ensuring that for new arrivals to our country. I'm sure all of us in this place have the privilege of attending citizenship ceremonies. We get to meet some wonderful people who have sought to make Australia their new home. We welcome them with open arms and we say that during our ceremony. But it is not just about saying those words at citizenship ceremonies; it's actually about demonstrating and living that on a day-to-day basis in our communities. Those people have come here to create a new life for themselves, to be able to live free of fear. Many of them have come from very difficult circumstances overseas. As we saw with the attacks in Christchurch and other events that we've seen here in Australia, these people who desire to do our community harm and to break those bonds in our community that make it what it is today have no place.
I'm pleased to say that, with the support of those on the other side, we are seeing steps also being taken to reduce or eliminate the capacity for these sorts of acts of terrorism and other violent activities to be spread through social media. This is incredibly important, because the ability that is provided through these platforms can encourage others to undertake the same acts. I know the member for Melbourne Ports, in his valedictory speech the other day, touched on the fact that in a lot of cases we don't even know if they're real people on those social media platforms. I think that was a very valid point by the member for Melbourne Ports.
I hope the steps that all of us are taking in this place, in that space, in time will help improve the situation. I think the most important step we can take as members of our community is to continue to engage with our communities, to ensure that we encourage them to continue to work together and respect all in our communities, irrespective of their background, values or beliefs. We can always learn from others. I say that to schoolkids regularly: be prepared to learn from others. Most importantly, treat others as you would have them treat you. We are all human beings who want to lead a safe, prosperous life not only for ourselves but for our families, for our kids. We all want a better future for our communities.
My heart goes out to the families in Christchurch who have lost their loved ones. My thoughts and prayers are with them. I know the New Zealand government is doing a tremendous job to help support those families in a very difficult time. I hope they also know that they have the full support of the Australian community as well. My friends in the New Zealand community in my electorate of Forde also know that they have our support in this very difficult circumstance. I'd like to thank all of those in my community who have taken time out to pass on their thoughts and condolences to the families and community of New Zealand as well.
I think we should be very proud of our country and our multicultural society. Are there issues and concerns? Yes. And, sadly, there will always be people who seek to do harm. But, provided we stay strong as a community and also look at the good that occurs, I think our society and our community can be so much better as a result. To the people of New Zealand: my heartfelt condolences and sympathies.
On 15 March 2019, 50 women, men and children were murdered by an Australian terrorist at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch. This atrocity has been shocking and saddening for all people of goodwill around the world. Our thoughts, first and foremost, are with those mourning an unimaginable loss and those still fighting to recover physically and confront the incredible trauma of this event emotionally.
Australians have been united in expressing their grief and condolences to the people of New Zealand, and Kiwis of the Muslim faith in particular. Like thousands of other residents of Melbourne's west, in the community that I represent in this place, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and I visited the Australian Islamic Centre in Newport on open mosque day, on the Sunday after the attack, to show our solidarity with the Muslim community in Australia and New Zealand at this difficult time. I was proud of the way our community responded to this atrocity, united in our grief and compassion, to show support to those in mourning and in fear.
The fact that one of our own could commit such an act in a country so much like our own has been a cause for much reflection. The actions of the monster who committed this attack do not reflect our values as Australians—particularly not the values that we live in Melbourne's west. But we need to be honest: our Muslim community had experienced a growing tide of hate speech in the lead-up to the attack in Christchurch. More definitive facts about the terrorist will be established in the coming weeks and months, particularly in the royal commission initiated by the New Zealand Prime Minister into the atrocity. It's clear that there are implications from this atrocity that we need to confront in Australia.
The Christchurch mosque attacks confirm that right-wing extremism and white nationalism are a real security threat to Australia that must be taken seriously by law enforcement and security agencies, by mainstream and new media and by our political figures. I've warned this place about this issue in the past, after the murder of UK parliamentarian Jo Cox. All have cause to reflect in the period after this attack. Law enforcement ought to take the activities of white-nationalist extremists, particularly their online activities, more seriously in light of these events.
Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton has recently described the approach taken by white-nationalist groups in Australia as being 'more rhetorical and ideologically based' than violent 'to date'. This qualifier doesn't give me much comfort. We should all understand clearly that the Christchurch terrorist was suffused with the rhetoric and ideology based activities of Australian white-nationalist groups. Chief Commissioner Ashton identified the Lads Society, an offshoot of United Patriots Front, and the Antipodean Resistance as being the most active white-nationalist groups in this space in Victoria. The United Patriots Front is a coalition of individuals and groups who have been opposed to the construction of mosques in Australia.
The ABC has reported that the Christchurch terrorist was a regular commenter on the Facebook pages of the United Patriots Front and an adjacent group, True Blue Crew, for nearly a year. He's also reported to have expressed his admiration for Blair Cottrell, a convicted arsonist and domestic violence abuser, who has called for a picture of Adolf Hitler to be hung in every Australian classroom and who is also one of the founders of the United Patriots Front, lately the Lads Society. In these posts, the Christchurch terrorist commented:
Globalists and Marxists on suicide watch, patriots and nationalists triumphant—looking forward to Emperor Blair Cottrell coming soon.
The Christchurch terrorist also seems to have made a donation to the United Patriots Front in the past.
Some have sought to play up the fact that the Christchurch terrorist has spent little time in Australia in recent years. This may be true physically, but the online activities of Australian white-nationalist groups have clearly had an enormous impact on him. You only have to look at the profile picture he used online to understand this. It's taken directly from the iconography of what some refer to as Dingo Twitter and its fellow travellers on 8chan. The actions of individuals in these groups, online or offline, need to be taken seriously in the context of the Christchurch attacks. Unfortunately, in the past we've seen threats and harassment by white-nationalist groups not taken seriously by police and other law enforcement in Australia. I was particularly surprised to read in the newspapers this morning a quote from Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing, head of the New South Wales counter-terrorism unit:
Everything we have seen indicates that all of these groups and individuals are engaged online. We have no evidence that there are physical meetings or clubs as such.
Putting to one side the public Reclaim Australia rallies addressed by Blair Cottrell and these groups. or the anti-mosque or anti-African Australian rallies organised by these groups, the ABC has attended an in-person meeting of the Lads Society in Sydney and reported on it. The activities of white-nationalist groups in Australia need to be given far greater scrutiny than they are at present.
Our media also need to reflect on the way they engage with these extremists. For far too long, these white-nationalist extremists have been given platforms in our media to promote their views. We know that the Christchurch terrorist was at home watching and cheering on Blair Cottrell when Cottrell was interviewed on Australian television. He commented at the time:
Knocked it out of the park tonight Blair … Your retorts had me smiling, nodding, cheering and often laughing. Never believed we would have a true leader of the nationalist movement in Australia, and especially not so early in the game.
There is nothing to be gained from giving white nationalists platforms. They and their supporters have not reasoned their way into their race based theories and they cannot be reasoned out of them. Giving them the legitimacy of airing their views on mainstream media platforms builds their credibility in the online extremist forums they frequent. These online forums in particular bear a heavy responsibility in fighting this extremism. The time when white supremacists can use mainstream social media platforms to poison the minds of the alienated and the vulnerable must come to an end. Facebook and YouTube should not permit the live streaming of terrorist attacks, true, but nor should they create places for white nationalists to recruit and plan their activities and nor should their automated content algorithms push this extremist content on unsuspecting users.
We need to respond also to the less respectable online forums in which the real violent radicalisation of individuals occurs. If these forums won't kick out violent extremists, companies who provide support to these forums ought to be pressured to cut them off. Payment processes, domain registrars and hosting companies should all be marshalled in this cause. We must socially ostracise and repress these white nationalists at every opportunity.
This goes for political figures too. MPs and political parties need to educate themselves about the ways that white nationalists seek to build their profile and promote their views. It is no longer acceptable to be ignorant of this movement and to assist in its promotion, whether witting or unwitting. It's not acceptable for political figures to be ignorant of the origins and intent of coded language and symbols deliberately used by white nationalist groups to promote their causes, like the 'it's okay to be white' slogan, endorsed by the coalition in the Senate last year—unwittingly, I'm sure—or the 'white power' hand gesture used both by the Christchurch terrorist in his court appearance and by mainstream conservative activists in Australia—again, I hope, unwittingly. It is not acceptable for coalition MPs to appear at rallies pushing the 'white genocide' trope, coined by white nationalist groups deliberately to stoke racial divisions and fear and which was notably pushed by Blair Cottrell in his mainstream media television appearances. It's not acceptable for coalition MPs to unwittingly appear on the podcasts of white supremacists. It's not acceptable to allow the infiltration of Australian political parties by these white nationalist groups—coordinated infiltration, as we saw in the National Party last year. As my colleague the member for Chifley, the first Muslim to be a frontbencher in this parliament, eloquently put it recently:
Public figures should be just as accountable for the content that is shaped by their deeds and words.
… … …
Leadership must be exercised when it can make a difference, not as an afterthought.
Now is the time for all of us to exercise that leadership, because now is the time to make this difference. As the Leader of the Opposition said in the chamber yesterday:
Christchurch stands as a warning, a lesson and a reminder that, if one plays with the poison politics of racism, if we encourage majorities to pick on minorities, if we try and whip up fear about people who worship different gods and if we try and pretend that all of the problems in this country can be blamed on the people who happened to arrive last, we forfeit the right to be shocked when the worst of consequences occurs.
The Leader of the Opposition came to the Australian Islamic Centre of Newport in my electorate on the Sunday after these attacks, and spent 2½ hours talking with my community about these attacks. He told the thousands of people who came to that mosque for open mosque day: 'No more hate speech should be tolerated. Not all right-wing extremist hate speech ends in right-wing extremist violence, but all right-wing extremist violence begins with right-wing extremist hate speech. If you create a swamp of hate speech, you cannot disown what crawls out of the swamp.' This is something we should all reflect on, particularly in the lead-up to the coming federal election.
Bigotry and race based politics have no place in the strong and successful multicultural nation that Australia has become. The next election should be about policy, not division and dog whistles. It should be about ideas, not fear. I'm convinced that that's the reason the vast majority of members in this chamber came to this parliament and that is the spirit that we should move forward in, in the wake of the Christchurch attacks.
I've been fortunate to represent a very diverse electorate in the time that I have been here in this parliament. I came into parliament in 2001, two months after September 11. That was a very difficult time for the world community but it was especially difficult for the many people in my local community. I represent a constituency that has many features. One is that we have one of the largest communities of Australians who observe the Muslim faith. Australians who have migrated here over a period of five decades from, predominantly, Turkey and other countries of the Middle East came as migrants.
Our most recent arrivals have come as refugees from Iraq and Syria, largely, and they are of the Chaldean, Assyrian and Christian faiths. The adherence to and practice of faith is very important in Calwell. Our mosques and churches, Buddhist and Hindu temples and the Sikh gurdwara are all integral parts of our community life not only at a time of worship but also in other area of our lives, such as welfare, settlement services, family and individual support. Our local interfaith actives allow us all to come together, often to share each other's cultural and religious events, to talk to each other and to get to know each other. Iftar dinners during Ramadan are a long-held tradition in Calwell alongside the sharing of significant Christian events like Easter and Christmas, the Tibetan Buddhist spring festival, the Sri Lankan Buddhist lighting of the lamps, the Vietnamese moon festival and so many more.
This is the successful multicultural interfaith community that I know well and that I represent here in parliament. This is the successful multicultural Australia that we as a country are widely known and admired for. It hasn't always been easy, of course. Managing diversity such as ours in this country does not come easily. It has required community and political leadership to oversee policies implemented over 50 years. These policies have transformed our young country into a dynamic, modern, forward-looking society. While we still lag in our efforts to reconcile fully with our ancient Indigenous inheritance and our First Peoples, we are optimistic that the community and political will and leadership is here now to eventually make it right with our Indigenous Australians.
Events, especially those of and since September 11, remind us always that our community's cohesion, while robust, is also fragile. We can be bold in our initiatives, but at times we have to tread warily. Although we are a successful multicultural community we are not perfect, and our success will always depend on what is in our hearts and what comes out of our mouths. Our words and our thoughts are key to how we shape our relationships and how we interact with our fellow Australians and our broader community, our global community.
So for my community, those of Muslim faith and, indeed, those of the significant Pacific Islander and New Zealand Maori community, the massacre in Christchurch on Friday, 15 March of 50 innocent people while at prayer at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre was terrifying. The shock and disbelief they felt was heart wrenching. For our New Zealand Maori community the shock was an unspeakable horror. How could this happen in the sanctity of their homeland? For my local Muslim community the execution of innocent people while at prayer was also an unspeakable horror. Gut wrenching also, however, was the stated purpose of the perpetrator. Fear for the safety of our Muslim community became a matter of concern. Many asked themselves and others: 'Should we be afraid?' But the majority said, 'No.' My local Muslim community understood that their immediate responsibility was to come together and reach out across the Tasman to our brothers and sisters in Christchurch to help and comfort them. There was no time for them to be afraid for themselves. The morning after the horrific attack in Christchurch, I joined federal Labor leader Bill Shorten and my Labor parliamentary colleagues Peter Khalil, the member for Wills; Tim Watts, the member for Gellibrand, who spoke earlier; and the member for Isaacs, our shadow Attorney-General; at the Islamic Council of Victoria. We went there to pay our respects to New Zealand's Muslim community and, at this terrible time, to stand side by side with them alongside members of the Islamic Council of Victoria, who were present.
I want to thank the ICV president Mohamed Mohideen and vice-president Adel Salman for giving us a space to express our sincerest condolences and combined grief for the 50 victims of this dreadful and heinous crime and to honour and pay our respects to their families and friends. Two days after the attack, on Sunday, 17 March, the Islamic Council of Victoria hosted its annual Victorian Mosque Open Day—a day that always sits in my annual calendar. It marks Harmony Day and takes place during Cultural Diversity Week, two of Victoria's largest multicultural celebrations.
I joined my community at the Islamic Community Milli Gorus Meadow Heights mosque. I was very pleased to see a great number of other members of our community come to the mosque on that day to engage with their Muslim neighbours in what is a wonderful initiative that sees mosques open their doors and hearts to the broader Melbourne community. They came on that day to offer their condolences, to leave flowers and to express their own horror at what had happened in New Zealand.
Their solidarity and expression of love on that day was widely felt by all of us in attendance. In fact, our young master of ceremonies, Abdurrahman Turker, who is a second-generation Australian of Turkish heritage, in speaking to us said that they had discussed, prior to making the decision to open the mosque this year, whether it was necessary to participate in this year's Mosque Open Day. He said they felt that the time had finally come, perhaps, when such activities were no longer needed. They felt that we had reached a good safe place in the years post September 11, that our cohesion and goodwill had been restored and things had gone back to normal and that all was good in our community.
The events of Christchurch shattered that thinking. It was a brutal reminder that harm is not too far away, that there are still those amongst us who will commit evil acts against fellow human beings and that we have to always remain vigilant and look after one another. So the Mosque Open Day, on 17 March 2019, was more necessary than ever before. You see, where there are good voices there are also bad voices. We need to keep engaged in dialogue with one another so that the bad voices don't prevail in our public discourse, threatening our cohesion and solidarity as Australians.
I want to pay tribute to my community for their strength and resilience in such extraordinary circumstances. I especially want to pay tribute to them for the assistance they have given the New Zealand Muslim community, with many of my locals travelling there to offer their support and condolences. I want to recognise Zuleyha Keskin, who visited Christchurch immediately after the attack and was there when the first funerals began taking place. She posted this note on social media to inform those who wanted to go, to know what to expect on the ground if they did go to Christchurch. Her first impressions were:
If anyone is wanting to go to Christchurch, a few things to remember:
Remember, this is almost immediately after, almost 24 to 48 hours after. Zuleyha may have been one of the first from my community to travel to Christchurch to assist New Zealand's Muslim community, but she definitely wasn't alone in this outpouring of support. Also visiting in the days after were Kerim Buday and Kazem Ates, from the Millis Gorus Islamic community, and members of the Turkish media.
On Friday, 22 March, a week after the events in Christchurch, the Muslim Calwell community came together for a prayer and vigil outside the Hume Global Learning Centre in the heart of Broadmeadows. I want to thank the Islamic Community Milli Gorus for organising the prayer vigil where we all came together in solidarity with our Christchurch brothers and sisters to express our combined grief through prayer and reflection. Fifty prayer rugs were placed in front of us, one for each of the 50 people lost on that tragic Friday in Christchurch. Their names were placed at the top of each rug. Here I have the rug of one of the victims, 77-year-old Musa Nur Awale, who was murdered while praying in the Al Noor mosque.
I want to thank the following speakers on the night for their stirring words, for the compassion they expressed to the victims and for their commitment in standing in solidarity with the community. I want to thank Clayton Williams, the state president of the Craigieburn Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He is a New Zealander, and I had recently handed Clayton an Australian flag on the night he became an Australian citizen at the Hume Global Learning Centre in Craigieburn. He was as much stirred about what had happened in his homeland as he was proud of having become an Australian. I want to thank Nuh Arslantas, the head of religious affairs at the Turkish consulate; Kerim Buday from Islamic Community Milli Gorus; and Assmaa Zeno, the Islamic Community Milli Gorus Meadow Heights youth group president.
We've come together so many times, certainly in the 18 years that I've been here in this parliament, to express our compassion and condolences for the many horrendous murders that have taken place across the globe, often in the name of religion and, in this case, in the name of white supremacists. It's absolutely important that we condemn the words and the language of people whose prime motivation is to harm others, because they are different. Today, in expressing my condolences, I also want to commend the Prime Minister, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the many colleagues who have spoken and will speak in this chamber for leading by example and condemning hate speech. I commend my own community, my local Calwell community, for the amount of work that they do in servicing their neighbours and their friends.
The alleged perpetrator of this terrorist attack was from my community, so we were all as devastated as anyone but even more so because he came from our community. On the Monday after the attack there were two events that happened in Grafton that were very important to me and to many members of our community. Firstly, Judy Hackett and a group organised and made 50 hearts made of flowers, and they were laid on the hill at Memorial Park. Then, later that night, there was a vigil that was held at the local Anglican cathedral. It was open to everybody; it was open to people of all faiths and all religions, atheist or agnostic. These were the events that really represented who the true people of Grafton and the Clarence Valley are.
That act in Christchurch was an act of evil. It was an act that was meant to, as all terrorist acts are meant to, divide us. It was an act that wanted to turn religion against religion, race against race and people against people. But it won't succeed, and I see continually, as I saw that day in the community of Grafton and the Clarence Valley and many, many examples since, the goodness of who we are. When people are in need—drought, flood, illness—the community has always acted in a sense of goodwill to each other. Religious teachings and many philosophies always tell us that love will always overcome evil. At the vigil, I prayed for the Islamic and wider community of Christchurch, and I prayed for our community—the community of Grafton and the Clarence Valley. I also prayed for the family of the alleged perpetrator, because the grandmother, the mother and the sister are not guilty of the sins of the grandson, son or brother.
The mayor of the Clarence Valley is also going to visit Christchurch with a book of condolences that has had some very heartfelt things written in it about that terrible, terrible attack. But I just want to say to everyone: while that attack was an act of evil, it does not represent who and what we are. The community of the Clarence Valley and the community of Grafton have shown a lot of acts of love and peace since then, and I pray for all involved.
I would like to rise with all other members in this place to personally add my condolences to the 50 victims—men, women and children—who lost their lives in the Christchurch attacks. You should have been safe in your place of peaceful worship. It should not have happened, especially at the hands of an Australian citizen. This attack was as cowardly as it was horrific, targeting worshippers at their most vulnerable. I especially offer my condolences to those families who have been directly impacted by this unspeakable act. Since the attack, I've been invited to speak at vigils and services within the Islamic community in my electorate. The community is visibly shaken but the dominant theme within the speeches at these events has been how things can be better if we move forward together as one community and one family.
I would like to use the remainder of this speech today to reflect on the social conditions that ensure that extremism and terrorism have no place in our society. What we need to say is: words matter; actions matter; responses matter. What happened in Christchurch targeted some of us but it actually happened to all of us. And, as awful as the perpetrator's actions were, our focus must remain only on helping and supporting those impacted by the attack. Let's look to the good, and let's come together and support not only the community members in Christchurch and New Zealand, more than 2,000 kilometres away, but also our friends and neighbours here in our own communities.
Some of the residents of my electorate have been directly impacted by the Christchurch tragedy. I especially acknowledge my constituents who lost loved ones in the mosque and provide my most sincere condolences to them. When I was at the Green Valley Mosque open day a couple of Sundays ago, a woman who, like me, is a mother and a grandmother relayed to me that her son should have been at the mosque that day for prayers. He was there most Fridays; however, fate intervened. A late work meeting meant that he was running late and was not in the mosque when the firing began. This woman was still visibly shaken by these events. She told me of the anxious wait for a phone call, and the relief she felt when it came from her son and not the police—and then the guilt about those people who got a phone call from the police. So many families were not spared that terrible phone call.
Since the Christchurch attack, members of my community have been subjected to threats and actions that are, at their best, un-Australian and, at their worst, illegal. I will not detail them in this place; however, I do thank the police of the Liverpool City Police Area Command for their leadership and support for those communities that have been affected by these threats. Terrorism relies on fear, relies on mistrust and relies on demonising another. Let us stop all those things now and embrace each other with love and support. Remember the good things that come out of tragedies like this. Remember the police, the paramedics and the bystanders who, in the face of fear and uncertainty, still went towards the danger to assist those who were injured and killed. This is our humanity. This is the way we support each other.
The way we speak matters. Words should be used wisely. Consider carefully what is said. Racism and hate, and whatever other names they go by, are wrong, because we are all the same. Those affected by these attacks are all of us and they are one of us. We all love the same. We all love our families, our children, our parents and our friends. We are all more the same than not. I want to reiterate my condolences to each of the victims, their families and the people of New Zealand.
It is with a very heavy heart that I rise today to join my colleagues in this House to acknowledge the terrible, atrocious crimes committed in Christchurch just over two weeks ago. I remember very clearly being in Newcastle as the news broke and being immediately very fearful for the constituents of mine that were about to go into Friday prayers in the two mosques that I have in Newcastle. I got to talk to many of those men and women the following day. I could only imagine what it felt like fronting up to Friday prayers just half an hour after the news had broken in Australia of the horrendous crimes that had been committed in Christchurch. I could only imagine what it felt like going into prayer with that really hollow and numb feeling and how really terrifying that must have been.
I was so amazingly proud of the way in which the Newcastle community responded and responded really swiftly. The mosque at Mayfield called for a public vigil the following day, Saturday, put it out there on Facebook and asked the community for those who wanted to to join them. I attended that service. It was packed. It was absolutely standing room only inside the mosque, but people spilled out to the common spaces between the mosque and the community areas and out onto the footpaths at the street. The people of Newcastle did what we always do best, and that is come together in times of crisis to lend support. We expressed our profound shock and horror that an Australian citizen, one of our own, had committed profound acts of hatred.
It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that a citizen of ours at some point in his life became radicalised and—I'm not in that head space; I have actually no comprehension—saw fit to walk into not just one but two mosques on that day and murder 50 innocent people, who were doing nothing but following the practices of their faith. As we learnt, as the stories came out, all those 50 people were, of course, unique individuals in this world. All of them had really deep personal stories to tell. For all of us in this House the horror of really listening and being able to put a face, a life and a lived experience to every one of those 50 people who were brutally murdered has been a necessary but difficult and confronting exercise.
We stand united as a parliament against the actions of hatred. I would like to note at this point that the Senate has just in the last 30 minutes censured a certain senator, who remains nameless, who made some particularly vile comments in the wake of the Christchurch attacks. I note that, with multiparty support, that censure motion was successful. Of course, that motion acknowledged, as all of us in this House should, the universal right of peoples in every part of this planet to exercise freedom of thought, conscience and religion and that that right includes freedom for people, either alone or in community with others and in private or in public places, to manifest their religion and belief in worship and in practices. I know there are many of us in this room who have done work around the need to protect those universal rights and freedoms. The Senate has, as I said, very strongly, supported those universal rights. It has called on all Australians to stand united against hate and to publicly, and always, condemn actions and comments that are designed to incite fear and distrust.
I note that the censure motion endorsed a very powerful statement issued by the Iman Hasan Centre following the attacks in Christchurch. I would like to read that statement to the Chamber, because it is a profound set of words:
It is at times like this that we lose hope and doubt humanity. When people of faith come under attack in such a way it shows us how low humanity can fall. However it never ceases to amaze how far humanity can rise after such despicable events.
The statement went on to say:
United as a community we can overcome these barbaric events wherever they happen, divided we become barbaric ourselves. The innocent lives lost around the world should be a sign for all of us to unite against hate.
I could not express more strongly my support for that statement. If there is one lesson, amongst many, to be learned from these vile acts of hatred, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us in the House and in the other place, of civic leaders across our communities and of people of all faiths—and people of no faith—to stand united in calling out acts of hatred. I don't think there is any way to—and nor should we—sugar-coat what has happened in these vile acts or, indeed, many others. That extends to the way we speak both in the parliament and in our communities; that is, in being mindful of the language that is used, in being people who are strong enough to call out filthy, dog-whistling, race based language.
We haven't. We have failed as a community of leaders to always live up to that standard. From time to time despicable things have been said, both within the parliament and outside, that should have been called out. I hope that each and every one of us now has the courage to stand up to race based, dog-whistling politics. It should have no place in the parliament or in our community. We know now, more than ever perhaps, that dog whistling has consequences. It has profound, hurtful consequences and can never be the default position for desperate politicians.
I commend the Senate for taking these actions today. I think it is a very important marker for this parliament that the censure motion was successful. Inflammatory and divisive comments that attribute blame to victims of horrific crime and vilify people on the basis of their race do not reflect the opinions of this parliament. Those sorts of comments don't reflect this place at all. There was astonishing leadership from New Zealand's Prime Minister Ardern, who made very clear, in reaching out to her community in the hours after the vile acts were perpetrated in Christchurch, that the people who were hurt and who were injured were very much part of the New Zealand community—part of the family—and that the only person who didn't belong in the 'us' category was the perpetrator of those vile acts of hatred.
There are many lessons to be learned by the way in which she was able to conduct herself publically. There were the very compassionate approach she took immediately to the survivors and families and her visits to the two mosques in which these attacks were made. But she went on to reach out to schoolchildren who lost friends, neighbours and playmates in those attacks on the mosques. She had time and enough love and compassion for each and every citizen, not just for citizens of New Zealand but in reaching out to us all. Everybody I spoke to in Australia had nothing but praise and buckets of love in return for the Prime Minister of New Zealand for the way in which she conducted herself and the way in which she brought her community together, the way in which she insisted that inclusion, love and compassion would be victorious at the end of the day. That was the glue that bound her community. She understood that and made sure that they were the words that she spoke.
As I said, I have two mosques in my community in Newcastle. I was so profoundly moved to attend the first vigil on the Saturday evening, within 24 hours of the Christchurch attacks. The attendance by the broader Newcastle community was astonishing. People occupied every square centimetre of space in the mosque and outside to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters. It was also important that I was joined there in speaking by the Catholic and Anglican bishops, Superintendent Brett Greentree of the New South Wales police and by community members of all faiths. They were united and standing in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, united in their condemnation of vile acts of hatred. We recommitted ourselves to being those leaders who would stand up and speak out when hatred and discriminatory behaviours are perpetrated in our community.
I'd like to pay a special tribute to the leaders of the mosque in Mayfield—Sheik Hamed and Forugh Dorani, the centre's secretary—who have been astonishing leaders in our community, and also to Catholic Bishop Bill Wright, Anglican Bishop Dr Peter Stuart and the Newcastle City Police District superintendent, Brett Greentree, who called out that Islamophobia and hatred have absolutely no place in our community. We all recommitted ourselves to calling that out at every opportunity.
I would also like to acknowledge the mosque in Wallsend in the western part of my electorate, where we gathered again the following day—on the Sunday—under the very careful and embracing watch of all the leadership at the Newcastle Muslim Association and of Sheik Mohammed Khamis. He really articulated that the trauma being experienced on that day at the Wallsend mosque wasn't just for Muslims alone but was affecting us all as a community. I'd like to acknowledge the presence of the Uniting Church's Reverend Neil Smith; my state colleagues, Sonia Hornery and Tim Crackenthorpe, who joined me at the Mayfield and Wallsend mosques; school principals; and thousands of community members who stood united in saying, 'This type of hatred has no place in our community.'
As I said, it was with a very heavy heart going into those but there was the strength that is to be gained from an understanding of our common humanity and the fact that we have all been very brutally reminded of the need to redouble our efforts. That is some good to come from an otherwise horrific attack on our brothers and our sisters. I join with all of our colleagues in the House in condemning those actions and in making sure we're a better society and a better group of leaders in the wake.
'No man is an island entire of itself.' I was reminded of these famous words of John Donne in the context of this tragedy in New Zealand. As he went on to say:
… any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.
I wish to join with colleagues in this condolence motion, to express my disgust at the slaughter of so many people in Christchurch, to express my solidarity with the families and the friends of the victims and to restate our friendship with the people of New Zealand.
Any attack on innocent people is appalling, but a violent attack on people going about their peaceful religious observances is abhorrent and, indeed, a manifestation of evil. It has been, and rightly should be, universally condemned. May the deceased rest in peace, may their families and friends be comforted and may our efforts to condemn and prevent these acts of evils be strengthened.
Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, as you know, I represent a vibrant multicultural community in my electorate of Menzies, which has followers of many faiths—indeed, almost every faith, I suspect—as residents. The response of the interfaith community in Manningham is to be commended as they supported, in particular, the members of the local Islamic community—the local mosque in Doncaster. In these tragic circumstances, it's an honour to place on record in the Commonwealth parliament their thoughts and prayers in relation to this situation.
We stand in solidarity with our New Zealand cousins and offer our deepest condolences to the people of New Zealand for this abhorrent act of hatred and violence perpetrated against those of the Islamic faith in Christchurch last month. To the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones: you don't bear your grief alone. We grieve with you, we mourn with you and we stand with you in these difficult and challenging times. We condemn the heinous act of terror—this premeditated act of extreme violence which was committed against a Muslim community of New Zealand and which resulted in the deaths of 50 innocent people and the serious injury of another 48.
I'd also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the tremendous work of the New Zealand police as well as their paramedics. While others were understandably rushing to avoid the violence, they rushed in to confront the danger. Without their heroic efforts, the casualties would have been much higher.
For the terrorist to single out innocent people, peacefully practising their faith in a place of worship, speaks volumes about the evil and hate-filled motives that underpin this cowardly attack. This was an act rooted in extreme right-wing ideology, known for its racism, its bigotry and intolerance—none of which have a place in our society. An attack on people of faith is an attack on all peoples of faith. In fact, it was an unmitigated attack on our collective humanity. This is why we must be united against such hatred, hatred which stands in stark contrast to our values and way of life.
While it is true that the Islamic community of New Zealand will, no doubt, bear the burden of this grief, we know that the pain is shared by Muslims across the globe and, particularly, here in Australia. The hate-inspired acts of one Australian individual are not a reflection of mainstream Australia, nor are the actions of one rogue senator a reflection of our federal parliament. A senator who utilises his privileged position to divide and spur hatred in our community is not someone we want representing this nation or informing debate in this place. For a senator to blame the victims of this unspeakable act of violence rather than right-wing extremism is disgusting and has no place in this country.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that Senator Fraser Anning has used his platform to spread fear and further his filthy right-wing agenda. It was only last year that this chamber was united in calling out Senator Anning for his offensive speech belittling the Australian people and inciting hatred towards Australian Muslims. To those who mask racism as freedom of speech: clearly, it's you who have helped create this evil and allowed hate speech to breed. Freedom of speech does not and should not equate to a freedom to spread intolerance and division in our community.
To have witnessed the solidarity of the New Zealand community, under the strong and empathetic leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, gives me hope that extremism will not be tolerated in multicultural societies like New Zealand and Australia. Over the last fortnight I think we've seen Australia at its best. We have seen people of all faiths coming together to say that this is not who we are or who we want to be. As a nation we must continue to cultivate the spirit of kindness and understanding, no matter our differences. After all, it is these values that make us the richly diverse nation that we are, the peace-loving nation that we are so proud to be.
I too rise in support of this motion on the horrendous attacks that took place at the end of last month in Christchurch—on the tragic attacks, on the loss of lives, on this horrendous scenery that we saw on our TVs. I recall watching the TV in my office when bands came across the bottom saying, 'Terrorist attack,' or, 'A shooting in New Zealand'. I kept on reading, and as the news came through I was horrified and shocked to see this horrendous situation, especially because it was in our neighbourhood, in a nation that is so close to Australia. We have the same shared beliefs, the same values, the same democracy. We honour multiculturalism, we support multiculturalism and we are both multicultural countries. So I was in disbelief when I was watching it, as many Australians were. Our hearts go out to all of those families that lost loved ones in such a tragic situation.
The ability to absorb it—it became even more horrifying. We heard that the perpetrator of these horrendous acts was an Australian, someone from our nation, someone from our soil, here. That was a shock and a half. Then you think, 'Where did this hatred come from? Where did these feelings to destroy human lives come from?' It's just so sad to see this whole situation, to see someone who had gotten himself into such a state as to take the lives of innocent people who were praying on a normal Friday morning in their mosque, in a place that was meant to be a safe haven, where they could share their thoughts with God and do something they did on a regular basis. It was absolutely horrendous. As I said, the response was not to be believed.
Can I say that I suppose it was so shocking to us because we associate these things with horrendous acts that take place elsewhere in conflict zones and in politically unstable places. To see it here, I think, affected all of us. When you see people like this particular perpetrator and people that have the same views and opinions, you think that this shouldn't be happening in a nation like Australia. We are a multicultural nation. We're a nation that respects everyone's religious beliefs, political beliefs and freedom for democracy. People died in wars—in World War I, World War II and conflicts all around the world—to sustain the foundations of our democracy, which are: freedom of religion; freedom of political association; the same rights as anyone regardless of your race, colour, religion, et cetera. They're the things we should be honouring continuously in this nation. Think of those diggers that gave their lives in successive wars so we can have these freedoms. People that perhaps call themselves patriots, in terms of some of the statements that we've been hearing, are dishonouring those very people who gave their lives in the wars so we can have our freedom—so we can live freely and pray freely, just as those people were trying to do on that Friday morning at the mosque.
As I said, this was an act of pure hatred—an act of someone who had absorbed himself in vile hatred. Those are the only words that I can use. This is someone that had, perhaps, for whatever reason, absorbed himself in this intense hatred of someone that's a bit different, of someone that may believe in a different God or of someone that had a different religion or a different race. These are the things that we have to try and stamp out here in our nation. To do so, I think we need to be extremely careful in the language that we use as leaders of this nation and as people that have been elected to state parliaments, federal parliaments, ministerial positions or local government. We have to be conscious of the language that we use. We cannot use race and religion for political gain. We cannot do that in a country like Australia. Unfortunately, we've been seeing that for a number of years in this nation and in other places around the world. Even whilst this tragedy was unfolding, we saw a particular person who was elected to high office use language that was absolutely—I'll use the words—despicable and disgusting. To hear the language that he used, from someone who has been elected by the Australian democratic system to represent a nation that has its foundations and pillars of democracy on the freedom of religion and the freedom of participation in our democracy—he did so on the basis of picking up a few votes. How low can a human being be to use a situation like this tragedy that unfolded for the benefit of a few votes to perhaps be elected to the Senate? I'm so pleased by the censure motion moved by Senators Penny Wong and Mathias Cormann in the Senate.
Hopefully, we will get something out of this. What we'll get out of this is that we have to go back to those basic rights and the democracy that those diggers fought for in World War I, World War II and a whole range of conflicts. It was to ensure that we have our freedoms. Regardless of where you've come from, regardless of your religion, regardless of the colour of your skin, Australia is a democratic, free country. We can't fly the flag and say how democratic we are and how inclusive we are on the one hand and on the other hand have politicians using language that is discriminatory or takes out a whole community by using one word. That gives the ability to those haters out there to scramble on that one word and use it for their benefit.
The vast majority of Australians aren't racist. We've welcomed people from every corner of the world. This country has been built on migration and on multiculturalism. Unfortunately there are a few racist voices, and unfortunately they're very loud. Sometimes they seep through and people hear them, where they are packaged up as freedom of speech, as the freedom to have the right to say whatever they wish to say and to have a go at political correctness. Well, political correctness is not just political correctness; we use certain language because it is our duty to make sure that everyone is included, that we are an inclusive society. However, these racist messages do get out there to that very small minority of people, who then scramble on them and use them for their own benefit.
I have three mosques in my electorate, including the Park Holme mosque at Park Holme. They held a vigil on Sunday night after the attack. It was very heartening to see people from all walks of life, from every corner of South Australia, attend to pay their respects. We had every religion represented: Christianity, Buddhism—you name it, they were all there. It was so good to see the community come together to pay their respects and to ensure that we were standing as one with our brothers and sisters in the Muslim community and our brothers and sisters in New Zealand. I also have one of the oldest mosques in Australia in the electorate of Adelaide, which I'm hoping to represent in the next parliament. The little Sturt Street mosque was established in the late 1800s for the Afghani cameleers. Muslims have been part of our society and our nation for many years. I also have the Mahmood Mosque, which serves the Ahmadiyya community in Beverley. They held a vigil as well, which I spoke at, on the Friday one week after the attack. We also had our local mayor, Michael Coxon, and the state member, Joe Szakacs, in attendance.
The attack was a horrendous act, and we have to do all that we can to stamp out the language that is used that allows these people to have a platform. We have to ensure that we stamp it out as quickly and as soon as possible. One good thing that may come out of this is that we, as politicians, get an understanding of the damage that we cause when we use language that is targeted at particular groups.
I start with the words 'Inna Lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un': to God we belong and to God we shall return. It is what Muslims say upon the passing of their brethren.
I really struggled to find words in the aftermath of this heinous terrorist attack. I also struggled with many conflicting emotions. I struggled with anger, sadness and despair, but also hope. Sadness at the loss of yet more lives to the scourge of terrorism, regardless of where it comes from, regardless of who the perpetrator is and regardless of what cause the perpetrator wants to communicate. Sadness that 50 innocent people were gunned down, were terrorised, while performing Friday prayers in the sanctity of a mosque. Sadness that it was an Australian who perpetrated this terrorist attack. Sadness for the people of Christchurch, for the people of New Zealand, for this most heinous attack on their society, on their harmony, on their country. Anger, because for years I've been warning about this—and not just me; other members of Muslim communities, other academics have called for more action to be taken against rising white supremacism in this country. Anger, because each time we warned about it we were told to shut up; each time we were told to sit down; each time we were told: 'No, no, no, this is not an issue. The issue is Islamic terrorism.' Each time we were silenced. I know that I got death threats when I raised the issue in public, as an academic, based on my research, of rising white-supremacist and right-wing extremism. I know that friends of mine—other academics, other members of Muslim communities—had death threats and were sent some really horrible things on social media and in the mail for daring, just daring, to say: 'Hang on a minute. This is an issue.' So, yes, I was angry that this had happened.
I felt despair that the things we say, the political and media discourse in Australia, contributed to this. Terrorism does not happen in a vacuum. People do not become radicalised to a violent ideology in a vacuum. There is an enabling environment in which people become terrorists. I do not buy the Prime Minister's words yesterday that this person was radicalised overseas. No, I'm sorry: radicalisation doesn't happen that way. Radicalisation happens in an enabling environment where people, like this terrorist, believe that their views are justified because the media and the political discourse keep telling them that they are justified; keep telling them that Muslims are objects of fear, Muslims are a mistake, Muslims are a disease that needs to be vaccinated against and Muslims are a problem that needs a final solution. That's what causes radicalisation. That's what emboldens people who believe in a warped ideology to continue on a pathway of violence and become operative in that violence.
Yes—sadness, anger and despair. But, when I look back on these events and what happened after these events, here's the thing: I don't remember the face of that terrorist. I don't remember his name. I don't remember what he said. I don't remember what he tried to say. I have no memory. I have no space in my mind for a memory of him. I remember the victims, and I remember the ways in which we all came together to condemn this form of terrorism. I remember the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, and the way in which she carried herself with such grace, and the compassion that she showed for the people of Christchurch. I remember our leaders standing up yesterday and condemning this act, and I will remember our Senate's motion to censor the disgusting words of somebody who uses a political platform to peddle hate, spread fear and incite violence. I remember standing side by side, shoulder to shoulder, with my Muslim sisters at the West Swan mosque and saying prayers for the dead. I remember the flowers and the cards that were left at mosques and places of worship. I remember the beautiful messages of condolence that I got. I remember the phone calls from my colleagues. And I should make special mention here of the member for Berowra, because his message was the first message that I received on that Friday. It was a message of compassion, of solidarity and of condolence. It was the first message I got and it came from somebody on the opposite side of politics. What does that tell you about the human spirit?
The things that we remember after a terrorist attack, the things that we hold in our hearts after a terrorist attack, are the things that demonstrate and prove that terrorism will never win. It doesn't matter where it comes from, it doesn't matter who perpetrated it; terrorism will never win, because the human spirit will always rise above.
I understand it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places, and I ask all present to do so.
Honourable members having stood in their places—
I thank the Federation Chamber.