Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Al-Salaam Alaikum. I join my colleagues from both sides of this parliament in mourning the tragic and senseless murder of 50 people—mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters—who were tragically attacked in their place of worship, cut down while they came together for Friday prayers at that most sacred of times. This was an act of terrorism borne out of white nationalism. It was an act of hatred and it was an act of cowardice, all the worse for being committed by a person who was welcomed into a place of worship as a brother, who then responded with bullets of hatred.
I mourn with the people of New Zealand and, particularly, New Zealand's Islamic community. I stand in solidarity with the Muslim community in New Zealand and with Muslim people everywhere, especially in my electorate of Moreton. I'm not Muslim, but I am your brother. The senseless, horrific act that took the lives of innocents as they were at their most pure and most vulnerable has shocked the world and shocked my own community. It has terrified children. Like every decent Australian, I abhor these acts of extremist violence—this gutless terrorism. I reject the extreme right-wing ideology, the hatred and the intolerance, the dog-whistling and the dog trumpets that led to these acts of extremist violence. I stand with the Moreton community in sharing those long-held Australian values of inclusion, acceptance, respect, a belief in equality, the rejection of racism, the rejection of prejudice, the rejection of division. These are the values that I cherish, that we cherish, that make our community stronger.
Standing united against hatred not only makes us stronger; it makes the losers, the loners and the loonies weaker. Fanning prejudice and discrimination has never, ever made Australians safer. No group within our community is ever immune to the effects of hatred—not even, you could argue, the poor, miserable haters themselves. So it is the responsibility of all of us to stand together against hatred in all its forms and embrace tolerance, embrace acceptance and honour our shared humanity. To those who seek to divide us, especially in the lead-up to this federal election, I say this: you will not win. We as a community are stronger than anyone seeking to divide us. Modern Australia will prevail. That monocultural Australia you talk of never, ever existed. Love is greater than hate. Respect and hope are greater than fear. May they rest in peace.
I, too, rise, as so many colleagues have done across both sides of the chamber, to endorse the words and sentiments of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in extending this nation's condolence to those who have suffered so terribly from the Christchurch attacks, and also to offer our solidarity and ongoing support to communities and the nation as it seeks to rebuild from that time.
I come from Wollongong. We always pride ourselves on how diverse we are. We are a very diverse community—diverse in the ethnic backgrounds that people have come from, the languages that they speak, the faiths that they practice and the countries that they came from. Sometimes, like many in this place, we like to say that our particular patch is the beacon of diversity and that it's unique in some way. But, realistically, I think that is a common story through the vast majority of Australia. Through the suburbs of cities and towns like mine in Wollongong, to more rural, smaller places, our story now is one of communities that are very diverse.
I think the experience that so many of my colleagues—and I use the term in this debate referring to all members, I'm sure, of the House—take out of that as we go around our communities is that there's something we celebrate and love about that diversity. We talk about the music, the food, the cultural experiences and the economic and business benefits—the way it takes us out into the world and creates connections. We talk about all those things as wonderful, and they are, but at the heart of it what we all see is that people are people. People love their families and they want the best for their kids. They love their communities and they'll often volunteer in all sorts of ways. If something terrible happens—if there's fire or flood, an unemployment event or something—people rally around. Nobody particularly cares what faith they are or from what ethnic background they are; people just rally around together. I think that is the story across our nation. That's certainly my experience in Wollongong. I find it baffling—incomprehensible—that some people born and raised here, as in the case of this Australian terrorist, could have such a mean, shrivelled heart that they could hate in the way they do.
I find it incomprehensible but I also acknowledge it's a reality, and that's why I think the words of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are so important in saying very clearly as a nation: 'This is not us. These are not the values that we adhere to, and we will not stand by silently while other Australians say or do things that are divisive and hateful. It is not acceptable, and we will call it out.'
Today I extend my sympathies to, and share the grief of, the Muslim community of Christchurch as they get on with their lives without so many people who were loved parts of those lives. I acknowledge the whole New Zealand population and the task of work they have ahead of them. I particularly want to acknowledge the extraordinary leadership of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. I think her capacity to capture the sentiment of sorrow but also determination was so powerful. As she said:
Let us acknowledge their grief as they do.
Let's support them as they gather again for worship.
We are one. They are us.
I think that's how we feel about New Zealand too.
I want to report to the Chamber that there was a lot of activity in my local area in the week or so following this terrible terrorist attack. There was a candlelight vigil on the Saturday at the Omar Mosque at Gwynneville. About 200 people attended to pay respect to and show solidarity with the local Muslim community. Andrew Pearson of the Illawarra Mercury reported it beautifully. He said:
Undeterred by heavy downpours of rain, attendees—young and old, of faith and not—held candles as they stood in silence outside the Foley Street mosque.
… … …
'We are shocked and saddened by this act of violence, terrorism by this individual, particularly when the innocent people were worshipping in the mosque,'
They were the words of the Omar Mosque chairman, Munir Hussain.
I couldn't be there that night, but Dr Hussain and the mosque are very well known to me. I've visited on many occasions and talked to them about many issues. I was really pleased to see the strength of the community support that was shown to them. Dr Hussain—that night and on other occasions—called on the government to act on Islamophobia, and I think that is a very reasonable call to make. He also expressed his appreciation for people who attended the event.
On the following Monday night there was a vigil in Wollongong's Crown Street mall, which was organised by Illawarra People for Peace. It is quite a long-established, cross-denominational group that works for peace. Many hundreds of locals attended this vigil to honour the victims of Christchurch. There were people from all walks of life. Community leaders and ordinary citizens, and people of many faiths and no faith, young and old, joined together to show their determination that love, tolerance and community would triumph over hatred and division. Reverend Geoff Flynn of the Wesley Church, in his address, said:
What a wonderful diverse community that has gathered. I hope this will be a practical experience for you for building peace in the Illawarra.
Imam Sheikh Abdul Rahman Fattah and the Omar Mosque chairman, Munir Hussain, also addressed the crowd. They expressed their view that the large turnout was proof that there were so many people who really cared for each other, and pointed out the responsibility we all have to call out racism and intolerance whenever we see it. Sheikh Rahman said:
Ibrahim, Moses, Jesus, Mohammed … they came to bring peace to the people, no prophet or messenger came to the people and said kill each other. Terrorists have no nationality, they can affect any one of us.
Reverend Miao You, from the Nan Tien Temple, also spoke of the power of love and shared a prayer for peace. There were some moving musical contributions to the event, with the traditional Maori song 'Pokarekare Ana' performed by Goknur Shanal and a number of songs performed by the Union Choir. I want simply to say that I don't think my community was unique. I know they're wonderful, and I think they reflect communities all around this nation in our determination to extend sympathy and support and to commit to calling out hatred whenever and wherever we see it.
I rise to offer my condolences after what was an abhorrent act, whatever prism you look at it through. Vile hatred is intolerable. I stand with every Australian who is appalled by the actions of a single hate-filled individual. It is incomprehensible, as a father, to assess the loss, the damage that was done. Can you imagine your own child being in that situation? Between my partner and I, we have five children. To lose one of them would be devastating—to have that young life taken away. It's moments like this when we need to make a stand, when we need to say that enough is enough. That's what I intend to do today. This is enough. This is enough to bring me to my feet.
Soon after the attack, the gates of one of my local mosques in the electorate of Wright, a mosque of the Muslim Ahmadiyya community, were rammed by a local, in another act of hatred. So, as soon as I was able to return to my electorate, I went and visited the imam. I sat with him and said: 'We have to stand together. We have to stand together so our community sees that I am supporting you.' There are those in our community who are filled with a lack of understanding of the Muslim beliefs, and they are of an opinion that—well, I don't want to try and pretend what some people would think. But, the more you get to understand Muslim people, the more compassion you see they have. The more time you spend with them, the more you get a sense of how much they love this country, how much they are integrated into our communities. They are our engineers, our doctors, our pharmacists. To those who look to cast aspersions on them: imagine what our lives would be if they were not in our community.
So I stand today to condemn those acts and to offer my condolences to the families, whose pain and loss I cannot comprehend. As a Catholic, in my church, before I take communion, we offer each other a sign of peace. I just ask that, as a nation, we offer each other a sign of peace.
I rise to echo the remarks of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other members whom I've heard speak throughout this debate and to extend my condolences to the families of those whose lives were lost in New Zealand and indeed the whole of the New Zealand community, given the shock that this has caused throughout the country. It's fresh and it's raw. It was only a couple of weeks ago, and it's certainly reverberating still through my community—very much so. I attended, on the Sunday after the terrible shootings in Christchurch, two mosques in my electorate. There are many mosques in my electorate. Around 10 per cent of people in my electorate are of the Islamic faith, and from various parts of the Islamic world. I'd booked to do that many weeks before, through the Islamic Council of Victoria's annual open day. I went last year to the Dandenong mosque and had a wonderful reception and time, and I'd booked this year to go to the Hallam and Doveton mosques. This was on the very day when you could have understood if the Islamic community had closed their doors and retreated, back into tribe, where they may have felt safe. They did exactly the opposite and threw open their doors to the community.
At both of the mosques were lovely events, particularly at the Hallam mosque. It's a large mosque and a mosque that prides itself on calling itself the Hallam mosque—not the Afghan mosque or the Bosnian mosque or any other nationality. It is a mosque where people from all over the Islamic world, in that Islamic tradition, can go and worship. A significant number of visitors there were from the surrounding Christian communities. There were piles and piles of flowers as people from across south-east Melbourne came to express their sympathy. The conversations were wonderful.
The context, of course, for that visit did change with the events in Christchurch. I can't imagine, and other members have spoken of this, the pain and the shock and the suffering on hearing that family members and friends had lost their lives. The youngest victim, Mucad Ibrahim, was only three. I think any parent would admit that's a thought—it's our greatest fear—that we hope never happens. Our deepest fear is to lose a child. The pain that must be felt by those parents, still, I cannot conceive.
The brutality and inhumanity stunned everyone, particularly in Australia. I think this was for two reasons. Of course it's because the terrorist was an Australian, and I'll reflect on that in a moment, but it's also because New Zealanders are our closest cousins. They're just like us. Seeing those images on television—that could have been my community. They were people who were there as students, who were there as visitors, who'd come as refugees, who'd come as business skilled migrants, from every part of the world, just there to worship on Friday in their tradition. That could be, absolutely, my community. They're just as diverse as we're diverse. The murderer who did this is Australian, and that's difficult for us to comprehend. It's difficult to comprehend that scale of atrocity anywhere, but that this evil could have grown amongst us—all humans, to some degree, are a product of their culture. It's the nature/nurture dichotomy, I suppose.
I've been back to Friday prayers, on the last two Fridays, in different mosques and spoken to people. I'd like to make a couple of remarks on how Australians of Islamic faith feel, from my conversations, and record that dreadful worry, that whispered, dreadful fear: 'That could have been me. That could have been my family. Can this happen here? Are we safe? Are my children safe?' There is no simple, adequate answer to that fear. There is not.
The police were there, and they will play their part. The community, of course, has an enormous part to play. There are things we can do with security and so on and so forth to make sure this doesn't happen. But, also, parents in the broader community need to reassure children that they are safe, that they are loved and that they have a future in this country just like anyone else. As I've heard other members say, including those opposite, that leadership signal of simply turning up is important, more than ever. When I looked around the room, though, I saw Australia. The human diversity present in the Hallam mosque is modern Australia. Indeed, multicultural Australia is modern Australia.
I said earlier that this was an act of terror. It was. It was industrial-scale slaughter designed to cause fear, spread hate and shift power. But it would insult the memory of those who died to say that this was just some lone act of terror. Sure, the guy was acting alone but he existed in a context. It was fuelled by a noxious, far-right political ideology of white supremacism and hate speech. The Leader of the Opposition spoke powerfully soon after and observed that not all right-wing extremist hate speech ends in violence but all such violence starts in hate speech, which is correct and not new knowledge.
I've spoken many times on this debate about racist hate speech and 18C. It's galvanised my community. We had a public meeting of almost 1,000 people in Springvale. There are reasons for Australia's laws against racist hate speech. When you're told you're less than human, that you're vermin, that you're a disease, it's not just freedom of speech; it's brutal. It does real and immeasurable psychological harm. Words have real consequences and plant the seeds for violence. Of course, I don't believe any member of this parliament who prosecuted that debate in any way meant this to happen or had any concept that this could be part of the context in which these things are caused and grown. I do believe that conservative politicians who should know better have spent years trying to weaken Australia's Racial Discrimination Act, which restricts hate speech. I thank leaders from the Islamic community, people here who worked hard with Labor to stop this from happening.
I will just note one thing. It may not be real in many electorates, and I accept that we're all different. When that debate was on, people kept coming into my office, or calling me—it was the same for the member for Hotham, for the member for Isaacs and for the member for Holt in our part of Melbourne—saying that there was nonsense going on in the street. Women were having their headscarves ripped off while that debate was happening. Verbal abuse was enabled and legitimised because of the leadership signal that was sent by that debate in this parliament.
It wasn't a fringe element of the most conservative right-wing government MPs or the nutters from the crossbench. It got fuelled and, eventually, led by the Prime Minister of this country, Prime Minister Turnbull. That sent the leadership signal that somehow this was a debate that we should have outside the IPA's whiteboards or wherever they dream up this nonsense. I really hope that that stupid political debate died with the events in Christchurch on that Friday, and that we'll hear no more of it—or from the Hansons of the world—that we can't make laws against racist hate speech.
There was a lot asked about Senator Anning. I didn't mean to mention his name—I try not to legitimise him by saying his name—but a lot of people were asking about him. I just say simply that that senator is only in this parliament because people voted for One Nation. That is the only reason that he is in this parliament. I urge the government, and I urge the Prime Minister, to do the right thing and put One Nation last on their how-to-vote cards. It's that simple. John Howard did; they should too.
In closing, I'd say that at times like this, as the Leader of the Opposition has said so powerfully, nations have choices. We can retreat inward to tribes and to cultures, to be with people like ourselves and perhaps feel safe. Or we can open our doors, engage and recommit to building a tolerant, harmonious multicultural Australia. I'm pleased by the speeches, not just on our side but from those opposite, that by words at least that's the direction we're heading in. But I believe that we have a long way to go.
I rise today to express my deep condolences to those who were injured and to the families and friends of those who lost their lives as a result of the horrific, right-wing-extremist terror attack in Christchurch on 15 March during their peaceful Friday prayers. All Australians stand with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the people of New Zealand as they process their shock and grief.
In the wake of this attack on Christchurch's mosques that left 50 people dead, Prime Minister Ardern has exemplified what a strong leader looks like in the face of tragedy, with compassion and empathy at her core. Rather than falling into the trap of recriminations and anger, Prime Minister Ardern focused on the victims and survivors, on the people of Christchurch and on supporting the Muslim community of New Zealand. Prime Minister Ardern said that the victims had chosen to make New Zealand their home. 'They are us,' she said, 'The person who has perpetuated this violence is not. They are us.'
With these three words Prime Minister Ardern set the tone for the national and global conversation about this tragic terrorist incident. I wrote to Prime Minister Ardern to applaud her rejection of the extremist ideology behind the attacks, which she noted has no place in New Zealand society. And neither has it a place here in Australia. It takes great courage to lead with such awareness and reverence for diversity, kindness and compassion, noting that these are qualities for which New Zealanders are renowned. It was moving to see spontaneous expressions of support for the Muslim community in Christchurch—in particular, the group of young people performing the haka to commemorate a school friend who lost his life in the attacks.
Prime Minister Ardern continues to lead with extraordinary empathy and influence on the global political stage in such a positive way. Yet the attacks in Christchurch illustrate just a small fragment of a global rise not only in anti-Muslim prejudice but prejudice against vulnerable groups, based on their religious, ethnic or political identity. Extremism in all its forms is repugnant and is anything but benign. The millions of Muslims who have died, who have been displaced or who have been put in detention or intimidated in other ways have not been treated this way only as part of a religious conflict. This is also about how some nation-states treat their minorities. Christians are oppressed in China, Pakistan and Indonesia, while France and Germany reported an alarming rise in anti-Semitism last year. This is in a climate of rising anti-Semitism in Australia, where there has been a 59 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the past year. There has also been a reported rise in anti-Muslim attitudes.
To effectively challenge this threat requires an essential shift towards inclusion rather than division. Everyone has a right to their view but it is our job as parliamentarians to find common ground—to unite rather than to divide. This is the strength of our democracy. Certainly, divisive politics should have no place in Australia. I want to see an end to the polarising rhetoric that leverages unwarranted fear. It is our job to create a unified, safe and prosperous society that is capable of healthy, rigorous but respectful debate.
Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to incite hatred or violence or abuse. Fundamental human rights issues should not be about whether you are on the Left or the Right side of politics. It is about what is intrinsically and morally right. It is about the human experience.
The strength of a nation lies in how well we treat all of our citizens and residents. With the decisions we make, we collectively nurture and define the character of our nation. Prime Minister Ardern has articulated the true character of New Zealand, emphasising its diverse and harmonious nature. Australians stand with the people of New Zealand as part of their process of healing. They are us.
I join colleagues in speaking to this condolence motion. For the people who have died in New Zealand I am deeply saddened. To their families and friends: I offer my profound condolences. To those injured: I wish them a full recovery. To the survivors of the shootings: my words cannot erase your horrific experience or the scars that you will carry throughout your life but I hope that they provide some comfort to you. Yesterday we heard statements in the House from both the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition. They spoke for all Australians, and I believe that their words overwhelmingly captured the sentiments of our nation.
This is a time when words matter. They matter to the Muslim community and they matter to those with evil thoughts and evil intent. As with the Port Arthur killings, the Twin Towers attack and the Bali bombings, the New Zealand mosque killings will be embedded in my memory. The image of defenceless people without warning facing a violent death is not something that I can easily dismiss. These were people going about their daily lives like all of us do every day. Their lives were ended suddenly, their dreams cut midstream, their families left with emptiness that only those who have suddenly had a loved one taken from them will ever understand. Their lives were ended not by accident but deliberately by a person whom they had probably never met and whom they had never caused harm to. This was a deranged person who was driven by prejudice and racism.
Prejudice and racism have led to discrimination and persecution of people for as long as mankind has lived. History is filled with many such examples. But the sadistic killing of innocent people which occurred in Christchurch takes prejudice and racism to a level that most people—even racists—find abhorrent. For that reason, the perpetrator has failed in his ultimate cause and managed to unite people more so than to divide them. He has highlighted that, regardless of our differences, we have much more in common with each other than that which divides us.
The Christchurch killings would understandably leave many Muslim people in Australia and New Zealand feeling vulnerable, insecure and unwanted. I said earlier that the words of political and civic leaders at this time matter greatly. I was heartened by the overwhelming show of support and compassion shown to Muslims across the two countries by so many people.
In Adelaide I attended a public candlelight vigil at Elder Park on the banks of the River Torrens where hundreds of people came together to express their sorrow for the lives lost and their moral support for the wider Muslim community. As always has been the case, tragedy brings out the best in people, and so too it was in Adelaide. Can I say that unity was not just from normal members of the community but indeed from civic leaders, including civic leaders across all religious faiths. It was wonderful to see. I hope it brought some reassurance to the people of Adelaide, and in particular to the Muslim community of Adelaide, that they are not only supported but that we share their sorrow with them.
In my own electorate, I represent many people of Muslim faith and I've got to know many of them personally and well. I call them friends. They are good people who, like so many before them, came to Australia or went to New Zealand in search of a better life. They should not be judged on how they dress, how they speak, where they came from or what religion they follow but on what is in their hearts and in their minds. I reflect on the words of Martin Luther King in 1963 in his 'I have a dream' speech: he spoke of his children and said he hoped that 'one day they would not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character'. How true do those words ring when we think about those people who are discriminated against regularly throughout the world today, even here in our own country? I say to the people who are grieving: we here in Australia grieve with you. I grieve with you. Whilst you might grieve for your sisters and brothers in New Zealand about what happened, let me assure you that most Australians are as deeply offended by what happened as you are.
Lastly, I say this: we must learn from what happened in New Zealand and do all we can to ensure that the same doesn't happen again. Of course we should remain vigilant to what is happening around us, because our law enforcement agencies alone cannot guarantee public safety for all people at all times in all places, nor should racial hatred and prejudice be tolerated under the umbrella of free speech, as so many other speakers have already said.
It will take much more than laws to end racism. It will take people, wherever they are, to speak out against it and take a stand. I hope that this motion in this parliament is an expression that will be noted by the Muslim community around Australia and an expression that will provide perhaps a minuscule level of comfort not only to the families of those people in New Zealand who have lost loved ones and to those who are still recovering but to the broader Muslim community, who I know right now are not only carrying the sorrow but also carrying their concerns about their members of their community.
I rise today to acknowledge and express my condolences for the tragedy that was the act of horror and terrorism in New Zealand last month, which saw the loss of 50 innocent lives in Christchurch. To the Muslim community in New Zealand: we stand with you. To all of New Zealand: we stand with you. To the Muslim community in Australia and around the world: we stand with you. I also stand in solidarity with members of our local Muslim community and all migrant communities in the electorate of Burt. No part of Australian society, any society, should feel isolated, alone or a target. We must all, as a global community, stand against hate, for it is hate and hate speech that enables and excites these extremists. No act of terror can be ignored, and they should always be condemned.
We must also never blame the victims. Fifty innocent lives were taken when they were at their most vulnerable and in their place of worship due to hate. These lives were taken in an effort to drag the New Zealand and, indeed, in part, the Australian communities apart to create fear. But it did not work, and it will not work. Not only did this horrendous attack bring out the best in community spirit and acceptance; it drew our two nations, always intertwined in history, even closer. Far be it for me as a humble Australian backbencher to commend the New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, for her leadership, humanity and compassion. Anyone who knows or has followed the New Zealand Prime Minister's career is not surprised by this. The reason it stands out is that it reflects the view of the wider New Zealand polity. It is such unity of purpose and values that have been sadly missing on our side of the Tasman.
Australia is a wonderful country, and that is significantly due to its generally bipartisan approach to multiculturalism. Ours is a unique approach, like no other in the world. We do not require assimilation where everyone must be the same, nor do we promote ghettoisation or segregation. As the second verse of our national anthem states, we invite those from around the world to share our boundless plains and to continue to celebrate their culture and traditions here in Australia. This is consistent with our core Australian values of freedom and respect—respect for the rule of law, democracy and each other. We are indeed a melting pot of cultures and creeds going back over 65,000 years, because what makes you an Australian is what is here in your heart.
I am proud that in the electorate of Burt we house two mosques, two Islamic schools and the Australian Arab Association headquarters. We also have thriving Chinese, Indian, Sri Lankan, African, Polynesian and many other communities. I am so proud to have them all as part of the Burt community and, indeed, the Western Australian and Australian communities. This is a diversity that should be celebrated— and I do celebrate it—along with most others in our community.
I am proud to have had the opportunity to stand alongside my WA Labor colleagues Tony Buti, Terry Healy and the Minister for Community Services, Simone McGurk, at the Masjid Ibrahim mosque in Southern River the weekend before last to offer my condolences to the community and to show my support. This open day also provided an opportunity for non-Muslims to share and learn more about our Muslim community, and it was wonderful to see so many in our community take up that opportunity. It stood in stark contrast to when, during the 2016 election, the two mosques in my electorate, in Thornlie and Southern River, were attacked in the most insulting and terrifying way, for it is our multicultural society that makes our community actually stronger and all the richer. As a multicultural society, we must accept and protect each and every person's right to practice their faith freely and without any form of intimidation or violence, just as we ask them to do the same and as all Australians stand for a fair go.
The weekend after the attack in Christchurch, I spoke at the LiveLighter Arab Festival in Langley Park in Perth's CBD. There had been concern leading up to this event about whether or not the event should go ahead. The organisation and community were concerned about security, but they were more concerned about not being seen to cower to terrorism, hate or fear. They stood strong and continued. Our wider community came together to acknowledge and to celebrate. It was an example of how we should carry on with love of our neighbour, for love will always conquer hate and fear.
I'm very pleased to have the opportunity to say a few words in the debate on this important motion moved by our Prime Minister. I join in the spirit, which has been expressed consistently in this debate, of unequivocal condemnation of an appalling act of terror in Christchurch, at two mosques, and in recognition that we must condemn the hate that fuelled that act of terror.
Beyond expressing my condemnation, I want to briefly talk about three things that occur to me as important to be expressed in this debate on behalf of my constituents. They are: to speak of sorrow, to speak of solidarity and, perhaps most fundamentally, to speak of responsibility. I do so having listened to many contributions in this debate, including that of the Prime Minister, which I was pleased to listen to in the chamber, and that of my leader, the member for Maribyrnong, who I think gave the best speech I have heard him deliver—of many great speeches—in setting out a principled framework to respond to this act of terror, and to assume our responsibilities, broadly defined.
I think it is important though to start with expressing my sorrow. It is simply impossible to imagine the consequences of the terrorism on those directly affected. They are the worshippers, their families, their friends, the community they are a part of, the responders and the entire New Zealand community. As I've joined others in wonderment at the leadership shown by Prime Minister Ardern, I've found myself thinking of the impact this has had and will continue to have on that country and this community. I express all my sorrow and all my best feelings to all New Zealanders, but particularly to the New Zealand Islamic community.
I want to talk about solidarity with all New Zealanders. I think all of us in Australia understand the special relationship we have with our neighbours across the Tasman, but with the Islamic community in New Zealand, especially, and the Muslim community in Australia. I'm very proud to represent a large, vibrant and diverse Muslim community in the Scullin electorate. As a person of no religious faith, I've been touched by the welcome that's been extended to me at the Epping mosque, particularly at the Thomastown mosque, and the great relationships and friendships I have around Al Siraat College, which has been such a hub of the Islamic communities of Melbourne's north. I know how much these events have shocked and affected everyone associated with those communities.
I've done my best, along with my state parliamentary colleagues, to indicate my unswerving support for these communities. I was really touched on the Saturday morning following the terrorism. I stopped by the Thomastown mosque—it was reasonably early in the morning—to drop off some flowers and a note, having spoken with the president the night before. I was touched to see so many flowers and so many notes from other community members expressing their solidarity. It's that spirit of solidarity, on behalf of the Scullin community, that I want to make very clear in this place.
Lastly, I want to talk about responsibility, because we can't shy away from a couple of hard facts in this debate. One is that the person who committed the murders, the act of terror, was an Australian. We can't shy away from that fact. We can't shy away from our responsibility to ensure that every member of our community feels that they are truly a part of it. That goes to how we all conduct ourselves in this place. I think we can all do better at expressing our differences in a manner that is more respectful. We also have to acknowledge, as others have done in this debate eloquently and effectively, that words matter and words can hurt.
I was so pleased that the Senate has so fundamentally repudiated the vile contribution of a senator whose name I won't mention in this place. I think that sends a very strong signal to people who are feeling under siege, to people who feel threatened, that we are on their side. It is about solidarity. It is about showing that we are all together in this. It is about showing our faith in love over hate, in hope over fear, in what we have in common being so much stronger than anything that might be seen as dividing us from our neighbours and our friends. But it also means that all of us who are in positions of leadership have to assume the responsibility, and we have to be clear—in standing up for those who are vulnerable, in standing up for those who are marginalised—that we are standing, in this place and in our communities, against the far Right hate speech which fuelled this awful act of terror.
It is with great sorrow that I participate in this debate, but I have been so heartened by the contributions my colleagues have made in it. I hope that brings a measure of condolence to those directly affected but also a measure of comfort to the hopeful multicultural society we can, should and will be.
A little over two weeks ago the world was completely shocked and heartbroken at the horror that we saw unfold in Christchurch, New Zealand. We express our deep sympathy to the victims—those that were wounded and may still be in hospital, the friends and family of those lost—and to the people of New Zealand more generally, and we share in their sorrow.
As I'm sure others have said, it was quite shocking for it to happen in Christchurch, in New Zealand, because I think many of us think about New Zealand as quite a peace-loving place, and it made this horror really shocking for people. It would be shocking anywhere, but, when it happened in New Zealand, I know that in our community in Darwin it really hit home. The Islamic Council of Northern Territory chairman, Sadaruddin Chowdhury, said recently that the community was very shaken, and told of how he'd lived in Darwin for more than 20 years and had always felt very safe. He went on to talk about how Darwin was very multicultural, with Muslim communities blending in and being welcomed. He felt that that was very special and unique, having around 3,000 Muslims from around 28 countries living in Darwin. He believed they'd never felt unsafe in Darwin and had never had any major event or incident in Darwin; however, he also quite rightly pointed out that people were feeling very nervous because he was sure that those Islamic communities in Christchurch probably felt exactly the same, up until the shooting started.
It hit our community in the Top End quite hard, so on the Friday I went to the mosque and spent some time with the community. They were very shaken, but I was there to do two things: to pass on everyone's solidarity with them and, also, to talk. Imam Daud allowed me to address the community, and I'm thankful for that because I was able to pass on to the community during their Friday prayers that, while this was an horrific act, the community should be assured of the support of our greater community and our country for what they were feeling and what they were going through, and that we would be showing leadership in speaking out against terrorism as well as wrapping our arms around our brothers and sisters.
At the Friday prayers at the mosque in Wanguri, there were already cards and flowers. One such card said, 'We are sorry for your loss and sorry that this act of terrorism has been brought upon innocent people in your community.' On the following day, I was able to join in a commitment that I already had organised. It was an event that had been organised in advance by the Muslim Student Society. It was around education and Islam and had been organised at CDU, Charles Darwin University. They decided, quite rightly, to go ahead with the event. They had Imam Konda, who's actually based in Canberra, come up and talk to the students. That event, on the Saturday following the shootings, was well attended, including by the Deputy Chief Minister, Nicole Manison, and the Administrator of the Northern Territory, and it served as another opportunity for us as a community to spend time together. It was particularly important for these young students, who have come from all different countries, to know that, in Darwin, they have come to a peaceful place. We encouraged them to engage fully with everyone in our community, as they'd be respected.
Imam Konda, who studied at CDU himself before he moved to Canberra and became the imam there, spoke very well and passionately, calling out the evil acts and calling on everyone present to reject ignorance and hate and to push for unity. I think it's worth quoting some of what Imam Konda said:
This person did not realise that he caused some children to go back home from their school, and they will have no more father or mother.
He called on the audience to embrace peace and the spirit of equality and said that what happened will remain emotionally scarred in our hearts. I thought that was worth mentioning because the reality of the act is that some kids—and we know that children were also killed—went home and found they were orphans, because their parents had been slain.
So that was the event at CDU, and well done to the organisers. The following evening, Sunday evening, hundreds of Territorians from all faiths and walks of life gathered at the community centre beside the mosque to stand in solidarity with the community. I want to thank Feroz Ibrahim for his leadership within the community. I want to acknowledge the Islamic Council of the Northern Territory; the Islamic Society of Darwin; the Islamic Society of Palmerston; the students at Charles Darwin University; the Darwin imam, Imam Daud; Reverend Dr Helen Richmond and her team from the Casuarina Uniting Church; Bishop Charles Gauci; and the Bishop Emeritus of Darwin, Bishop Hurley. Bishop Hurley has now retired as Catholic bishop for the diocese but he spoke at this gathering on the Sunday evening to pass on respect and solidarity with the community. I also acknowledge Reverend Patricia Williams and Reverend Father Ian McDonald from the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral. Also there was a Maori community brother, Mr Waaka Aperahama, from the Ratana Church. It was quite powerful to see someone who had previously lived in New Zealand come to the mosque and express his church's solidarity. And I've already mentioned the President of the Australian Makassan College, Feroz Ibrahim.
I think Charlie King was the final speaker that night. Charlie King is a bit of a legend in the Northern Territory. He's a sports broadcaster with the ABC and he does a lot in the community to reduce family violence—any type of violence. He was quite emotional; it hit home in particular because his wife is a New Zealander. I just want to mention a bit of what Charlie said: 'The events in Christchurch left us shaken, but awakened to the need to stand strong alongside Prime Minister Ardern, the New Zealand people and the community in condemning violence. Her strong leadership has hardened our resolve in saying, "No more," to all forms of violence, from our schoolyards to our sporting fields, in our homes and in our streets, and, yes, in our places of worship. We want our voices to be heard, calling for no more hate speech and no more violence.'
There is no place for racism or hate in the Northern Territory. We are proudly one of the most diverse places in our country. We are enriched by all in our country. I know that our community stands in solidarity with everyone, to respect everyone's human rights so that they can live in peace as everyone ought to be able to do.
Firstly, my thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and loved ones of those who were tragically murdered in New Zealand by an Australian terrorist. I stand in this place today on behalf of the people of Herbert, in solidarity and sorrow with our New Zealand families. Australia is a great multicultural country and we have benefited enormously from our diversity, both socially and economically. Australians and New Zealanders are brothers and sisters. We are family; we are the Anzacs. Together we mourn for our New Zealand brothers and sisters.
I stand here also to pay my deep respect to the memory of the 50 people murdered at their Friday prayers: people at their most vulnerable and humble—children as young as three and four years old. These were people praying in peace. I offer my words of comfort and condolence to the injured and the frightened—to those grappling with the loss of someone they love. I deeply admire your faith, love and forgiveness, and I know that this will help you greatly as you continue living your lives without your loved ones. I also pay my deep respects to the first responders, as they too will have to live with what they witnessed for the rest of their lives.
This atrocious act of terrorism must be a warning, a call for us to pause and reflect. Let me be very clear: as a nation, we will be judged by the standard we walk past. When we think of terrorism, we think of those who we perceive to be of a different faith or culture—people who may be far away. But the reality is that this act of terrorism happened to our neighbours, on their land, by one of our own, an Australian. I think we need to let that sink in: an Australian terrorist. Those are words I never thought I'd utter. We must reflect on this and consider how we as a nation will rethink our view of terrorism and who the terrorists actually are. We need to reflect on our judgemental values and beliefs, that terrorism is always caused and created by another or elsewhere—that somehow extremism and hatred, and the violence that terrorists incite, can only be brought in from overseas. Hatred only begets hatred and violence only begets violence. The Australian terrorist who committed this dreadful act was not born with hatred in his heart; he learned hatred and it grew into an act of unspeakable violence.
Not all extreme right-wing hate speech ends in terror and racial violence, but all terrorism and racial violence begins with extreme hate speech. If there is a swamp of extremism and prejudice and we say nothing and do nothing then we cannot disown what crawls out of that swamp. As I said earlier, as a nation we will be judged by the standard that we walk past. How many times have we heard a racial slur, a racial comment, and said nothing? How many times have we walked by a conversation or an interaction where we witness someone from a different race or culture being verbally abused and continued to walk on? The events in Christchurch surely bring us to a point of serious reflection. This is everybody's responsibility in our country, because we will no longer allow those beliefs to foster in a dark swamp. We will no longer allow those beliefs to be cast into the shadows. Instead, we will shine a light on this behaviour and we will call it out for what it is: extreme far Right racism. We must decide what kind of community we want to live in. Do we choose to allow those around us to speak in hate or fear? Or do we choose to live in a community of hope, compassion, understanding and inclusion?
Dr Martin Luther King famously said:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
I want to say to the Muslim community in my electorate: I stand in solidarity with you, as do the rest of my community, and I thank you for your response of love and forgiveness. Thank you for inviting me to the mosque on the Sunday after that dreadful Friday, to sit with you all in peace, love and forgiveness. The words shared at the mosque were of hope, love and forgiveness. The imam spoke in an amazingly compassionate manner.
My congratulations also go to Prime Minister Ardern, as she handled this appalling situation with amazing leadership. She led from the heart. She showed compassion and love as she met with the affected families. I stand here in this place to commit to my community that I will always lead with love, hope and compassion.
'Al salaam Alaikum'—or 'peace be upon you'—is the way that Muslims greet each other when they meet. They were the words expressed by Prime Minister Ardern at the remembrance service last week a number of times. I start with that because 'peace be upon you' is exactly what we should be thinking about as we consider, take in, process and respond to the events in Christchurch. Often when these terrible events occur—and they occur far too often—I think about the impact on the people who were forced to experience what they did in events such as those that occurred on 15 March in Christchurch, in Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre.
This event occurred during Friday prayers. People would have been at their most peaceful. They also would have been at their most vulnerable. They are thinking of their connection with God, they are going through their prayers and they are shutting out everything else. They are in that moment, as has been said, at their most vulnerable. They would have had no chance to consider what was about to happen to them. Worse still, they had no chance to say goodbye to the people they loved and cared about. They had no chance to make peace with themselves and the things that we all want to make peace with in our lives. They basically fell victim at that moment and were not accorded what we all hope for, which is a rich and full life with the people that you love most.
I think a lot about those instances. I thought these same thoughts on 11 September 2001, when 3,000 people lost their lives in one moment because of the actions of others who believed that they would change the course of history through their own distorted view of the world.
I think about this all the time when I hear of these terrible events and am reminded—as we all are, regardless of our politics, joined as one in our humanity—to think we can do better and that we do not have the right to make a decision about life and death that we know, if we are a God-fearing person, is a decision that a power higher than us is the only power entitled to make. This is sometimes not necessarily expressed in these chambers, because in this day and age it is a true test to maintain faith, but it is something that sustains a lot of people and it is something that would have helped people at this particular point in time.
This is not a moment where hate will meet hate to solve where we're at. In fact, Prime Minister Ardern rightly pointed out in the remembrance service held last week that we have been caught in a vicious cycle of extremism breeding extremism and that this cycle must end. Hate cannot match hate. Anger will not solve where we're at. You have heard some incredible stories from survivors who lost the people they loved the most in their life and who have not met hate with hate but met hate with forgiveness. That is important at this point in time.
I reflect on this because we really are at a point where we are being asked to do better than what we are doing. I will not in my contribution today want to match those events with an anger that will solve and cure nothing. But we are being called to be better than what we are, and that is why a lot of people are reflecting on the words that are being said in the public square and specifically words that carry in that public square. We all have a responsibility, I believe, to do better. It's why you've seen in the Senate today some pretty difficult conversations around some of the words expressed by others who have sought to blame quickly and improperly the motives of others and reach for solutions that will only perpetuate that cycle of extremism. I think we as parliamentarians are called upon to think about what we can do to encourage a better discourse in the public square.
I also think we've looked a lot at what happened on social media, and we have been asked there to see what can be done better. Do we really need to see those images—the livestreaming of events where we experience the moment where someone has lost their right to live? We can do better there. There are traditional media outlets, as well, that I think equally need to consider what they're doing. In the rush to try and clamp down on social media, can we just take a moment to think about how traditional media outlets could do better? I have been very critical of some outlets. I've highlighted some of them and what they've done. I'm not doing this for the simplistic political point-scoring. I keep coming back to this point: 'We can do better than what we are doing.' This is a moment, as has often been the case in other parts of the world where they have sought to heal after some very traumatic and horrific events in their life. You'll often hear a reference to truth and reconciliation. You cannot reconcile if you do not recognise what happened. It is important that we have that frank talk but it has to be twinned with an equal commitment to reconciliation and to work together. This is a very important point.
And so I won't repeat, necessarily, all the outlets that I believe I think could do better, because I have spoken to them individually, I have raised this publicly and I will continue to press the case that we can do better, because, if we're making very divisive remarks for the sake of chasing votes, it is as bad as making and allowing remarks to be aired on your channel, in your news outlet, on whatever program you've got, for the sake of ratings. I believe in many instances this has been done not with a commitment to free speech and not with a commitment to advancing the public interest but because, by letting people from the fringes onto those platforms, it's believed that a controversial remark will generate public interest and, therefore, ratings. And let me put it frankly: this is reinforcing a commercial interest. This is a time for us to focus on national cohesion and unity, and I am absolutely of the view that the good people that exist in Australia's media, when they take the time to reflect on the point, 'Are you allowing controversy for the sake of ratings to benefit your commercial interest above national cohesion?' will, in time, see better, because we have to believe in them seeing better.
This is an important thing. I genuinely believe that the mood of the moment is calling on us all to bring countries and communities together; that is, the time for dividing by creating a sense of the 'other' and then rallying people on your side to go against that side can no longer sustain us these days in the way it once did. It is hard to understand someone who looks different to you, who acts different to you and who speaks a different language to you, but this doesn't mean that they are a threat. We all want what we think is a reasonable aspiration; that is, people can live their lives peacefully, raise their kids and see them play on the front lawn, celebrate those great moments in families, build a greater community and get on with neighbours, do well in their job and see their kids do well in life. These are great things in human life that we want people to be able to live by. If we are all joined as one to make sure that our neighbourhoods, our suburbs, our cities, our states and our countries do better, this is the one test that we should put on people—that we would expect that they contribute and that their contribution will be valued. I think that is worth remembering in this instance.
Often in events such as this—and I noticed this happen recently in the aftermath of Christchurch—it's almost like we have a tragedy abacus that exists, where we cannot for a moment recognise the suffering that people went through without moving one of those little elements of the abacus and saying, 'Well, you experienced this, but what about what happened here?' This abacus that exists is truly horrendous. A death is a death, and it is a transgression. It is wrong when someone has taken the life of another. Equally, I would feel just as strongly if an Egyptian cop lost their life because they were murdered when they went to church, and I've spoken up in this place about it. If you are at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue and you lose your life because someone walks in and guns you down, it is wrong. It's wrong in Christchurch; it's wrong on September 11. No-one has the right, as I said earlier, to take the life of another in that way. This is wrong full stop, but we should not go, 'Well, where was your outrage when this happened?' The outrage is always there. As Muslims, we are measured in some way by some people as to how we have reacted to what we saw before our eyes. If someone claimed that their religion justified them, then they twisted our faith and did something.
Can I just say, as I am often asked to by some people, particularly on social media, what I feel. I, like every single person in this chamber, do not condone murder. Not one of us condones murder. I don't expect this person, this person or this person here—any of the people in here—to, every time something like this happens in the community, remind people of their disgust of murder. None of us want that; none of us believe in that. We all stand as one to stop it. There are a lot of Muslims who are continually asked: 'How committed are you to Australia? Do you condemn this? Do you stand against this?' Of course people do. They always do. As the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, rightly pointed out the other day, we should not have people, because of the actions of one, blacken the reputations of many. We should not say that that is representative of a broader group, because a lot of people, as has been observed through the course of this debate, have rightly pointed out that not all of us as Australians should be held to account for the Australian who undertook these heinous acts in Christchurch.
As I said before, if you take a moment to think about that and how it's been expressed elsewhere, and then think about this moment—let me put it to you this way. We had one person, a very powerful person, tweet:
Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.
That person was Rupert Murdoch. Is Rupert Murdoch going to put up a tweet that says, 'Maybe most Australians are peaceful but, until they recognise and destroy their growing supremacist cancer they must be held responsible'? Both remarks are incomprehensible.
We need to call this out. For many, it would probably seem a pretty big call to make that type of statement here against one of the world's most powerful people. But I hope this gives that person the time to pause and reflect. Our words do injure. We can do better, we should do better and we must do better. The moment has now come where we have to think about the environment that has allowed some people to believe that it is valid to do something against someone else and cross the line of humanity to take someone else's life.
We are being called on to say, 'Okay, how are we contributing, in the public square, to that environment?' As I said earlier, it's one thing to look at social media and what's been put on there. But that material has been generated because of the shaping of minds and the validation of certain views, and we need to now look at how we are contributing to that. We can do better. We should do better. Peace be upon those who have left us, but peace be upon all of us if we are able to do something better to ensure such things never occur again.
I'd like to congratulate the member for Chifley on his speech. His words were very moving and, I know, from the heart. I rise today to speak on this condolence motion on the terrorist attack that occurred on 15 March. I have a very personal view of what happened. Sadly, I was driving on that Friday, into Sydney from Campbelltown, with my wife and several members of her netball team who were from New Zealand. They're Maori and very fine people. What was a joyous occasion very quickly became one filled with horror at what had happened in Christchurch.
It is important to note that when we arrived at Mosman to begin the coast walk, in support of the Fred Hollows Foundation, the mood was incredibly sombre as it became apparent what had happened. There were people there from every walk of life, from every part of Sydney, from every religion, from every cut. There was unanimous sorrow and anger and hurt at what was evolving in front of us.
Our relationship with New Zealand is unique, and our bond is built on a spirit of mateship and camaraderie, fostered by the Anzac spirit. But it's also fostered by our very parallel societies of openness, of welcoming people from all countries and all religions and all origins. We're more than friends with New Zealand; we're family. The events that happened at the two mosques—the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre—by any measure were horrific, and I offer my condolences to the families who lost their loved ones. That this could happen in a place with, essentially, a holy name—Christchurch—is even more horrific. The people of New Zealand must have been in a state of absolute shock. The impact of what happened there has resounded around the world but particularly in Australia. Certainly in my community of Macarthur we have many people from New Zealand, and they were deeply affected. In the words of the very formidable New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern:
We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we're an enclave for extremism, we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things …
Those words just echo the horror of what happened in Christchurch, which, as anyone's who has been there will know, is a peaceful beautiful place.
The resolve of the New Zealand population to come together to unite and demonstrate their peoples' collective values in compassion, tolerance and inclusion in the wake of this horrific attack has been nothing short of remarkable. Even in their darkest days—in the wake of such an abhorrent, cowardly and barbaric attack—our friends from across the ditch have shone as a beacon of hope across the world. The global community and world leaders are rightly looking to New Zealand and their reaction to this devastating event at this time. New Zealand have not been found wanting.
However, there is no doubt in my mind that we face a unique challenge in this day and this age. The politics of fear and division are again raising their ugly head all over the globe. How we respond to this form of lowest common denominator politics, which seems to install fear, hatred and division, will shape the political discourse of our nation and other nations in the future. My hope is that people from all around the world continue to look to what's happened in New Zealand and how they've reacted to this tragedy and learn from it.
New Zealand has proven to us that love trumps hate. The values of those that would seek to exploit fear and encourage division in our society should be rejected in their entirety. In my previous life as a paediatrician I was used to asking people lots of questions about themselves, their families and their children and their histories—sometimes very intimate questions. One question I never asked was their religion, because it wasn't important. People of all religions have come to Australia and they have been welcomed. People of the Muslim religion have come to Australia since the founding of the colony and been able to practice their religion and live peacefully without questions being asked. But lately people are focusing on the things that divide us—that make people different—and they just shouldn't. In my role as a paediatrician I find it absolutely hateful that this division has been exploited by the very worst of our politics and by the very worst of our politicians. It is shameful—utterly shameful.
I visited my Muslim community and local mosques as soon as I could after the tragedy—the terrorist attack. I was absolutely astounded by the response: people were responding with love, they were responding with unity, they were responding with an understanding that I really found hard to believe in the face of what happened. I find it shocking that people in my community now feel fearful to be seen to practise their religion, fearful to dress the way they want to dress and fearful to go out in public, just because of their religion. To me, their religion is unimportant. We have people of all religions in my electorate of Macarthur, and people should feel safe to practise their religion, to be seen in public and to espouse their views of love and feeling together, without this overlay of fear and division that is being fostered by the very worst of our politicians. I'm ashamed to say that some of them sit in this House. To me, that is really an indictment of where we've come to. I think things can change, but it is important for all of us to call out those who would seek to divide us and those who would seek to foster their own hatred upon others.
We've experienced terrorism in Australia before, but what we saw in Christchurch was a scale above anything that we've seen previously. That such hatred should come from a society like Australia is something that is absolutely shocking. The politics of fear and division have been raising their ugly head in front of us. They've been here in the three years I've been in this parliament, and that is shameful. It must stop. Every time someone raises this issue, they should be shouted out and shouted down, no matter their political party or political persuasion. I will no longer ignore it. Perhaps to my shame, there were things said in this place before that I had ignored. We should call it out on every occasion.
What has happened has really shocked me. It's my sincere hope that we as Australians continue to follow the lead set by New Zealand by rejecting intolerance and supporting peoples' right to freely practice their religion and their beliefs in peace. To my local residents of Macarthur who've been expressing their apprehension and fear in the past few weeks, I'll simply say that you are welcome here, you are part of our society and I will do my best to make sure that that continues for as long as I'm in this position. It's important to note that many of our medical community are of the Muslim religion. Over 15 years ago now, I became very unwell, and I believe that I owe my life—certainly my quality of life—to a Muslim doctor. I really cannot believe that, in a society like the one that I grew up in, we would have views of such difference and division and hatred still being espoused by people who claim to represent their communities politically. It is a great shame and something that we must all call out.
I rise to speak on this motion moved by the Prime Minister in relation to the Christchurch attack. I, too, want to condemn what happened and condemn the actions of that individual who cut short the lives of 50 innocent people. Murder is wrong. Murder is completely wrong and we should call it out. It doesn't matter your faith; we know that murder is the wrong thing to do in all faiths. It doesn't matter whether it's Muslims being murdered, Christians being murdered, Yazidis being murdered or nonbelievers being murdered, murder is incorrect.
I want to stand with the member for Chifley. I appreciated his speech before, whilst I was in the chair. I think the member for Chifley, as a colleague in this place, is a smart, intelligent man who has a Muslim faith. I myself am a Christian, but I really respect the member for Chifley and I want to put that on record and appreciate what he had to say here today.
I've got a small Muslim community in my electorate of Petrie, and a lot of them are good people. A lot of them are definitely great people who I value. I've met many of them quite a few times. In fact, some are actually supporters of mine. I want to put that on record. I went down to my local mosque on the Friday after the attack and I met people as they came out of their prayer time. I didn't have to say anything at all. I think the fact that I was there and the fact that I was able to shake their hands on the way out and say, 'I'm with you at this time,' spoke volumes to them. I could see that they appreciated it.
I think the member for Chifley was right before when he said that people are fearful of what they don't understand. That's the reality. Many of us get in our own little bubbles; we mix with people who believe the same thing and we don't really go out of our way to understand what other people think and believe. It's okay to have a different belief or a different opinion but when you actually mix with other people and you understand what they actually are about and why they do things, it helps our society overall. I want to put that on record.
I said in my first speech in this place in 2013 that life is about relationships. Our relationship with God is the most important—and our relationship with other people. I stand by that. I condemn these attacks and stand with the other members here in relation to that today.
Firstly, I acknowledge the contributions that have been made by my colleagues the member for Chifley and the member for Macarthur. I found them both extremely moving and quite insightful. I come to this place having spent a long time here, and I have to say that this is an occasion of reflection. It brings to mind the fact that we have come across the parliament to express our love and condolences for the people of Christchurch and, particularly, the families of those who were so brutally slain by a bigot—someone whose heart was full of hate.
I have an association with Christchurch through my partner, Elizabeth, who is a Kiwi. Her family live in Christchurch—her mum, her sister, her nephews. That place has been through enormous hardship over a number of years. It is such a beautiful place but it has been the subject of such horror, as we saw very recently on 15 March. That someone who may not have been deranged but quite deliberately undertook an act of violence and hate against people who were in the safety of their prayer house, of their mosque, is so shocking that it's difficult to appreciate or understand how a human being could do as this person did—knowingly, wantonly killing people. For me, it just does not compute. The idea of bigotry and hatred of anyone is beyond my comprehension.
My two colleagues have, in their own ways, talked about the importance of us calling out hate, intolerance, discrimination and racism. We must call it out at every opportunity. We should never, ever, ever let it pass us by. We would like to think we are leaders in the community, especially those of us in this place. As leaders, it's up to us to point out the stupidity of this sort of activity and the pain that it causes, and our obligation to each other and to our community to bring people together and to make sure that people feel safe. This is about safety—safety in understanding who I am. It doesn't matter who you are, what your religion is or how you dress; you should feel safe living here in this country of ours.
I don't think there could be anyone who watched the magnificence of the Prime Minister of New Zealand talking about 'us', in her terms—their nation. We are who we are, as we are who we are, and it is up to us to ensure that we put our arms around our brothers and sisters, regardless of who they are or where they're from, and guarantee that, with our expression of love, they are part of us and that we are part of them.
I had the great privilege of attending an event in the hall adjacent to the Darwin mosque the week after this horrific event and being given the privilege to speak at what was a multifaith exercise with hundreds of people present. Community members were just turning up to show how much of an abomination they thought this act was and how important it was they showed love and support for our Islamic brothers and sisters who, in this case, were in Darwin but, of course, are across Australia.
I have a very small Islamic community on Cocos Island and another on Christmas Island. I know these people well. They are wonderful Australians, and their faith is the centre of their being. I'm a Christian. I'm a pretty poor Catholic, but, you know, I know about faith and I know how deeply people feel about their faith, and that's not a bad thing; that's a bloody good thing. And, whether you're an agnostic or someone of faith, the appreciation of the person with faith that the agnostic is allowed not to be a believer, without any imposition of their will, is what we are about.
We've heard of—well, I don't know how to describe it and I don't even want to refer to the idiot who belongs in this other place over here, who made such a horrific statement post the events in Christchurch, but, sadly, I think we have to admit to the fact that there is a very dark underbelly of racism still in this country. We need to call it out and, as the member for Macarthur has said, we have an obligation in this place to call it out whenever we see it.
I've never suffered from discrimination or racism apart from the fact that I'm an old bald white bloke, but I have had the experience of being with people who have been discriminated against in a very awful way. I'll just give you two examples. Many decades ago now I was working in Pitjantjatjara country of northern South Australia, and myself and a Pitjantjatjara person, a bloke, a wati, went on a field trip for three days—or four days, it may have been—driving around the bush, dirt roads, sleeping rough, eating off the camp fire in our swags. We were on our way back to Alice Springs and we called into a roadhouse early one morning to get some breakfast. We both walked in together, both of us dishevelled, both of us in very much the same space, except he was black and I was white, and at that roadside stop they were prepared to serve me but not him. Well, you can imagine. I'm a fairly forthright person, so we didn't stick around.
On another occasion I was working for the Central Land Council in Alice Springs, and we'd had a big Central Land Council meeting up at Daguragu on the Victoria River. We were driving back to Alice, and there was a big gang of people, a big mob of people, and I was travelling with a friend of mine who was a lawyer at the land council. We called into a roadhouse, again to get something to eat. They refused to serve us not because we were white but because we worked for an Aboriginal organisation. Now this is not a century ago; this is relatively recently. We see the suffering that occurs when people are discriminated against because of the racism that undoubtedly exists in some sour place in our community. We see it, and it really is up to us to reach across the table, or shake the hand, or put an arm around the shoulder and make sure that those people who are suffering this racism and discrimination understand that we're with them and we want to work with them to prevent it.
I don't know how any person with a decent conscience or an understanding of how they sit in our community could ever be a racist or could ever condemn someone because of their religion. And most importantly, in this time of—and we've suffered from it. The member for Macarthur pointed out we've suffered from the fact there have been people in this place who have sought to demonise our Islamic brothers and sisters in a way which was designed to cause division and hurt. Well, that's just causing division and hurt. It's not achieving a reasonable outcome for our community. We have an obligation to say to those people, 'You do not do that here.' If I had my way—which I don't, but if I did—if someone in this place were to repeat the performance of that clown who's a senator, then rather than give them the oxygen that they're getting, we should just send them to Coventry. We should just ignore them. We should turn our backs on them, don't relate to them, don't talk to them. And we should make sure the communities in which we live understand that we will not tolerate that behaviour.
And when we reflect again on the events of Christchurch, think about that man in the wheelchair who said, at the commemorative event in Christchurch that was so beautiful, he has forgiven the person who murdered his wife. That's love. I don't think there can be any better expression of what we as human beings should be feeling towards one another when it comes to understanding difference and accepting that it's okay to be different, it's okay to be who you are and to practice whatever religion you want. For us, it's an obligation that we have.
I am really pleased to have been able to say a few words of condolence, but I would ask that those of you who haven't to read, if you get the chance, or refer to Pat Dodson's contribution to the debate on the censure of Senator Anning in the Senate today. It is well worth a go. It is a really remarkable speech. I just want to finish by pinching some words of his, if I may? Senator Dodson said:
We must be of one voice and one heart on this issue. We turn our back against xenophobia, against hate crimes and against any gunmen who hold innocent people in their sights. We call out those who exploit fear and ignorance for political gain, who mock the traditional dress of women of another culture, who seek donations from the manufacturer of weapons of war to override our own laws and who argue that it's all right to be white. Their actions and exhortations would plunge this country back into the killing times—
which he referred to earlier in his speech, around the massacres of Aboriginal people, particularly in the north of Australia. He went on:
We should instead turn our faces to the light of a new future—a peaceful, non-violent, tolerant country of hope, respect and unity, a country where no innocent man, woman or child is ever again the victim of mass murder.
I say to those faithful mourning for their families in Christchurch: Allah yer'ham hom. Rest in peace.
It has been an interesting time, to say the least, to sit in the chamber and listen to members reflecting on this tragedy in a different way. But it shouldn't be surprising. I'm sure all Australians found this very confronting and found different ways to deal with the tragedy that was the Christchurch massacre.
For 50 innocent people to have lost their lives when they were going about their weekly prayer seems totally unbelievable. Most certainly, my heartfelt best wishes go to those families who have to somehow or other put their lives back together and get on with it. We must also consider the many in hospitals, still, that are battling very serious injuries and wounds that may not ever heal properly, not to speak of the mental anguish and damage that has been done. The impacts of this act will go far beyond 50 lives. Fifty lives is easy to say but it just represents such carnage and damage to so many people in Christchurch.
It is an incredible shame to all of us that this murderer was from Australia, and it certainly makes us all wonder. This could very easily have happened right here at home. He could easily have been just as radicalised—maybe the ability to have semiautomatic guns has made a greater impact on the casualties. An enormous lesson has been learnt there. We go back to Port Arthur and realise what a fantastic series of decisions were made following that event.
So many members have spoken about the uncertainty that mainstream Australia has with the Muslim faith. My understanding is that this is largely based around ignorance and not understanding, and not having an opportunity to get to know people from within the Muslim faith, the various brands of the Muslim faith. Like I imagine most MPs did, I took the opportunity to catch up with a mosque—mine was the Albanian mosque—the following Friday when they had their prayer day. The Albanian mosque was built in Shepparton in the sixties. It's something we've always known has been there. It's been a totally normal addition to our city. Many of the friends I met there I didn't realise were Muslim. What we call multiculturalism now is just a very natural dynamic in the city of Shepparton.
We grew up with a larger portion of Indigenous friends at school than, I suppose, most places in Victoria. After the Second World War, we had a larger influx of Europeans that became Sheppartonians and worked the fruit orchards of the Goulburn Valley more than other areas of Shepparton. In the last 15 to 20 years we've had a greater influx of humanitarian and asylum seeker refugees that have found Shepparton their home and have adopted it. It's such a normal multicultural society. For a regional city, it is unique. It is very much par for the course when you go about your daily life.
What was staggering—and this has been touched on already by other speakers—was the love that came out of the Muslims at the end of their prayer session, when they were welcoming civic leaders and people who were invited along. They invited the whole city along—luckily, all 65,000 didn't turn up, but there was a significant crowd there. They were people who just wanted to show their compassion, care and concern. The way that they were welcomed was with not a skerrick of anything other than love. It took away this ignorance and the fear of the unknown. Again, while we believe in different messengers we believe in one God. Whether you're Christian or Muslim, there are different messengers but we believe in one God.
My comments about the day are, I suppose, not dissimilar to everyone else's: multiculturalism doesn't happen by accident. Harmonious multiculturalism doesn't happen by accident. It didn't happen by accident in Shepparton. Without a doubt, there are civic leaders and strong individuals in Shepparton who have been standing up for the last 50 or 60 years with a welcoming heart, making sure that new entrants into the city and the region were welcomed with strong and decisive leadership. The opportunities for our new Australians have always been strong, and their work ethic in the Goulburn Valley has been phenomenal. Their rewards have also been phenomenal.
Today we face new challenges in this area, but the recipe is the same. It's going to take strong civic leaders, strong people who shape opinions, to confront these issues with a very strong but welcoming heart to make sure that our new Australians are given every opportunity to take every advantage of this great country, irrespective of where they settle.
I think that one thing we have been taught by Christchurch is that only love will prevail, and that peace is what everybody wants. We have always taken peace for granted here in Australia. I think that what Christchurch also reminds us of is that maybe we shouldn't take anything for granted. We have to keep working at it and we have to keep being strong in our pursuit of a never-ending peace in this country. I think that if there is anything we can learn, it's to not take anything for granted in this field.
I understand that it is the wish of honourable members to signify at this stage their respect and sympathy by rising in their places. I ask that all present do so.
Honourable members having stood in their places—
I thank the Federation Chamber.