House debates

Thursday, 1 August 2019


Australian Society

4:48 pm

Photo of Mike FreelanderMike Freelander (Macarthur, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

For some time I've been troubled by the national debate in this country, by attitudes of certain people in public life and by certain views consistently espoused on national platforms that go unchallenged by our society. I refer of course to the very troubling rise of hate speech, white nationalism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. As a paediatrician I have seen people of just about every race and every religion in the world and I know that we all share the same hopes and aspirations for our children as each other if we're decent people. It's become apparent to me over recent years that there is a troubling propensity for hate to be fostered in our communities, for some people to play on irrational fears and for some people to seek to cause widespread division. Many seek to downplay some of these issues, but I believe they are very significant and that we must confront them.

I know that bigotry and anti-Semitism have been around for centuries. My paternal ancestors fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe to England in the 15th century. It is very troubling to see similar anti-Semitism occurring in 21st century Australia. Let me remind you that the election posters of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in Melbourne and Julian Leeser in Sydney were defaced by Nazi symbols during the most recent election campaign. Also during the election campaign I twice contacted the Federal Police about anti-Semitic emails that had been sent to some of my constituents about Kerryn Phelps, the previous member for Wentworth, who is Jewish. As a Jew, I am hurt and affronted by these terrible events. Even in Canberra, a city that has the highest per capita income of any city in Australia, Rabbi Shmueli Feldman's home and synagogue have had repeated attacks.

The Islamic community has also suffered repeated verbal and physical attacks, and the online vitriol that I received when I published my condolences to my local Islamic brothers and sisters after the Christchurch attack was absolutely disgusting. Anti-Muslim comments, calls for burqa bans and the portrayal of Muslims as violent and uncivilised, even from parliamentarians, are shameful.

Next week there is CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, in Sydney. This is an American group, and this meeting will be attended by a disparate group of racists, white supremacists, Islamophobes, anti-Semites and, unfortunately, several Australian politicians. This just enables the bigots, the racists, the anti-Semites and the white supremacists to get their way.

This hatred does not make sense to me, and needs to be vehemently rejected by this place—as does persecution and discrimination against all individuals of faith or all individuals of different colours. We have seen rallies take place in recent years by far Right fringe groups across the nation, where any individual with a microphone is able to share their extremist ideologies, spreading division and fostering hatred but then facing little or no consequences for their actions. I think this is untenable. People who speak like this and people who encourage others to speak like this should be prosecuted. These people are not the true-blue Australians they claim to be. In fact, I can safely say that our ancestors who fought and sacrificed their lives to end racial or religious oppression in times past would be utterly ashamed of these individuals. The standard you walk by is the standard you accept.

There have also been remarks made in this parliament regarding the same conference that will take place in just eight days time. I want to be clear: I welcome public debate. We should foster it and constantly challenge ourselves with better ideas. But, as was brought up by my colleague Senator Keneally in the other house, this is something that we shouldn't let go by without comment.

What I do not accept is that we should allow extremists—and make no mistake about it, we are talking about alt-Right individuals with extremist views—to ever be given a stage to spread their hate speech from. We know that there are several individuals of questionable character who will be attending this conference under the guise of partaking in a public discussion. They should not be given legitimacy or credibility by sharing a stage, symbolic or otherwise, with members of this place. As I said, the standard you walk by is the standard you accept. I would hope that all members of our democratic parliament would refuse to associate with extremists from the fringes of our society. This House needs to commit to lifting the standards of public discourse in this nation, and I request very strongly that other members who share my views talk about them in parliament. Thank you.