House debates

Wednesday, 3 July 2024


War Memorials: Vandalism

9:52 am

Photo of Phillip ThompsonPhillip Thompson (Herbert, Liberal National Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That so much of standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Herbert from moving the following motion immediately:

That the House condemns the act of defacing war memorials by pro-Palestinian protesters which is deeply insulting for current and former members of the Australian Defence Force and undermines the significance of these memorials as symbols of national pride and remembrance.

We must suspend standing orders to bring on this urgent debate. This is a matter of significant importance. It is our responsibility to the community, as a parliament, to debate these serious topics here in this nation's parliament. We must call out and condemn these disgusting acts, this despicable behaviour, and that's why we are calling on this suspension.

Saturday night's attacks were not an exercise of free speech but of criminal behaviour. The Australian National Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Forces National Memorial, the Australian Army memorial: no cause gets the right to desecrate our most sacred sites. There has been outrage throughout the community. People are rightly upset. And I'm sorry to all of our Defence Force members, our veterans and their families that they had to witness such disgusting, such despicable acts that have occurred not just in the nation's capital, but around this country. No cause gives you the right to desecrate these sites. It does not represent the community's attitude towards our ADF, our veterans or their families.

The freedoms that we enjoy in this nation are on the back of hard fought battles, wars and sacrifice that those in uniform, those that have served and their families have made. To turn on the TV or to wake up in the morning and open the paper to see this criminal activity—vandalism, spray-painting, the desecration of the Australian War Memorial and other war memorial sites—is not just a kick in the guts to every veteran; it's a slap in the face to the Australian public, who believe in the rule of law and freedom of speech. This should never occur in this country or anywhere else around the world. And I don't believe it has been condemned enough in this parliament. I don't believe that we have had time to debate this, to call out this behaviour and to say, 'We stand as one, because this behaviour needs to stop.'

The veterans community is rightly angry. From the time the first person would have seen this disgraceful vandalism, my phone, my social media, even my door being knocked on, like many other people in parliament—from veterans who are angry, who are disgusted and who are sad that this has occurred.

Here's what a few veterans have had to say. One said: 'We should be proud of all of our veterans and those who have served. Those who desecrate memorials should be jailed. This does not fall under freedom of speech.' A veteran's son said: 'As the son of a Kapyong veteran, I'm disappointed that people have no respect for the personnel that put on the uniform in our armed service.' Another veteran said: 'It's so sad that these people who have fought, died for our freedom—and this is the thanks that they get. I try not to hate anything, but I do hate the people who desecrate war memorials. This is disgraceful. I do not stand for those who have desecrated these war memorials. People have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom and they deserve respect. This makes my blood boil. And, as I come from a proud family of ex-ADF personnel, I want to say thank you to those who have served.' These are just some of the messages that I and others in this parliament have received.

I took a phone call only yesterday where the mother of a veteran was in tears—in tears because the one place that is the most sacred for all that have served has been desecrated. She said to me, 'Stand up. Be counted. Call this out.' That's why this suspension motion to bring on debate must happen—because I do not believe that yesterday's gag on the debate, shutting it down, as we saw, was in the national interest. We want to see both sides of parliament stand up and be given the opportunity to call out this disgraceful attack on our veterans and on the community, and call out the antisemitism that has been on display. We must debate this. We must.

This has hit our veterans community extremely hard, and I think that it's right to say that they expect more from us. We have a responsibility to our communities and the people that we represent. This is the nation's national parliament. We must condemn these disgusting acts, and yesterday's move to gag debate, to shut down the discussion, is abhorrent. To say there was no time—it took 25 minutes from the first mover to when the debate was gagged. You cannot tell me that you have no time to stand up and condemn these disgraceful, despicable acts. And every single speech from a government minister, including the defence minister, should say, 'We stand as one in this parliament,' because that's not the message that the Australian people saw yesterday. It shouldn't be concerning for the government, because this is the same wording in this suspension as Senator Lambie's motion in the other place on Monday.

We want debate to occur because our veterans, this country, want to see us standing as one in condemning the disgrace of the Greens, the disgrace of their commentary of late, saying that desecrating the Australian War Memorial is somehow a part of their free speech, somehow a part of free speech. They are not fit to sit in parliament and they are not fit to co-govern with the Labor Party. They are a disgrace. And because you cannot call them out, because you cannot stand up and debate this with us today, that is why a second suspension has been brought on. I would have thought that yesterday was the time for when the opposition and the government could stand as one and say that the despicable commentary from the Greens, the kick in the guts to all the veterans from their commentary, should be rightly condemned. But we didn't see that. We saw debate be gagged, shut down, not discussed. That is disgraceful, an absolute disgrace.

These individuals, these people in the Greens movement who are justifying this as a form of expression are despicable. They are deeply disrespectful to the memories enshrined in those on the War Memorial. More than 100,000 names are etched on the War Memorial. Some of them are my mates, and I can tell you, every time I hear about the War Memorial being desecrated, vandalised, it makes my blood boil then it makes me so angry when I see people coming into parliament saying, 'This is a part of free speech.' Garbage. It is not a part of free speech. You are a part of the problem. That antisemitic and disgraceful vandalism that we have seen at war memorials needs to be called out because I will tell you who chants, 'from the river to the sea': Hamas, a terrorist group.

To see the Prime Minister come in here and say, 'It is okay because Jewish people as well as people from Palestine both say "from the river to the sea".' That is not what the Jewish community has been telling me and they are rightly angry. This is a debate that needs to come on. We need to have this discussion now. We do not believe it is in the nation's interest to be gagged like we saw yesterday with the motion from the member for Canning. We need harsh penalties. I want to see these scumbags, these criminals who are doing this desecration in handcuffs. I want to see them off the street and put in jail. This is not good enough. Bring on debate.

Photo of Ian GoodenoughIan Goodenough (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

10:02 am

Photo of Keith WolahanKeith Wolahan (Menzies, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. We have patriots on all sides of this chamber—

An honourable member: Correct

We certainly do, and we have patriots who have served in uniform on all sides of this chamber. We have heard, again and again, calls from both sides to lean in to bring in our nation together because we can all agree it has never been more divided than it is now. Here is an opportunity to lean in and focus on the thing that unites us more than any other—our war memorials—because when you go to the war memorials you will notice a list of names. There is no rank. There is no race. There is no religion. There is no party-political identification. They don't even have honours and medals because the purity of their name and who they were as humans matters, and on that War Memorial are many thousands of people who were not born in this country. On that War Memorial are Christians and Jews and Muslims and, but for the bravery of people of every faith, there would be many more. I know, as the member for Canning and the member for Herbert know, we saw firsthand the bravery of people of Islamic faith who fought side-by-side with us, and many of us would have been added to that War Memorial but for their bravery.

So this motion, which you have notice of, is about focusing in on what unites our nation, not what divides us, because this is about acknowledging the people who said, 'This is not just a piece of dirt surrounded by water; it is a nation that stands for something. It is a nation with fighting for.' We acknowledge the service, sacrifice and unbearable grief of the families who had to walk into bedrooms and know that their sons had given up all their tomorrows for our today.

Humans aren't very good at comprehending large numbers. Imagine what 103,000 young men looks like. Go to the MCG. Stand there and know that, in one morning, 640 from Gallipoli took a seat. In 24 hours, fewer than 2,000—1,917—from Fromelles took a seat. Those were the deadliest 24 hours in Australian history. That's half of the Ponsford Stand. Seven-thousand seats were filled from the Somme, the other half filled from Pozieres. Those who died at Bullecourt are 2,000. Over 2½ months, Passchendaele saw 12,000 young Australians pay the ultimate sacrifice. That's 12 per cent of the honour role in 2½ months. By the end of World War I, when our population was a lot less than it is now, 61,000 Australians had died. That's a significant percentage of the MCG for a small population. In World War II, we saw days where 50 rows were filled from the Montevideo Maru. People from both parties, including the member for Canning, have relatives who went down in that sinking. In seven minutes, we saw 1,054 die. That's one per cent of the honour role. Then, in Korea, 340 died. In Vietnam, 523 died. In Afghanistan, 47 died, including friends of those on both sides.

And what of those left behind? We have an MCG of dead Australians who died for this country, but imagine an MCG full of mums, another MCG of dads, many, many more of those who were injured and wounded and those who we have heard from the royal commission took their lives. ANZAC Day and war memorials are not about glorifying war. They are about acknowledging who we are, who they were, what they did, what they gave up and what they left behind. But, as the sun comes up on ANZAC Day and every other day, we don't just acknowledge the grief of what was lost; we acknowledge what they fought for, and we do that with smiles on our faces. We do that thinking of their last memories of home—and all of them had a last memory of home. It would have been a happy one of their family, their friends, their mum and dad and a place that stood for something—a place that still does. It's a place worthy of them and a place worth fighting for. When we stand up at citizenship ceremonies, these war memorials are for every new Australian, every Indigenous Australian, every Jewish Australian, every Islamic Australian and every Christian Australian. It's about what unites us, and we ask you to join us in this motion.

10:08 am

Photo of Jason ClareJason Clare (Blaxland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

We condemn the desecration of this sacred Australian site. I move:

That this debate be adjourned.

Opposition members: Shame!

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question before the House is that the debate be adjourned.