Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 September 2014



8:44 pm

Photo of Anne UrquhartAnne Urquhart (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

In my first speech to the Senate, one of the goals that I set for myself was to be a voice for those who do not have a voice. For me, multiculturalism is not a topic you can buy into in halves I accept the immeasurable value migrants bring to our country, and the right of all in our country, regardless of race and regardless of religion, to live their lives according to their values and their way of life, to speak their native tongue as well as English, and to wear whatever they choose.

What we are seeing in this place and in the other place, though, under the leadership of this Prime Minister, is an acceptance that it is okay for the powerful to vilify the weak and that it is okay for politicians to share their deeply personal prejudices without articulating any reasoning behind their view and without providing evidence, as though their thought bubbles are not heard and are not a call to action for thousands across the country.

Since the proliferation of bigoted comments over the past month, there have been reports from across the country of an increase in racially motivated attacks. There have been reports of racially motivated graffiti, desecrating places of worship. This is at a time when the government of our country is preparing to take us back to war. At a time when the government is supposedly trying to build a unity ticket, too many of its own members are sharing their prejudices and inflaming tensions.

However, I believe there is a strong will across the community for a multicultural Australia, an Australia where we celebrate that we are a nation of peoples from rights across the world. We can learn so much from each other through respect, through tolerance and by reaching out and trying to continue to increase dialogue, by increasing cultural festivals and awareness raising and by increasing support services to migrants, while continuing to strive to better understand where our friends and neighbours are from, where we have come from and how we can all take our Australia forward.

I am from the North West of Tasmania. To be frank it is not a very multicultural place, which is really unfortunate. Our first generation migrants bring so much life and enthusiasm into Tasmania, while second and third generations continue their family traditions. They continue to teach us about their cultures, values and heritage. They continue their connection back to wherever their fathers and mothers came from, while getting on with living life in regional Australia.

Where there are seats in Western Sydney with over fifty and sixty thousand people of non-Anglo Saxon heritage, my home patch, the seat of Braddon, has fewer than 2,000. This lack of multiculturalism in North West Tasmania has, for some, produced a culture of isolation. Because of not needing to engage with other cultures there is not a great need to demonstrate tolerance and acceptance for people of non-Anglo Saxon heritage.

However, the local Burnie newspaper, The Advocate, regularly displays strong leadership on social and economic issues that would not be shared by a large proportion of their typical readership. In the past week, two columns have exemplified this pursuit. Last Wednesday, a column from Doug Dingwall highlighted that Senator Lambie's linking of Islamic culture to terrorism was irresponsible and ill-informed, while the Federal Liberal Member for Braddon, Mr Whiteley, in supporting her comments on sharia law risked alienating more Australian Muslims. The following day, journalist Sean Ford expanded on the issue, and I quote a portion of his column.

PUP Senator Jacqui Lambie and a few Liberals, including Braddon MHR, Brett Whiteley, have waded into deep and murky waters in recent days with their calls for the burqa to be banned.

Why, precisely, would we want to give a significant minority a message that they are not welcome to be themselves?

Is that not a path to increasing the levels of radicalisation among Muslim youth?

But demonising the innocent helps nobody and, indeed, may have the unintended consequence of contributing to the creation of more radicals.

Potentially, some of our best allies in the fight against terrorism are mainstream Muslims. So, again, why demonise a percentage of them who are just trying to live their lives?

The Advocate is the local daily newspaper that essentially covers the electorate of Braddon, with a small amount of its readership coming from the electorate of Lyons. Both Mr Whiteley and Senator Lambie have not held back in coming forward in the past month on this issue. I believe both have completely missed the mark.

But Mr Whiteley particularly, as an experienced politician and a member of the government, should have known better than to share his bigoted opinions on Islam. Last week in an interview with The Advocate, Mr Whiteley said:

No law other than Australian law should rule or guide our lives. If people have a deep desire to live by any other law they have a serious decision to make about where they live.

Their allegiance is either to Australia, or against it.

I believe Mr Whiteley's comments demonstrate that he does not have the capacity to maturely contribute to this debate, and, worse, his ill-informed prejudice feeds right into the hands of the extremists that both sides of politics are committed to fighting. I believe these comments from a politician in one pocket of the country, like North West Tasmania, have the potential to damage community harmony and inflame tensions right across the country.

Most people across the country do not know the difference between a backbench member of the government and a minister. This is not a blight on Australians or on anyone in this place. However, it amplifies the need for all of us to be measured in our contributions. Instead, it is my fear that Mr Whiteley's comments just perpetuate the bigoted views in some pockets of this country that Islam is incompatible with the Australia that we know and love.

Mr Whiteley made these comments on the same day that the Prime Minister addressed the parliament on the increased security level in the country. In that speech the Prime Minister said that our security measures at home and abroad are directed against terrorism, not religion. He went on to say that mistreating others in the name of God is never right, and that Australians should come to appreciate our unity as much as our diversity.

Those with the most basic understanding of Islamic life in Australia would know that Muslims are told by their imams and other community leaders that Australian law is supreme and that the parts of sharia law that are not compatible with Australian law are not to be practised in this country. I repeat. Imams in Australia tell their congregations that Australian law is supreme. They tell their congregations that the parts of sharia law that are not compatible with Australian law are not to be practised in this country.

In the Hobart Mercury last weekend, the leader of the Hobart mosque, Imam Sabri Samson, said:

Islamic State—they are not true believers. For me, they are ignorant people.

The message of Islam is not about killing people.

And on the subject of having knowledge of sharia law, he said:

Most people don’t, even the Muslims themselves don’t know.

We follow the Ten Commandments, probably in different terms, but basically Sharia law is the Ten Commandments.

After all, there are many similarities between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The stories of those of faith is one of a rich history and one that grows stronger each year. Australia's Muslim community continues to do our nation a great service by fostering enduring cultural and religious harmony and making a substantial contribution to our national prosperity. This reflects modern Australian multiculturalism: a story of cultural enrichment, social cohesion and economic growth. It is a story that I am committed to and will always defend.

I will continue to speak out against ill-informed and dangerous views and to stand up for tolerance and multiculturalism. To those who are celebrating Eid ul-Adha later this week, I wish you Eid Mubarak. To all Australians and to members in this place, please take some time to listen to those people with compassion and knowledge. We must strive to work together to continue to foster multiculturalism and tolerance in this country.


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