Senate debates

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Terrorist Attack on Christchurch Mosques on 15 March 2019

3:47 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Prime Minister (Senator Birmingham) to a question without notice asked by Senator Faruqi today regarding the Christchurch massacre.

Two years ago yesterday an Australian man walked into two mosques in Christchurch, Aotearoa New Zealand, and killed 51 innocent Muslims. This was an attack that the New Zealand royal commission ended up confirming was driven by an extreme right-wing Islamophobic ideology. I remember exactly where I was that day, just as I'm pretty sure every Muslim in this part of the world remembers exactly where they were. It was shattering. Our hearts broke as we came to understand the enormity of the hate filled massacre. In June 2019, just a few months after the mosque attacks, I travelled to Christchurch to visit the Al Noor Mosque and meet with communities and families.

Two years on, how far have we come to ensure this will never happen again? Not nearly far enough. In fact, we have arguably gone further down the wrong path. Open racism and Islamophobia continue to be tolerated and even encouraged in politics and media. Neo-Nazis and far-right white nationalists organise online, their toxic hatred seeping into mainstream public discussions. Muslims continue to experience racism wherever we go. I have pushed hard against this, as have many advocates, but Australia's lack of progress remains deeply concerning to me. I worry that, without substantial political change, the next Christchurch attack will not be a matter of if, but when. I have been disturbed to read the initial submissions to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security inquiry into extremism. All key government agencies, including ASIO, the AFP and Home Affairs, have indicated in their initial submissions to the inquiry that the threat of far-right extremism is growing. However, substantial policy change and political action are nowhere to be seen.

The unanimity of federal authorities on the growing threat of far-right extremism stands in sharp contrast to the dismissive rhetoric of government MPs. We heard in the response to my questions earlier much of the same rhetoric, refusing to target far-right extremism squarely. When I put to the minister a very simple yes-or-no question about whether the government would condemn far-right extremism without equivocation I did not receive a yes-or-no response. Senator Birmingham responded by saying that he would condemn far-right and religious extremism and all forms of extremism without qualification. The minister would not condemn far-right extremism in isolation.

This is the extremism which drove the massacre in Christchurch and it needs to be condemned. As I said earlier in my question to the minister, ASIO stated in its submission to the PJCIS inquiry that the threat from extreme right-wing groups has increased, with groups being more organised and sophisticated than before. Conversely, on left-wing extremism, ASIO stated that it is not currently prominent in Australia. But there is no acknowledgement of this clear contrast from the government. In fact, MPs continue to promote false equivalence. The Liberals have completely failed here, not just in their rhetoric but also in their actions. Laws on extremist hatred must be strengthened and enforced. There are still no dedicated programs for tackling far-right extremism in the community and no commitment to an antiracism strategy or campaign.

When MPs have their heads in the sand, or even tacitly endorse far-right ideas, it totally undermines the government's response to this threat. The government has been dragged kicking and screaming into the PJCIS inquiry, and it even deflected a clear-eyed focus on far-right extremism and white supremacy. Now, since they have received submissions from our security agencies, they continue to deflect and deny. They have no choice but to look at the evidence and respond accordingly. Thousands of Muslims in Australia and other targeted communities of colour are counting on them—are begging them—to take this seriously.

This week we remember the 51 lives lost in Christchurch, the many injured and the families whose worlds were changed forever in March 2019. We work to ensure that their passing was not in vain.

Question agreed to.


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