Thursday, 15 November 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. Following the appalling crime that led to the tragic death of Sisto Malaspina this week, the Prime Minister urged Islamic leaders to be:
… proactive. They must be alert and they must call this out in their communities …
The National Zakat Foundation Australia collects millions of dollars in voluntary contributions and distributes these to the victims of domestic violence, people experiencing homelessness or financial hardship and people in need of medical assistance. The Islamic Council of Victoria has run a prison chaplaincy program improving links between the wider Islamic community, the corrections system and Muslim prisoners for 24 years. The United Muslims of Australia in Sydney's west deliver a range of youth programs with the purpose of educating young Muslims, to promote values of mateship, honesty and harmony. Minister, what is it exactly that the Prime Minister wants the Muslim community to do?
I'm not personally aware of all of the organisations that Senator Di Natale has listed there, but if his general point is that there are a lot of Muslim Australians and a lot of organisations involved in the Muslim community who do good work in the great Australian spirit of promoting cohesiveness and providing support then, of course, I completely 100 per cent endorse that. And I know that everyone in this chamber would endorse that.
What the Prime Minister has said is that, clearly in the context of some of the challenges we have been facing and in the context of this absolutely terrible event over the weekend, there are some challenges for government in that there are hundreds of people under investigation at any one point in time—230 Australians right now are having their passports cancelled because of suspicions in relation to relevant activities. It's very difficult for government to provide 24/7 surveillance of all of these Australians. People should reflect on what that—the government providing 24/7 surveillance of individuals on the basis of suspicion—would actually mean. What the Prime Minister has said, appropriately, is that there is a role for leaders in the Islamic community to do more to help us identify earlier when potential issues of concern are emerging. That is of course entirely appropriate. I am sure that all reasonable Australians would share that as a reasonable proposition.
Minister, the Prime Minister also urged Islamic leaders to 'ensure dangerous teachings and ideologies' do not spread in Australia. The Somali community has community support programs focusing on youth and early intervention to take kids to sporting activities and camps. There are drop-in centres like the MyCentre support service providing drug and alcohol counselling delivered by the community. There are countless sermons where imams denounce acts of violence. What is it exactly that you want the Muslim community to do?
Minister, in the absence of any specific proposal, why shouldn't the community assume that all we are hearing is a desperate Prime Minister engaging in race baiting to salvage votes in the lead-up to an election?
Firstly, I reject the premise of the question. I have to say that I'm somewhat saddened by the tone and the framing of the question. This is a sensitive issue. It's an important issue. It is an issue that we have to approach in the appropriate way. I believe the Prime Minister has approached it in the appropriate way. I don't believe that Senator Di Natale has. I think Senator Di Natale is actually trying to do what he accuses us of doing. He's trying to pursue a wedge for political advantage in relation to an issue that we need to approach much more carefully in our national interest. I encourage Senator Di Natale to reflect on the way that he just approached this issue in his final supplementary question.