Thursday, 30 November 2023
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Wong. I'm concerned about the vile rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia. I'd like to understand what the government is doing about this distressing situation. Can the minister please inform the Senate what measures the government is currently implementing to ensure the safety and security of international delegations visiting Australia, particularly in light of the recent incident at the Crowne Plaza Melbourne, involving a delegation of families of victims and hostages in the Hamas-Israeli conflict?
Thank you, Senator Van, for the question. I will pick up the last part of your question. I want to make some comments, in fact, about that issue. My first response to those who engaged in those protests is: 'Have some decency.' I had the privilege, as did many people, of meeting with the loved ones of those killed or taken hostage. I know that our members of parliament met them. The Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and I met with a delegation. They're dealing with a horrific situation. There were people who have lost children and siblings whose brother was taken hostage. I think for protestors to go out of their way to their hotel to engage in what was intimidating behaviour is really beyond contempt. And what I'd say to people in this country is we all have our beliefs, and some people in this country have very different beliefs on this issue. But, as I've said many times in this place, the strength of your conviction about your view should not override your fundamental decency and your recognition of the humanity of the other. It is disturbing and distressing, and it does nothing to advance the calls for peace in the region.
We will always denounce antisemitism. We reject it utterly; we all should. We should denounce all forms of prejudice in this country. (Time expired)
In the context of that recent confrontation involving the Israeli delegation and pro-Palestinian protesters, some have called it victim blaming. How does the government propose to balance the right to free speech and peaceful protest with the imperative to maintain public order and protect international visitors? Additionally, what specific guidelines and protocols are in place to manage situations where the right to protest and the safety of individuals may come into conflict?
I think in your question, Senator Van, you actually go to the very issue, which is all of our rights are not absolute—or very few. The right to freedom of speech needs to be balanced by the right for people to feel safe and to be safe. That's the balance we seek to have, for example, in the Racial Discrimination Act with section 18C. That's the balance we should exercise and observe as leaders in this place. People have a right to peaceful protest in this country, but that should not extend to violence or intimidation.
Again, I go back to this point: no matter how fervently any one of us believes that we are right, that does not give us the right to disregard the experience of others or to behaviour in a way that is not decent. All sides of the debate should remember that. (Time expired)
In light of the recent event where teachers in Victorian schools had been reported to have engaged in pro-Palestinian actions, what measures is the government taking to ensure political activism does not infringe upon the neutrality expected in educational settings, and how does the government plan to address this issue while respecting freedom of expression?
I think Senator Watt was asked that question this week, and he referred to Minister Clare's public statement—that he believes children should be at school. Again, I think your question goes to the heart of how we, as a multicultural society with a range of different views and a range of different experiences, manage our differences. I am someone who believes—as I would hope most people in this chamber believe—that our multiculturalism and our diversity is such a great strength of this country. It's one of the things that makes me most proud, and Victoria, as you know, is the most multicultural state. Now I've said that, you watch—I'm going to get a lot of criticism from New South Wales! But I think statistically that is the case.
Queensland is, Senator Rennick says. We also have to make sure we manage our differences respectfully, and this has been hard to do, because people are distressed. But we would continue to urge people to do so. (Time expired)