Bill's Speeches

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – SOCIAL COHESION

MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE – SOCIAL COHESION

HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
THURSDAY, 2 OCTOBER 2014



*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***


 

 

Right now, more than ever our Parliament needs to promote social cohesion, and confront prejudice, ignorance, sectarianism and fear.

 

Because right now, we’ve asked our skilled and brave men and women of the Australian Defence Force to confront prejudice, ignorance, sectarianism and fear in the middle east.

 

So today I shall ask the Parliament that we too measure up to do our part at home to match the efforts of our defence forces, who are preparing to engage as we speak an enemy of humanity, committing crimes against humanity.

 

For ISIL and the like - the enemy is not one nation, one faith or one people.

 

Their enemy is the presence of peace, their enemy is the presence of justice, their enemy is the presence of religious tolerance.

 

Their target is freedom of worship, freedom of association, freedom of speech – freedom itself.

 

We cannot negotiate with this hateful, poisonous ideology - just as we cannot ignore their mass atrocity crimes.

 

And so, Australian forces are joining an international coalition going to the aid of vulnerable people.

 

Labor has always put the security of our nation above politics.

 

And at a time when we face renewed threats of terrorism in our own streets, our number one priority is and always will be the safety of the people of Australia.

 

We should listen to the experts and be guided by them as to how we best protect this country, our people and our way of life.

 

In confronting the threat of fanaticism and extremism on the other side of the world and here at home, we cannot ignore the dangers of prejudice and racism.

 

We must guard against dangerous division – we must recognise that we are stronger and better and safer when we stand together.

 

Madam Speaker

 

On Monday evening in Melbourne, a 26 year old woman on the Upfield train was subjected to a stream of racial abuse from another passenger.

 

The abuser then grabbed the young woman by the hair and neck and drove her head into the wall of the carriage multiple times.

 

As the train was approaching Batman Station, the attacker forced the carriage doors open and pushed the woman out onto the platform.

 

That young woman somehow walked away on Monday with only grazes and bruises.

 

But how does she board that train on Tuesday?

 

How does she face the world, knowing that the way she looks makes her less safe?

 

How does she cope with the fear, the terrifying doubt, the sense that everywhere she goes she is a target for ignorant bullies?

 

Madam Speaker

 

Every manifestation of prejudice does damage, it dents confidence - it undermines our great, inclusive Australian social democracy.

 

It jeopardises our safety and it threatens our security.

 

This exclusion, this denigration can drive the isolated and unwell into the arms of extremism.

 

That is the danger that Australia must confront – and act against.

 

As leaders, we owe no less to our people and our troops going into harm’s way, on our behalf.

 

The tiny handful of our citizens who have been drawn to the radical ranks of ISIL and their like were not born full of hatred and rage.

 

They were not raised for a life of death – but now they feel as if they have nothing to live for, only a radical cause to die for.

 

We have to ask ourselves whether we as a Parliament, as a nation, as a people, can do more to moderate the angry and engage the disaffected.

 

To temper the prejudice that feeds radicalisation.

 

This is the vigilance that Australia needs.

 

A vigilance to jealously guard the safety, cohesion and harmony that has long been a cherished part of our society.

 

To gather in those shunted to the margins and bring them to the centre.

 

This is the obligation we, as parliamentarians, owe all our citizens.

 

It is the duty we, as parliamentarians, owe Australia.

 

It is the social contract of our unique, modern, multicultural country.

 

We are a nation enriched, emboldened and enlightened by mass post-war migration.

 

People who come to Australia should leave their old conflicts behind.

 

People who come to Australia should obey the one set of laws that govern us all.

 

But those who’ve come across the seas, from every country on earth, should not have to abandon their religious and cultural practices.

 

But Australia’s greatness comes from learning that more contact and respect we have with people of different faiths and cultures, the more we learn that our similarities are greater than our differences.

 

We learn that what we have been told to fear is a lie.

 

We know that our differences are not mysterious or fundamental – they are differences in clothing, experience, custom and culture.

 

I warn those who are engaged in strident and offensive language: if we surrender to intolerance, if we submit to prejudice - we betray the very qualities and liberties that we seek to safeguard and protect.

 

Section 18C

 

That is why Senator Bernardi and Senator Smith’s attempt to water down legal protections against hate speech could not have come at a more ill-advised time for our nation.

 

Repealing Section 18C risks creating a foothold for divisive and hateful abuse.

 

It sends an insidious signal, that somehow the need to guard against discrimination is reduced.

 

It tips a wink to the purveyors of prejudice.

 

And tampering with protections against racial discrimination also threatens to derail the referendum on Constitutional Recognition for Indigenous Australians.

 

For all these reasons, Labor joined with hundreds of community groups of all cultures, ethnicities and faiths to fight and defeat these backward-looking, divisive changes.

 

And we will do so again if required.

 

On behalf of the people of Australia, let me give Senator Bernardi, Senator Smith and their supporters the message the Prime Minister should have delivered.

 

No-one has the right to be a bigot.

 

Bigotry and racism have no place in modern Australia.

 

Banning the Burqa

 

The security of our nation and our citizens is above politics.

 

And attempting to use ‘national security’ to justify intolerance, to advocate banning the burqa is beneath contempt.

 

Let’s be clear.

 

When Senator Bernardi describes the burqa as a ‘flag of fundamentalism’, that is not a security argument.

 

Wrapping a call to ‘ban the burqa’ around national security is an attempt to make ignorance sound truthful and intolerance respectable – an attempt to give an appearance of solidity to hot air.

 

Diminishing the real and important security debate to a conversation about an article of clothing, diminishes us all.

 

And it makes Muslim women a target for bullying and intimidation.

 

Today, I urge the Prime Minister to follow the example of the Foreign Minister and the Member for Bowman – to stand up to this ignorance.

 

Martin Luther King once said:

 

‘there comes a time when silence is betrayal.’

 

For weeks, a noisy few Liberal and National members have been fanning the flames of this prejudice – and Tony Abbott has been silent.

 

Yesterday, Labor called upon the Prime Minister to finally show some leadership on both 18C and this ill-informed, hurtful and harmful ‘ban the burqa’ debate.

 

We asked the Prime Minister to lead his party room, not to follow his party room.

 

He refused, instead he said:

 

“The private member’s bill in question is something that is highly unlikely to proceed.”

 

Yet it came into the Senate this morning.

 

And on the question of banning the burqa, he could only dismiss concerns, before going on to say:

 

“I find it a fairly confronting form of attire. Frankly, I wish it was not worn”.

 

The Prime Minister cannot afford the luxury of ‘discomfort’ about what some women of religious custom wear.

 

Leadership requires different action.

 

Leadership requires that majorities respect minorities.

 

The Prime Minister cannot preach tolerance, while allowing his colleagues to practice intolerance.

 

A true leader cannot unite our nation, while urging division.

 

The Prime Minister owes our country better than this.

 

A true leader has a responsibility to govern for all Australians – of all faiths.

 

A true leader has a responsibility to build unity and cohesion, not division and exclusion.

 

To lead by example – not with empty rhetoric or personal opinions.

 

He has a responsibility to tackle the fear-mongering of his colleagues.

 

Madam Speaker, these are indeed times that try nations’ souls.

 

But we will not overcome hatred with hatred.

 

We will not overcome intolerance by being intolerant.

 

We cannot ask our men and women to go into harm’s way to confront intolerance, prejudice and sectarianism – if we are not prepared to do the same here at home when we have the opportunity to do so.

 

Australia cannot face the challenges of this moment, divided.

 

We are stronger nation, we are a better nation, we are are a safer nation, we are a more noble nation when we stand together.

 

ENDS

MEDIA CONTACT: MEDIA CONTACT 02 6227 4053