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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 876


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (19:59): We hear a lot these days about the politics of bigotry and hate. We hear a lot about politicians like Donald Trump and, indeed, we hear a lot from the likes of Senator Hanson and Senator Bernardi. But what we do not hear about is how racism and bigotry—how Islamophobia and anti-Semitism—actually affect people with far less power and influence in our community. That is why I will be standing up here in this place week after week and month after month sharing the experiences of these Australians who are bearing the brunt of attacks being made by those people who seek to divide us.

Last week I shared Sara's story. She was somebody who was caught up in Donald Trump's attempted ban on Muslim immigration. It had a profound effect on her and her family. This week I want to share the story of another woman—a woman who was born in regional Australia, where she now lives and works as a qualified health professional. She has asked to remain anonymous, and I will refer to her as Laila. Laila is a Muslim, as is her husband and 10-year-old son. She does not wear a veil or a hijab. She gets to know her clients quite well; she works with them closely, often over long periods of time. They get to know her quite well.

One day late last year, she was attending to a particular client who she had worked with for about a year. Laila's young son was in the room—he had a day off school—and the client was fine with that. During the session, Laila and the client got to chatting, as they often did. They had a good, cordial relationship. Toward the end of the appointment, the conversation moved on to the approaching Christmas holidays. The client asked Laila what her and her family would be doing for Christmas. Laila replied politely that her family were Muslims and they do not celebrate Christmas, but they were really looking forward to the holidays. Then, out of nowhere, came the response, 'You know, if you wore the hijab, I wouldn't come and see you.' Laila was lost for words, and, as though to emphasise the point, the client added, 'Actually, you know what? If you wore the hijab, I wouldn't even let you in through my front door.'

Laila was being told that regardless of who she was and regardless of the relationship she had with her client, if she identified with a particular group this person would not want to have anything to do with her. Laila's mother wears a hijab. Her sisters wear hijabs. Why on earth should wearing a hijab make any difference to the relationship that she and her client had? Why on earth would it make any difference to anyone? She was acutely aware that right throughout this her son was watching it all. What does she say to her son when someone has just told her that, no matter who you are, if you are a visible member of a particular community they do not want to know you.

That is what Islamophobia is. As much as we would like to, we cannot stop every person from expressing racism and bigotry. We have protections in law, and we have an opportunity in this place as political leaders to actually show some leadership. Every time people reflect on the Racial Discrimination Act and say that it is not necessary, talk about banning burqas or link asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island to terrorists, they give people license to express these hateful views. We need to make it clear that there is no place in the Australian parliament—indeed, within the Australian community—for racism and bigotry and that Islamophobia has no place in Australian society.

Our job in this parliament is very clear. We need to make sure that everybody in this nation understands that they are welcome here and that we are a nation that is inclusive, that celebrates our diversity and that welcomes people from all around the world—those different cultures and those different nations that have sought to come and make Australia their home. If we are to remain the most successful multicultural nation on earth, it is incumbent on each and every one of us to stand up and to speak these truths to ensure that, when members of parliament express hateful and bigoted views, whether privately or in public forums like we have seen over recent weeks, we stand up loudly and clearly and say, 'Racism stops with me.'