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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14731


Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (11:28): Many of us, no doubt—probably everyone in the country—remember where we were when we heard the terrible news from Christchurch coming through. For us in Melbourne on that Friday, many would have been at Friday prayers and the mosques would have been full as usual. Many people would have been going about their ordinary business. Many of us were watching the best of Melbourne and the best of humanity on display, as thousands of students were marching in the street calling for a better future. All of us had our hearts broken. It was a heartbreaking moment for Melbourne and the grief was palpable, especially, as is the case now, as people ended up hearing the news come out, as the reports got more informed, and people started to learn about the heroes who went back in to save others, only to find themselves getting shot. We heard about children as young as my own children losing their lives. We heard about people who were doing nothing more than taking time at a very special moment to reflect in a place of worship, only to find that it turned into the worst day of their lives. They and their family members will bear the grief of that for the rest of their lives.

At that time we saw Melbourne coming together and expressing support for the people in New Zealand. The connection with New Zealand amongst many members of the Somali community in Melbourne is especially close—as is the case for broader Australia. What meant a lot was seeing people from across faiths stand up and express their support. We saw strong representation in Melbourne from members of various faiths at the various services: the Sikhs, Anglicans, Catholics and even the Jewish faith. They stood up and talked about what happens when hatred like this is allowed to spread, and that support meant a lot.

I spent that evening and throughout that whole weekend talking to members of the Muslim community in my local electorate. The message that they wanted me to convey to everyone—to this parliament and to the community more broadly—is that the coming together at that time and in the form of this motion actually means something. That weekend, coincidentally, happened to be weekend that the Islamic Council of Victoria had set aside for the open mosque weekend. They made what I think was the right decision—I know they had to think about it, but they made the right decision—to keep that going over the weekend. They kept the doors of Melbourne's mosques open to the population.

I went to two mosques in my electorate that day, to the ICV Mosque in West Melbourne first. It was standing room only. I've been into that place many times, but never have I walked into it and found that I had to navigate my way through a narrow doorway that became even narrower because of the number of flowers that people had come and laid at the door. Looking inside, I saw a sea of people. They were not only coming in upstairs, to listen to the sheik and the various members of the ICV board speak and to hear other members from across the political spectrum and across the community speak but also coming in downstairs and going through the prayer spaces.

People were understanding and wanting to reach out for the first time, not only to have a better understanding of what happens inside these places of worship but also to say, 'We're here for you.' It was the same at the Albanian mosque in Carlton, Melbourne's first mosque. The flowers stretched out onto the footpath. As we went in and were invited to join in the prayers, again, it was standing room only. There were people who had walked past that mosque many times. Perhaps there were some who didn't even know it was there. They wanted to come in and say, 'We are with you.' The message from people was, 'By attacking you they have attacked us.' This was because Melbourne, like New Zealand, is a place where everyone has a place. It is a place where we never want to see hatred on the basis of race grow. We never want to see that. People turned out in their hundreds and then in their thousands to send that message as the vigils were held during the week.

It shouldn't take tragedy to bring out the best in us, or perhaps to send Australia in a different direction to the one it had been going in. But if there is anything like a silver lining—if we can even talk about a silver lining or anything good that can come out of it—it is, hopefully, that the best of what is in all of us stood up over that weekend and in the weeks since to say, 'We are with you,' to say to our Muslim sisters and brothers, 'We are all with you.'

But perhaps one of the hardest things for me to hear over that weekend as I was talking to members of our Muslim community—our sisters and our brothers—was how many of them said, 'Well, actually, we're not surprised; we expected something like this to happen,' or, 'Actually, some things like this are happening all the time.' That was a truly shocking thing to hear. This shocked most of us. It broke our hearts. It came with the full force of, potentially, the unexpected.

To hear people say, 'No, it's not unexpected; don't be at all surprised that things like this happen,' is in many ways a confronting thing to hear, but actually they're right. Whilst I am pleased that the Prime Minister has moved this motion and we're having this moment of reflection, much of this has been coming for some time. The conditions that have been created for what has happened in New Zealand have, in many ways, been created here in Australia. I'd say to the Prime Minister—and Melbourne wants to say to the Prime Minister—thank you for moving this motion, but you don't get to wipe your hands of it now, when for the last decade or two you have overseen the normalisation of hate speech and division in this country.

It started when Pauline Hanson was elected to the House of Representatives and said, at that time, that she was worried about 'the Asians'. Yes, after that we saw her be excommunicated, but we also saw the government effectively pick up pretty much all of her policies. We saw it when John Howard was prepared to lie to people, to the Australian public, in saying that people who were doing nothing more than coming here to seek safety were throwing their children overboard. For the sake of winning votes, he was prepared to lie and to demonise people. Yes, those people might have been perceived to be different from us, but they were actually the same. When you say that people are almost subhuman in that they would throw their children overboard, you start to normalise people's being treated as less than us—not only different but less than us.

We've had 15 or 20 years of saying that refugees are somehow less than us; that, because they're a threat to us, we need to treat them as less than human with less-than-human rights. In outer Melbourne over a decade ago a young Sudanese man was beaten to death by people who said, 'We're here because we want to take our town back,' and a Liberal Party minister in the federal government at the time stood up and said, 'Africans are failing to integrate.' They blamed someone who had just been beaten to death rather than calling out the hate for what it was. When, in an attempt to win votes, the Minister for Home Affairs comes to Victoria and says that people are worried about going out to eat because of African gangs—

Mr Watts interjecting

Mr BANDT: Right. He says, to try to win votes, people are worried about going out to eat because of African gangs—in a town that he knows next to nothing about. I'm reminded that he didn't even have the courtesy to come to Melbourne to say it. He said it from outside to try to influence a state election and, hopefully, a federal election; to try to sow fear and division in Melbourne and Victoria just for the sake of winning votes. When you say that maybe it was the wrong decision to allow Lebanese Muslims to come here, because there's a problem with integration, then you have a role in creating this climate of hate. You've overseen this climate of hate and fear in a grubby attempt to win votes. So, no, you do not get to wipe your hands of it with a condolence motion. You need to stand up and say, 'We are at a crossroads and we can do better.'

You don't have to look far to see what real leadership looks like; you just have to look over the ditch to see what real leadership looks like. So many of us were waiting for that real leadership. Instead, what did we get a couple of days later? We got: 'By the way, this election campaign is still going to be run on immigration. This time we're going to blame the refugees for the trains being full, instead of blaming it on our own failure to fund infrastructure properly.'

People have sussed you out. People have worked out that using hate, fear and division to try to win votes creates the conditions where others will pick up that message and take it to the worst extreme. The worst thing is that so many of us have been warning you—pleading with you—not to do this, because we know where it ends. People have been pleading with the senior figures in government not to use race and division to win votes, because it unleashes demons. But no. It was thought that you could keep doing it with no cost. Well, we know that there's a cost. And of course it's not just the government; others play a role in it as well. The media plays a role in it as well. The media has taken people who get just over one per cent of the vote in this country and given them a national platform every week to speak. Then the media acts surprised that the shooter's manifesto reads like One Nation's policy—yes, and you've been giving that policy an airing for the last 15 years. We should not act surprised.

But we can do something about it, and people are wising up. I say to those who would use hate and fear to try and win votes: the country is coming to rip that dog whistle off you. People have had enough. I hope, as we head into this election campaign—which will be fought hard, as every election campaign is; that's what you expect—that we can go back to the time that we used to have, certainly in Victoria when I first got elected, when there seemed to be a consensus that you wouldn't use race to try and win votes. One of the best bits about my job when I first came to this place, back in 2010, was going to events where the Liberal Party state Minister for Multicultural Affairs would get up and say, 'The good thing about Victoria is that we've got Labor, Liberal and the Greens all here, all accepting that multiculturalism is the defining feature, and you're never going to find us trying to divide people to win votes.' I hope that we can go back to that. I hope that that's what the coming weeks will be like, because they could potentially be defining weeks for us.

To our Muslim sisters and brothers: know that we are all with you, and know that we have heard what you are saying and that you want Australia to remain a place where everyone has a place. That is what I hope that Melbourne will always be.