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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14736


Mr WATTS (Gellibrand) (11:52): On 15 March 2019, 50 women, men and children were murdered by an Australian terrorist at the Al Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch. This atrocity has been shocking and saddening for all people of goodwill around the world. Our thoughts, first and foremost, are with those mourning an unimaginable loss and those still fighting to recover physically and confront the incredible trauma of this event emotionally.

Australians have been united in expressing their grief and condolences to the people of New Zealand, and Kiwis of the Muslim faith in particular. Like thousands of other residents of Melbourne's west, in the community that I represent in this place, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, and I visited the Australian Islamic Centre in Newport on open mosque day, on the Sunday after the attack, to show our solidarity with the Muslim community in Australia and New Zealand at this difficult time. I was proud of the way our community responded to this atrocity, united in our grief and compassion, to show support to those in mourning and in fear.

The fact that one of our own could commit such an act in a country so much like our own has been a cause for much reflection. The actions of the monster who committed this attack do not reflect our values as Australians—particularly not the values that we live in Melbourne's west. But we need to be honest: our Muslim community had experienced a growing tide of hate speech in the lead-up to the attack in Christchurch. More definitive facts about the terrorist will be established in the coming weeks and months, particularly in the royal commission initiated by the New Zealand Prime Minister into the atrocity. It's clear that there are implications from this atrocity that we need to confront in Australia.

The Christchurch mosque attacks confirm that right-wing extremism and white nationalism are a real security threat to Australia that must be taken seriously by law enforcement and security agencies, by mainstream and new media and by our political figures. I've warned this place about this issue in the past, after the murder of UK parliamentarian Jo Cox. All have cause to reflect in the period after this attack. Law enforcement ought to take the activities of white-nationalist extremists, particularly their online activities, more seriously in light of these events.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton has recently described the approach taken by white-nationalist groups in Australia as being 'more rhetorical and ideologically based' than violent 'to date'. This qualifier doesn't give me much comfort. We should all understand clearly that the Christchurch terrorist was suffused with the rhetoric and ideology based activities of Australian white-nationalist groups. Chief Commissioner Ashton identified the Lads Society, an offshoot of United Patriots Front, and the Antipodean Resistance as being the most active white-nationalist groups in this space in Victoria. The United Patriots Front is a coalition of individuals and groups who have been opposed to the construction of mosques in Australia.

The ABC has reported that the Christchurch terrorist was a regular commenter on the Facebook pages of the United Patriots Front and an adjacent group, True Blue Crew, for nearly a year. He's also reported to have expressed his admiration for Blair Cottrell, a convicted arsonist and domestic violence abuser, who has called for a picture of Adolf Hitler to be hung in every Australian classroom and who is also one of the founders of the United Patriots Front, lately the Lads Society. In these posts, the Christchurch terrorist commented:

Globalists and Marxists on suicide watch, patriots and nationalists triumphant—looking forward to Emperor Blair Cottrell coming soon.

The Christchurch terrorist also seems to have made a donation to the United Patriots Front in the past.

Some have sought to play up the fact that the Christchurch terrorist has spent little time in Australia in recent years. This may be true physically, but the online activities of Australian white-nationalist groups have clearly had an enormous impact on him. You only have to look at the profile picture he used online to understand this. It's taken directly from the iconography of what some refer to as Dingo Twitter and its fellow travellers on 8chan. The actions of individuals in these groups, online or offline, need to be taken seriously in the context of the Christchurch attacks. Unfortunately, in the past we've seen threats and harassment by white-nationalist groups not taken seriously by police and other law enforcement in Australia. I was particularly surprised to read in the newspapers this morning a quote from Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing, head of the New South Wales counter-terrorism unit:

Everything we have seen indicates that all of these groups and individuals are engaged online. We have no evidence that there are physical meetings or clubs as such.

Putting to one side the public Reclaim Australia rallies addressed by Blair Cottrell and these groups. or the anti-mosque or anti-African Australian rallies organised by these groups, the ABC has attended an in-person meeting of the Lads Society in Sydney and reported on it. The activities of white-nationalist groups in Australia need to be given far greater scrutiny than they are at present.

Our media also need to reflect on the way they engage with these extremists. For far too long, these white-nationalist extremists have been given platforms in our media to promote their views. We know that the Christchurch terrorist was at home watching and cheering on Blair Cottrell when Cottrell was interviewed on Australian television. He commented at the time:

Knocked it out of the park tonight Blair … Your retorts had me smiling, nodding, cheering and often laughing. Never believed we would have a true leader of the nationalist movement in Australia, and especially not so early in the game.

There is nothing to be gained from giving white nationalists platforms. They and their supporters have not reasoned their way into their race based theories and they cannot be reasoned out of them. Giving them the legitimacy of airing their views on mainstream media platforms builds their credibility in the online extremist forums they frequent. These online forums in particular bear a heavy responsibility in fighting this extremism. The time when white supremacists can use mainstream social media platforms to poison the minds of the alienated and the vulnerable must come to an end. Facebook and YouTube should not permit the live streaming of terrorist attacks, true, but nor should they create places for white nationalists to recruit and plan their activities and nor should their automated content algorithms push this extremist content on unsuspecting users.

We need to respond also to the less respectable online forums in which the real violent radicalisation of individuals occurs. If these forums won't kick out violent extremists, companies who provide support to these forums ought to be pressured to cut them off. Payment processes, domain registrars and hosting companies should all be marshalled in this cause. We must socially ostracise and repress these white nationalists at every opportunity.

This goes for political figures too. MPs and political parties need to educate themselves about the ways that white nationalists seek to build their profile and promote their views. It is no longer acceptable to be ignorant of this movement and to assist in its promotion, whether witting or unwitting. It's not acceptable for political figures to be ignorant of the origins and intent of coded language and symbols deliberately used by white nationalist groups to promote their causes, like the 'it's okay to be white' slogan, endorsed by the coalition in the Senate last year—unwittingly, I'm sure—or the 'white power' hand gesture used both by the Christchurch terrorist in his court appearance and by mainstream conservative activists in Australia—again, I hope, unwittingly. It is not acceptable for coalition MPs to appear at rallies pushing the 'white genocide' trope, coined by white nationalist groups deliberately to stoke racial divisions and fear and which was notably pushed by Blair Cottrell in his mainstream media television appearances. It's not acceptable for coalition MPs to unwittingly appear on the podcasts of white supremacists. It's not acceptable to allow the infiltration of Australian political parties by these white nationalist groups—coordinated infiltration, as we saw in the National Party last year. As my colleague the member for Chifley, the first Muslim to be a frontbencher in this parliament, eloquently put it recently:

Public figures should be just as accountable for the content that is shaped by their deeds and words.

…   …   …

Leadership must be exercised when it can make a difference, not as an afterthought.

Now is the time for all of us to exercise that leadership, because now is the time to make this difference. As the Leader of the Opposition said in the chamber yesterday:

Christchurch stands as a warning, a lesson and a reminder that, if one plays with the poison politics of racism, if we encourage majorities to pick on minorities, if we try and whip up fear about people who worship different gods and if we try and pretend that all of the problems in this country can be blamed on the people who happened to arrive last, we forfeit the right to be shocked when the worst of consequences occurs.

The Leader of the Opposition came to the Australian Islamic Centre of Newport in my electorate on the Sunday after these attacks, and spent 2½ hours talking with my community about these attacks. He told the thousands of people who came to that mosque for open mosque day: 'No more hate speech should be tolerated. Not all right-wing extremist hate speech ends in right-wing extremist violence, but all right-wing extremist violence begins with right-wing extremist hate speech. If you create a swamp of hate speech, you cannot disown what crawls out of the swamp.' This is something we should all reflect on, particularly in the lead-up to the coming federal election.

Bigotry and race based politics have no place in the strong and successful multicultural nation that Australia has become. The next election should be about policy, not division and dog whistles. It should be about ideas, not fear. I'm convinced that that's the reason the vast majority of members in this chamber came to this parliament and that is the spirit that we should move forward in, in the wake of the Christchurch attacks.