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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14743

Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle) (12:24): It is with a very heavy heart that I rise today to join my colleagues in this House to acknowledge the terrible, atrocious crimes committed in Christchurch just over two weeks ago. I remember very clearly being in Newcastle as the news broke and being immediately very fearful for the constituents of mine that were about to go into Friday prayers in the two mosques that I have in Newcastle. I got to talk to many of those men and women the following day. I could only imagine what it felt like fronting up to Friday prayers just half an hour after the news had broken in Australia of the horrendous crimes that had been committed in Christchurch. I could only imagine what it felt like going into prayer with that really hollow and numb feeling and how really terrifying that must have been.

I was so amazingly proud of the way in which the Newcastle community responded and responded really swiftly. The mosque at Mayfield called for a public vigil the following day, Saturday, put it out there on Facebook and asked the community for those who wanted to to join them. I attended that service. It was packed. It was absolutely standing room only inside the mosque, but people spilled out to the common spaces between the mosque and the community areas and out onto the footpaths at the street. The people of Newcastle did what we always do best, and that is come together in times of crisis to lend support. We expressed our profound shock and horror that an Australian citizen, one of our own, had committed profound acts of hatred.

It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that a citizen of ours at some point in his life became radicalised and—I'm not in that head space; I have actually no comprehension—saw fit to walk into not just one but two mosques on that day and murder 50 innocent people, who were doing nothing but following the practices of their faith. As we learnt, as the stories came out, all those 50 people were, of course, unique individuals in this world. All of them had really deep personal stories to tell. For all of us in this House the horror of really listening and being able to put a face, a life and a lived experience to every one of those 50 people who were brutally murdered has been a necessary but difficult and confronting exercise.

We stand united as a parliament against the actions of hatred. I would like to note at this point that the Senate has just in the last 30 minutes censured a certain senator, who remains nameless, who made some particularly vile comments in the wake of the Christchurch attacks. I note that, with multiparty support, that censure motion was successful. Of course, that motion acknowledged, as all of us in this House should, the universal right of peoples in every part of this planet to exercise freedom of thought, conscience and religion and that that right includes freedom for people, either alone or in community with others and in private or in public places, to manifest their religion and belief in worship and in practices. I know there are many of us in this room who have done work around the need to protect those universal rights and freedoms. The Senate has, as I said, very strongly, supported those universal rights. It has called on all Australians to stand united against hate and to publicly, and always, condemn actions and comments that are designed to incite fear and distrust.

I note that the censure motion endorsed a very powerful statement issued by the Iman Hasan Centre following the attacks in Christchurch. I would like to read that statement to the Chamber, because it is a profound set of words:

It is at times like this that we lose hope and doubt humanity. When people of faith come under attack in such a way it shows us how low humanity can fall. However it never ceases to amaze how far humanity can rise after such despicable events.

The statement went on to say:

United as a community we can overcome these barbaric events wherever they happen, divided we become barbaric ourselves. The innocent lives lost around the world should be a sign for all of us to unite against hate.

I could not express more strongly my support for that statement. If there is one lesson, amongst many, to be learned from these vile acts of hatred, it is the responsibility of each and every one of us in the House and in the other place, of civic leaders across our communities and of people of all faiths—and people of no faith—to stand united in calling out acts of hatred. I don't think there is any way to—and nor should we—sugar-coat what has happened in these vile acts or, indeed, many others. That extends to the way we speak both in the parliament and in our communities; that is, in being mindful of the language that is used, in being people who are strong enough to call out filthy, dog-whistling, race based language.

We haven't. We have failed as a community of leaders to always live up to that standard. From time to time despicable things have been said, both within the parliament and outside, that should have been called out. I hope that each and every one of us now has the courage to stand up to race based, dog-whistling politics. It should have no place in the parliament or in our community. We know now, more than ever perhaps, that dog whistling has consequences. It has profound, hurtful consequences and can never be the default position for desperate politicians.

I commend the Senate for taking these actions today. I think it is a very important marker for this parliament that the censure motion was successful. Inflammatory and divisive comments that attribute blame to victims of horrific crime and vilify people on the basis of their race do not reflect the opinions of this parliament. Those sorts of comments don't reflect this place at all. There was astonishing leadership from New Zealand's Prime Minister Ardern, who made very clear, in reaching out to her community in the hours after the vile acts were perpetrated in Christchurch, that the people who were hurt and who were injured were very much part of the New Zealand community—part of the family—and that the only person who didn't belong in the 'us' category was the perpetrator of those vile acts of hatred.

There are many lessons to be learned by the way in which she was able to conduct herself publically. There were the very compassionate approach she took immediately to the survivors and families and her visits to the two mosques in which these attacks were made. But she went on to reach out to schoolchildren who lost friends, neighbours and playmates in those attacks on the mosques. She had time and enough love and compassion for each and every citizen, not just for citizens of New Zealand but in reaching out to us all. Everybody I spoke to in Australia had nothing but praise and buckets of love in return for the Prime Minister of New Zealand for the way in which she conducted herself and the way in which she brought her community together, the way in which she insisted that inclusion, love and compassion would be victorious at the end of the day. That was the glue that bound her community. She understood that and made sure that they were the words that she spoke.

As I said, I have two mosques in my community in Newcastle. I was so profoundly moved to attend the first vigil on the Saturday evening, within 24 hours of the Christchurch attacks. The attendance by the broader Newcastle community was astonishing. People occupied every square centimetre of space in the mosque and outside to stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters. It was also important that I was joined there in speaking by the Catholic and Anglican bishops, Superintendent Brett Greentree of the New South Wales police and by community members of all faiths. They were united and standing in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters, united in their condemnation of vile acts of hatred. We recommitted ourselves to being those leaders who would stand up and speak out when hatred and discriminatory behaviours are perpetrated in our community.

I'd like to pay a special tribute to the leaders of the mosque in Mayfield—Sheik Hamed and Forugh Dorani, the centre's secretary—who have been astonishing leaders in our community, and also to Catholic Bishop Bill Wright, Anglican Bishop Dr Peter Stuart and the Newcastle City Police District superintendent, Brett Greentree, who called out that Islamophobia and hatred have absolutely no place in our community. We all recommitted ourselves to calling that out at every opportunity.

I would also like to acknowledge the mosque in Wallsend in the western part of my electorate, where we gathered again the following day—on the Sunday—under the very careful and embracing watch of all the leadership at the Newcastle Muslim Association and of Sheik Mohammed Khamis. He really articulated that the trauma being experienced on that day at the Wallsend mosque wasn't just for Muslims alone but was affecting us all as a community. I'd like to acknowledge the presence of the Uniting Church's Reverend Neil Smith; my state colleagues, Sonia Hornery and Tim Crackenthorpe, who joined me at the Mayfield and Wallsend mosques; school principals; and thousands of community members who stood united in saying, 'This type of hatred has no place in our community.'

As I said, it was with a very heavy heart going into those but there was the strength that is to be gained from an understanding of our common humanity and the fact that we have all been very brutally reminded of the need to redouble our efforts. That is some good to come from an otherwise horrific attack on our brothers and our sisters. I join with all of our colleagues in the House in condemning those actions and in making sure we're a better society and a better group of leaders in the wake.