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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14764

Mr HILL (Bruce) (16:53): I rise to echo the remarks of the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other members whom I've heard speak throughout this debate and to extend my condolences to the families of those whose lives were lost in New Zealand and indeed the whole of the New Zealand community, given the shock that this has caused throughout the country. It's fresh and it's raw. It was only a couple of weeks ago, and it's certainly reverberating still through my community—very much so. I attended, on the Sunday after the terrible shootings in Christchurch, two mosques in my electorate. There are many mosques in my electorate. Around 10 per cent of people in my electorate are of the Islamic faith, and from various parts of the Islamic world. I'd booked to do that many weeks before, through the Islamic Council of Victoria's annual open day. I went last year to the Dandenong mosque and had a wonderful reception and time, and I'd booked this year to go to the Hallam and Doveton mosques. This was on the very day when you could have understood if the Islamic community had closed their doors and retreated, back into tribe, where they may have felt safe. They did exactly the opposite and threw open their doors to the community.

At both of the mosques were lovely events, particularly at the Hallam mosque. It's a large mosque and a mosque that prides itself on calling itself the Hallam mosque—not the Afghan mosque or the Bosnian mosque or any other nationality. It is a mosque where people from all over the Islamic world, in that Islamic tradition, can go and worship. A significant number of visitors there were from the surrounding Christian communities. There were piles and piles of flowers as people from across south-east Melbourne came to express their sympathy. The conversations were wonderful.

The context, of course, for that visit did change with the events in Christchurch. I can't imagine, and other members have spoken of this, the pain and the shock and the suffering on hearing that family members and friends had lost their lives. The youngest victim, Mucad Ibrahim, was only three. I think any parent would admit that's a thought—it's our greatest fear—that we hope never happens. Our deepest fear is to lose a child. The pain that must be felt by those parents, still, I cannot conceive.

The brutality and inhumanity stunned everyone, particularly in Australia. I think this was for two reasons. Of course it's because the terrorist was an Australian, and I'll reflect on that in a moment, but it's also because New Zealanders are our closest cousins. They're just like us. Seeing those images on television—that could have been my community. They were people who were there as students, who were there as visitors, who'd come as refugees, who'd come as business skilled migrants, from every part of the world, just there to worship on Friday in their tradition. That could be, absolutely, my community. They're just as diverse as we're diverse. The murderer who did this is Australian, and that's difficult for us to comprehend. It's difficult to comprehend that scale of atrocity anywhere, but that this evil could have grown amongst us—all humans, to some degree, are a product of their culture. It's the nature/nurture dichotomy, I suppose.

I've been back to Friday prayers, on the last two Fridays, in different mosques and spoken to people. I'd like to make a couple of remarks on how Australians of Islamic faith feel, from my conversations, and record that dreadful worry, that whispered, dreadful fear: 'That could have been me. That could have been my family. Can this happen here? Are we safe? Are my children safe?' There is no simple, adequate answer to that fear. There is not.

The police were there, and they will play their part. The community, of course, has an enormous part to play. There are things we can do with security and so on and so forth to make sure this doesn't happen. But, also, parents in the broader community need to reassure children that they are safe, that they are loved and that they have a future in this country just like anyone else. As I've heard other members say, including those opposite, that leadership signal of simply turning up is important, more than ever. When I looked around the room, though, I saw Australia. The human diversity present in the Hallam mosque is modern Australia. Indeed, multicultural Australia is modern Australia.

I said earlier that this was an act of terror. It was. It was industrial-scale slaughter designed to cause fear, spread hate and shift power. But it would insult the memory of those who died to say that this was just some lone act of terror. Sure, the guy was acting alone but he existed in a context. It was fuelled by a noxious, far-right political ideology of white supremacism and hate speech. The Leader of the Opposition spoke powerfully soon after and observed that not all right-wing extremist hate speech ends in violence but all such violence starts in hate speech, which is correct and not new knowledge.

I've spoken many times on this debate about racist hate speech and 18C. It's galvanised my community. We had a public meeting of almost 1,000 people in Springvale. There are reasons for Australia's laws against racist hate speech. When you're told you're less than human, that you're vermin, that you're a disease, it's not just freedom of speech; it's brutal. It does real and immeasurable psychological harm. Words have real consequences and plant the seeds for violence. Of course, I don't believe any member of this parliament who prosecuted that debate in any way meant this to happen or had any concept that this could be part of the context in which these things are caused and grown. I do believe that conservative politicians who should know better have spent years trying to weaken Australia's Racial Discrimination Act, which restricts hate speech. I thank leaders from the Islamic community, people here who worked hard with Labor to stop this from happening.

I will just note one thing. It may not be real in many electorates, and I accept that we're all different. When that debate was on, people kept coming into my office, or calling me—it was the same for the member for Hotham, for the member for Isaacs and for the member for Holt in our part of Melbourne—saying that there was nonsense going on in the street. Women were having their headscarves ripped off while that debate was happening. Verbal abuse was enabled and legitimised because of the leadership signal that was sent by that debate in this parliament.

It wasn't a fringe element of the most conservative right-wing government MPs or the nutters from the crossbench. It got fuelled and, eventually, led by the Prime Minister of this country, Prime Minister Turnbull. That sent the leadership signal that somehow this was a debate that we should have outside the IPA's whiteboards or wherever they dream up this nonsense. I really hope that that stupid political debate died with the events in Christchurch on that Friday, and that we'll hear no more of it—or from the Hansons of the world—about weakening the laws against racist hate speech.

There was a lot asked about Senator Anning. I didn't mean to mention his name—I try not to legitimise him by saying his name—but a lot of people were asking about him. I just say simply that that senator is only in this parliament because people voted for One Nation. That is the only reason that he is in this parliament. I urge the government, and I urge the Prime Minister, to do the right thing and put One Nation last on their how-to-vote cards. It's that simple. John Howard did; they should too.

In closing, I'd say that at times like this, as the Leader of the Opposition has said so powerfully, nations have choices. We can retreat inward to tribes and to cultures, to be with people like ourselves and perhaps feel safe. Or we can open our doors, engage and recommit to building a tolerant, harmonious multicultural Australia. I'm pleased by the speeches, not just on our side but from those opposite, that by words at least that's the direction we're heading in. But I believe that we have a long way to go.