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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14766


Dr PHELPS (Wentworth) (17:02): I rise today to express my deep condolences to those who were injured and to the families and friends of those who lost their lives as a result of the horrific, right-wing-extremist terror attack in Christchurch on 15 March during their peaceful Friday prayers. All Australians stand with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and the people of New Zealand as they process their shock and grief.

In the wake of this attack on Christchurch's mosques that left 50 people dead, Prime Minister Ardern has exemplified what a strong leader looks like in the face of tragedy, with compassion and empathy at her core. Rather than falling into the trap of recriminations and anger, Prime Minister Ardern focused on the victims and survivors, on the people of Christchurch and on supporting the Muslim community of New Zealand. Prime Minister Ardern said that the victims had chosen to make New Zealand their home. 'They are us,' she said, 'The person who has perpetuated this violence is not. They are us.'

With these three words Prime Minister Ardern set the tone for the national and global conversation about this tragic terrorist incident. I wrote to Prime Minister Ardern to applaud her rejection of the extremist ideology behind the attacks, which she noted has no place in New Zealand society. And neither has it a place here in Australia. It takes great courage to lead with such awareness and reverence for diversity, kindness and compassion, noting that these are qualities for which New Zealanders are renowned. It was moving to see spontaneous expressions of support for the Muslim community in Christchurch—in particular, the group of young people performing the haka to commemorate a school friend who lost his life in the attacks.

Prime Minister Ardern continues to lead with extraordinary empathy and influence on the global political stage in such a positive way. Yet the attacks in Christchurch illustrate just a small fragment of a global rise not only in anti-Muslim prejudice but prejudice against vulnerable groups, based on their religious, ethnic or political identity. Extremism in all its forms is repugnant and is anything but benign. The millions of Muslims who have died, who have been displaced or who have been put in detention or intimidated in other ways have not been treated this way only as part of a religious conflict. This is also about how some nation-states treat their minorities. Christians are oppressed in China, Pakistan and Indonesia, while France and Germany reported an alarming rise in anti-Semitism last year. This is in a climate of rising anti-Semitism in Australia, where there has been a 59 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the past year. There has also been a reported rise in anti-Muslim attitudes.

To effectively challenge this threat requires an essential shift towards inclusion rather than division. Everyone has a right to their view but it is our job as parliamentarians to find common ground—to unite rather than to divide. This is the strength of our democracy. Certainly, divisive politics should have no place in Australia. I want to see an end to the polarising rhetoric that leverages unwarranted fear. It is our job to create a unified, safe and prosperous society that is capable of healthy, rigorous but respectful debate.

Freedom of speech does not mean freedom to incite hatred or violence or abuse. Fundamental human rights issues should not be about whether you are on the Left or the Right side of politics. It is about what is intrinsically and morally right. It is about the human experience.

The strength of a nation lies in how well we treat all of our citizens and residents. With the decisions we make, we collectively nurture and define the character of our nation. Prime Minister Ardern has articulated the true character of New Zealand, emphasising its diverse and harmonious nature. Australians stand with the people of New Zealand as part of their process of healing. They are us.