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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14774


Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (17:41): 'Al salaam Alaikum'—or 'peace be upon you'—is the way that Muslims greet each other when they meet. They were the words expressed by Prime Minister Ardern at the remembrance service last week a number of times. I start with that because 'peace be upon you' is exactly what we should be thinking about as we consider, take in, process and respond to the events in Christchurch. Often when these terrible events occur—and they occur far too often—I think about the impact on the people who were forced to experience what they did in events such as those that occurred on 15 March in Christchurch, in Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre.

This event occurred during Friday prayers. People would have been at their most peaceful. They also would have been at their most vulnerable. They are thinking of their connection with God, they are going through their prayers and they are shutting out everything else. They are in that moment, as has been said, at their most vulnerable. They would have had no chance to consider what was about to happen to them. Worse still, they had no chance to say goodbye to the people they loved and cared about. They had no chance to make peace with themselves and the things that we all want to make peace with in our lives. They basically fell victim at that moment and were not accorded what we all hope for, which is a rich and full life with the people that you love most.

I think a lot about those instances. I thought these same thoughts on 11 September 2001, when 3,000 people lost their lives in one moment because of the actions of others who believed that they would change the course of history through their own distorted view of the world.

I think about this all the time when I hear of these terrible events and am reminded—as we all are, regardless of our politics, joined as one in our humanity—to think we can do better and that we do not have the right to make a decision about life and death that we know, if we are a God-fearing person, is a decision that a power higher than us is the only power entitled to make. This is sometimes not necessarily expressed in these chambers, because in this day and age it is a true test to maintain faith, but it is something that sustains a lot of people and it is something that would have helped people at this particular point in time.

This is not a moment where hate will meet hate to solve where we're at. In fact, Prime Minister Ardern rightly pointed out in the remembrance service held last week that we have been caught in a vicious cycle of extremism breeding extremism and that this cycle must end. Hate cannot match hate. Anger will not solve where we're at. You have heard some incredible stories from survivors who lost the people they loved the most in their life and who have not met hate with hate but met hate with forgiveness. That is important at this point in time.

I reflect on this because we really are at a point where we are being asked to do better than what we are doing. I will not in my contribution today want to match those events with an anger that will solve and cure nothing. But we are being called to be better than what we are, and that is why a lot of people are reflecting on the words that are being said in the public square and specifically words that carry in that public square. We all have a responsibility, I believe, to do better. It's why you've seen in the Senate today some pretty difficult conversations around some of the words expressed by others who have sought to blame quickly and improperly the motives of others and reach for solutions that will only perpetuate that cycle of extremism. I think we as parliamentarians are called upon to think about what we can do to encourage a better discourse in the public square.

I also think we've looked a lot at what happened on social media, and we have been asked there to see what can be done better. Do we really need to see those images—the livestreaming of events where we experience the moment where someone has lost their right to live? We can do better there. There are traditional media outlets, as well, that I think equally need to consider what they're doing. In the rush to try and clamp down on social media, can we just take a moment to think about how traditional media outlets could do better? I have been very critical of some outlets. I've highlighted some of them and what they've done. I'm not doing this for the simplistic political point-scoring. I keep coming back to this point: 'We can do better than what we are doing.' This is a moment, as has often been the case in other parts of the world where they have sought to heal after some very traumatic and horrific events in their life. You'll often hear a reference to truth and reconciliation. You cannot reconcile if you do not recognise what happened. It is important that we have that frank talk but it has to be twinned with an equal commitment to reconciliation and to work together. This is a very important point.

And so I won't repeat, necessarily, all the outlets that I believe I think could do better, because I have spoken to them individually, I have raised this publicly and I will continue to press the case that we can do better, because, if we're making very divisive remarks for the sake of chasing votes, it is as bad as making and allowing remarks to be aired on your channel, in your news outlet, on whatever program you've got, for the sake of ratings. I believe in many instances this has been done not with a commitment to free speech and not with a commitment to advancing the public interest but because, by letting people from the fringes onto those platforms, it's believed that a controversial remark will generate public interest and, therefore, ratings. And let me put it frankly: this is reinforcing a commercial interest. This is a time for us to focus on national cohesion and unity, and I am absolutely of the view that the good people that exist in Australia's media, when they take the time to reflect on the point, 'Are you allowing controversy for the sake of ratings to benefit your commercial interest above national cohesion?' will, in time, see better, because we have to believe in them seeing better.

This is an important thing. I genuinely believe that the mood of the moment is calling on us all to bring countries and communities together; that is, the time for dividing by creating a sense of the 'other' and then rallying people on your side to go against that side can no longer sustain us these days in the way it once did. It is hard to understand someone who looks different to you, who acts different to you and who speaks a different language to you, but this doesn't mean that they are a threat. We all want what we think is a reasonable aspiration; that is, people can live their lives peacefully, raise their kids and see them play on the front lawn, celebrate those great moments in families, build a greater community and get on with neighbours, do well in their job and see their kids do well in life. These are great things in human life that we want people to be able to live by. If we are all joined as one to make sure that our neighbourhoods, our suburbs, our cities, our states and our countries do better, this is the one test that we should put on people—that we would expect that they contribute and that their contribution will be valued. I think that is worth remembering in this instance.

Often in events such as this—and I noticed this happen recently in the aftermath of Christchurch—it's almost like we have a tragedy abacus that exists, where we cannot for a moment recognise the suffering that people went through without moving one of those little elements of the abacus and saying, 'Well, you experienced this, but what about what happened here?' This abacus that exists is truly horrendous. A death is a death, and it is a transgression. It is wrong when someone has taken the life of another. Equally, I would feel just as strongly if an Egyptian cop lost their life because they were murdered when they went to church, and I've spoken up in this place about it. If you are at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue and you lose your life because someone walks in and guns you down, it is wrong. It's wrong in Christchurch; it's wrong on September 11. No-one has the right, as I said earlier, to take the life of another in that way. This is wrong full stop, but we should not go, 'Well, where was your outrage when this happened?' The outrage is always there. As Muslims, we are measured in some way by some people as to how we have reacted to what we saw before our eyes. If someone claimed that their religion justified them, then they twisted our faith and did something.

Can I just say, as I am often asked to by some people, particularly on social media, what I feel. I, like every single person in this chamber, do not condone murder. Not one of us condones murder. I don't expect this person, this person or this person here—any of the people in here—to, every time something like this happens in the community, remind people of their disgust of murder. None of us want that; none of us believe in that. We all stand as one to stop it. There are a lot of Muslims who are continually asked: 'How committed are you to Australia? Do you condemn this? Do you stand against this?' Of course people do. They always do. As the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, rightly pointed out the other day, we should not have people, because of the actions of one, blacken the reputations of many. We should not say that that is representative of a broader group, because a lot of people, as has been observed through the course of this debate, have rightly pointed out that not all of us as Australians should be held to account for the Australian who undertook these heinous acts in Christchurch.

As I said before, if you take a moment to think about that and how it's been expressed elsewhere, and then think about this moment—let me put it to you this way. We had one person, a very powerful person, tweet:

Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.

That person was Rupert Murdoch. Is Rupert Murdoch going to put up a tweet that says, 'Maybe most Australians are peaceful but, until they recognise and destroy their growing supremacist cancer they must be held responsible'? Both remarks are incomprehensible.

We need to call this out. For many, it would probably seem a pretty big call to make that type of statement here against one of the world's most powerful people. But I hope this gives that person the time to pause and reflect. Our words do injure. We can do better, we should do better and we must do better. The moment has now come where we have to think about the environment that has allowed some people to believe that it is valid to do something against someone else and cross the line of humanity to take someone else's life.

We are being called on to say, 'Okay, how are we contributing, in the public square, to that environment?' As I said earlier, it's one thing to look at social media and what's been put on there. But that material has been generated because of the shaping of minds and the validation of certain views, and we need to now look at how we are contributing to that. We can do better. We should do better. Peace be upon those who have left us, but peace be upon all of us if we are able to do something better to ensure such things never occur again.