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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14777


Dr FREELANDER (Macarthur) (17:56): I'd like to congratulate the member for Chifley on his speech. His words were very moving and, I know, from the heart. I rise today to speak on this condolence motion on the terrorist attack that occurred on 15 March. I have a very personal view of what happened. Sadly, I was driving on that Friday, into Sydney from Campbelltown, with my wife and several members of her netball team who were from New Zealand. They're Maori and very fine people. What was a joyous occasion very quickly became one filled with horror at what had happened in Christchurch.

It is important to note that when we arrived at Mosman to begin the coast walk, in support of the Fred Hollows Foundation, the mood was incredibly sombre as it became apparent what had happened. There were people there from every walk of life, from every part of Sydney, from every religion, from every cut. There was unanimous sorrow and anger and hurt at what was evolving in front of us.

Our relationship with New Zealand is unique, and our bond is built on a spirit of mateship and camaraderie, fostered by the Anzac spirit. But it's also fostered by our very parallel societies of openness, of welcoming people from all countries and all religions and all origins. We're more than friends with New Zealand; we're family. The events that happened at the two mosques—the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre—by any measure were horrific, and I offer my condolences to the families who lost their loved ones. That this could happen in a place with, essentially, a holy name—Christchurch—is even more horrific. The people of New Zealand must have been in a state of absolute shock. The impact of what happened there has resounded around the world but particularly in Australia. Certainly in my community of Macarthur we have many people from New Zealand, and they were deeply affected. In the words of the very formidable New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern:

We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we're an enclave for extremism, we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things …

Those words just echo the horror of what happened in Christchurch, which, as anyone's who has been there will know, is a peaceful beautiful place.

The resolve of the New Zealand population to come together to unite and demonstrate their peoples' collective values in compassion, tolerance and inclusion in the wake of this horrific attack has been nothing short of remarkable. Even in their darkest days—in the wake of such an abhorrent, cowardly and barbaric attack—our friends from across the ditch have shone as a beacon of hope across the world. The global community and world leaders are rightly looking to New Zealand and their reaction to this devastating event at this time. New Zealand have not been found wanting.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that we face a unique challenge in this day and this age. The politics of fear and division are again raising their ugly head all over the globe. How we respond to this form of lowest common denominator politics, which seems to install fear, hatred and division, will shape the political discourse of our nation and other nations in the future. My hope is that people from all around the world continue to look to what's happened in New Zealand and how they've reacted to this tragedy and learn from it.

New Zealand has proven to us that love trumps hate. The values of those that would seek to exploit fear and encourage division in our society should be rejected in their entirety. In my previous life as a paediatrician I was used to asking people lots of questions about themselves, their families and their children and their histories—sometimes very intimate questions. One question I never asked was their religion, because it wasn't important. People of all religions have come to Australia and they have been welcomed. People of the Muslim religion have come to Australia since the founding of the colony and been able to practice their religion and live peacefully without questions being asked. But lately people are focusing on the things that divide us—that make people different—and they just shouldn't. In my role as a paediatrician I find it absolutely hateful that this division has been exploited by the very worst of our politics and by the very worst of our politicians. It is shameful—utterly shameful.

I visited my Muslim community and local mosques as soon as I could after the tragedy—the terrorist attack. I was absolutely astounded by the response: people were responding with love, they were responding with unity, they were responding with an understanding that I really found hard to believe in the face of what happened. I find it shocking that people in my community now feel fearful to be seen to practise their religion, fearful to dress the way they want to dress and fearful to go out in public, just because of their religion. To me, their religion is unimportant. We have people of all religions in my electorate of Macarthur, and people should feel safe to practise their religion, to be seen in public and to espouse their views of love and feeling together, without this overlay of fear and division that is being fostered by the very worst of our politicians. I'm ashamed to say that some of them sit in this House. To me, that is really an indictment of where we've come to. I think things can change, but it is important for all of us to call out those who would seek to divide us and those who would seek to foster their own hatred upon others.

We've experienced terrorism in Australia before, but what we saw in Christchurch was a scale above anything that we've seen previously. That such hatred should come from a society like Australia is something that is absolutely shocking. The politics of fear and division have been raising their ugly head in front of us. They've been here in the three years I've been in this parliament, and that is shameful. It must stop. Every time someone raises this issue, they should be shouted out and shouted down, no matter their political party or political persuasion. I will no longer ignore it. Perhaps to my shame, there were things said in this place before that I had ignored. We should call it out on every occasion.

What has happened has really shocked me. It's my sincere hope that we as Australians continue to follow the lead set by New Zealand by rejecting intolerance and supporting peoples' right to freely practice their religion and their beliefs in peace. To my local residents of Macarthur who've been expressing their apprehension and fear in the past few weeks, I'll simply say that you are welcome here, you are part of our society and I will do my best to make sure that that continues for as long as I'm in this position. It's important to note that many of our medical community are of the Muslim religion. Over 15 years ago now, I became very unwell, and I believe that I owe my life—certainly my quality of life—to a Muslim doctor. I really cannot believe that, in a society like the one that I grew up in, we would have views of such difference and division and hatred still being espoused by people who claim to represent their communities politically. It is a great shame and something that we must all call out.