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Monday, 19 October 2015
Page: 11654

Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (21:09): I rise to speak on the importance of effective Building Community Resilience programs to keeping Australians safe and secure from the threat of terrorism. It is the first duty of the Commonwealth government to ensure the safety of Australian citizens from all threats, both foreign and domestic. In pursuing this duty, unlike other nations, Australia has a strong history of bipartisan cooperation on matters of national security and counter-terrorism. Matters relating to the safety of our citizens should remain above the cut and thrust of political debate and free of partisan rancour. Considered, measured debate has been—with some exceptions—a feature of our parliamentary democracy when it comes to national security, and I hope that this tradition continues.

We have been reminded by the tragic events last year in Endeavour Hills in Melbourne and in Martin Place, as well as the recent murder in Parramatta, that we must as a nation remain vigilant to the threat of terrorism. Programs which attempt to prevent radicalisation are as important as the operations carried out by our law enforcement agencies to keep Australia safe. It is critical that our response to the threat of terrorism does not seek to divide the Australian community or leave any particular racial, religious or social group to feel marginalised or isolated in their own nation. Our strength and success as a country have always been drawn from our multicultural character—we are one, though we are many.

I am honoured to represent one of the most culturally diverse electorates in Australia. Recognition of, and pride in, the vibrancy of Australian society must remain a foundational principle in the design of any policies which aim to reduce the threat of domestic terrorism. Regrettably, recent years have borne witness to occasional bursts of inflammatory language or gestures which have only heightened tensions at a time when it would have been more responsible to reassure the community and promote harmony. The government's attempt to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, in the name of protecting free speech, was misguided and unnecessary and only reinforced perceptions in the Muslim community of an 'us versus them' mentality having been adopted by the Liberal government. Assertions that 'people have a right to be bigots' and calls to 'join Team Australia' by the Attorney-General and the former Prime Minister respectively only did further damage.

We were pleased, on this side of the House, to see the Liberal government drop its plans to repeal section 18C, as a consequence of a protracted community-led campaign. Despite the protestations of ideological purists, section 18C has for more than 20 years embodied Australia's condemnation of racial vilification and given protection to our society from the poisonous effects of hate speech. Section 18C implements Australia's obligation under international human rights law to prohibit racial hate speech. It has served Australia well and is part of a framework of laws and social norms which have contributed to our success as a peaceful, multicultural nation. It is unfortunate that there remain a group of backbench Liberal senators who are persisting with a parliamentary attempt to weaken section l8C.

While the change in leadership of the government has largely been a change of style and not substance across the overwhelming majority of government policies, we have been pleased to see a change in tone from our national leadership. Labor welcomes the less confrontational and less aggressive approach that has been adopted by the Prime Minister. In responding to the recent shooting in Parramatta, the Prime Minister stated:

Respect for each other, respect for our country, respect for our shared values, these are the things that make this country one of the most successful countries in the world, as a multicultural country in particular.

Labor wholeheartedly agrees with the Prime Minister's sentiments in this respect.

Families, in particular, are central to an effective solution for preventing radicalisation. As the Leader of the Opposition has previously stated, we cannot expect our police forces alone to arrest their way out of this challenge. We have to work alongside the families of those who risk being exposed to dangerous ideologies if we are to design a comprehensive strategy. I hope the government will make strengthening our communities a priority, harnessing our nation's cultural diversity as an asset in the fight against radicalisation, rather than unnecessarily exploiting divisions. It is only by reaching out and building community cohesion over the long term that Australia can avert the horrors of domestic terrorism.