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Tuesday, 2 April 2019
Page: 14447


Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (14:10): I thank the Prime Minister for his words, and I support what he was saying. When we look out the front of this building, we can see all the way down Anzac Parade, and, along that broad boulevard, carrying a name sacred to both Australia and New Zealand, we can see the monuments to the conflicts and the peacekeeping efforts of generations past. At the very far end, when we stand at the entrance of parliament and look down Anzac Parade, we see the War Memorial. Etched in stone and metal, there are the names of battlefields right through the decades where Australians and New Zealanders have fought side by side and fallen side by side.

But, at this end of Anzac Parade, I'd ask you to perhaps look, when you next travel past it, at the two bronze sculptures. These are striking metal arcs. They're both more than 11 metres tall. Perhaps, as we drive, we don't fully notice them. They actually represent the two handles of a kete. This is a traditional Maori basket woven from flax. I think this sculpture speaks for the old and deep and enduring relationship between Australia and New Zealand. It's right in front of our eyes as we walk out the front of parliament. It speaks to the enduring relationship, because, when times are tough, when the burden is heavy, your friends and your family lend a hand. We walk alongside each other, sharing the weight. We help each other carry the load.

That's why the Governor-General and Lady Cosgrove, the Prime Minister and Jenny, Chloe and I went to Christchurch last week to share our love and our sorrow and our solidarity, to pay our respects to the memory of 50 innocent people murdered at their Friday prayers, people at their most vulnerable and humble, children as young as three and four years old. We went to salute the courage of the first responders, the people who worked hard—unimaginable, really, to think about it—staunching wounds, saving lives, and to bring perpetrators to justice. We went to offer our own words of comfort and condolence to the injured and the frightened, to those grappling with the loss of someone you love.

Today, all of us in our parliament send the same message to the people of New Zealand: we are here to help you carry the burden of grief and to shoulder and share the weight of sadness, because our two nations are not just friends; we are family. We are one. The New Zealand poet Jenny Bornholdt once described the Tasman Sea as a bridge of faith between our nations. That is what we need now more than ever, not just a bridge of faith between our nations but a bridge between faiths, a bridge of understanding and respect, compassion and community.

At the Christchurch service, Chloe and I spoke to Farid. Farid Ahmed and his wife, Hosne, were in separate rooms at the Al Noor Mosque when the shooting started. Hosne was teaching classes there. She helped lead a group of women and children out to safety. Farid, who uses a wheelchair, couldn't flee. Hosne, his wife of 25 years, ran back into the mosque to try to save him. She was shot and killed. Farid survived. He told the crowd at the memorial that he could not hate the gunman; he had to love him. He said: 'I cannot deny the fact that he is my human brother. Each human being is my brother, my sister.' I'm not sure I could have said what he said. I'm not sure many of us could. But if someone who actually heard the shots, witnessed the deaths and lost the love of his life can find it in his heart to spread a message of peace and unity and healing, then all of us can rise up to that example.

I think every Australian would agree that Prime Minister Ardern has shown exceptional leadership in the most difficult of circumstances: the decisive action she's taken on gun control and, equally, the hard, important work of unity, inclusion and healing. She's reached out to the families in mourning and to the broader Muslim community. She said so powerfully on the day of the shooting: 'They are us'. But the hard truth that we've had to confront in Australia is that the gunman, the killer, the individual who walked into the mosque and murdered people at their prayer, at their most humble and vulnerable, came from among us. He was an Australian citizen. It's a phrase that I didn't ever expect to use: an Australian terrorist. It's a phrase that still sounds wrong. But I think Christchurch has presented us all with an uncomfortable truth, because when acts of violence, of evil, of terrorism are committed by people from other faiths and backgrounds, including but not limited to people of the Muslim faith, a lot of people are very quick to judge that whole faith by the actions of the individual—to demand that everyone of that faith in our community must condemn those acts. A lot of people are too quick to tar everyone with the actions of demented, deranged individuals. But when the terrorist is an Australian of Anglo Saxon background, we say 'He's deranged. He was an isolated exception'—and that is true. We know straight away that, as the Prime Minister so forcefully said, 'He does not represent anything about our country or our values.' Perhaps that should give us all pause the next time we rush to judgement. Perhaps that should remind us not to equate whole communities with the random, senseless violent acts of individuals.

There's something else that I think we must reflect on. The Christchurch gunman wasn't born wanting to kill. He wasn't born hating people because of the God they prayed to. Somewhere he grew to learn that hatred, that violence, that evil. He was able to find allies in that extremism. He was able to have it reinforced and normalised and focused. This is another confronting truth for Australia. We have understood for a long time that we are not immune from the consequences of terrorism. Far too many Australians have died here and around the world for us to imagine that we enjoy some form of special protection or immunity. But we have perhaps indulged in the belief that terrorism is always caused and created elsewhere, that somehow extremism and hatred and the violence they incite can only ever be brought in from overseas. But that is not true. Racism and prejudice and discrimination still live among us. Yes, social media is a new part of this problem—the cowardly anonymous bile of trolls, the conspiracy theorists feeding each other's paranoia. I agree with the government that the social media operators absolutely have a responsibility to be more diligent, more accountable and more vigilant in policing the dark corners of their platforms. But it is not just new media and social media platforms; sometimes it can be in traditional media too—the uncritical exposure and massive platform given to people on the fringe.

Beyond new media and old media is the national conversation, the public square. Simply put, there are no bystanders when it comes to calling out racism and no disinterested observers on the question of prejudice and hatred. We all carry a responsibility. As we gather on the eve of an election, perhaps it brings a special responsibility to all of us. In the light and heat of a campaign, people under pressure can reach for convenient scapegoats and durable stereotypes, using the other as the easy answer to a hard question, tempted by the motivating power of fear. Christchurch stands as a warning, a lesson and a reminder that, if one plays with the poison politics of racism, if we encourage majorities to pick on minorities, if we try and whip up fear about people who worship different gods and if we try and pretend that all of the problems in this country can be blamed on the people who happened to arrive last, we forfeit the right to be shocked when the worst of consequences occurs. Not all extreme right-wing hate speech ends in terror and racial violence, but all terror and racial violence begins in extreme hate speech. If you create a swamp of extremism and prejudice and legitimise it, you cannot disown what crawls out of it.

Christchurch was an unspeakable tragedy, but out of that darkness comes inspiration, stories of courage, lessons about humanity and insight into the hearts of the people of New Zealand. The fact is that these moments present choices for peoples and nations. We can retreat into division, we can fall back on hatred and suspicion, we can diminish ourselves with arguments about blame and false equivalence or we can use this as a moment to reflect, examine ourselves and ask: 'Are we doing all that we can do to call out the hate and the racism?' We need to remind ourselves that words do matter. Words can be weapons and words can incite people to pick up a weapon. I think we can afford to ask ourselves, as we support the comments of the Prime Minister: what can we do better than we have been doing? What can we do better than we have been doing up to this point? It is a task worthy of the parliament and it is a task worthy of our great nation and our Australian people to remember the lessons today and mourn with those who've lost so much.