Huffington Post Australia
MARK DREYFUS QC MP
SHADOW MINISTER OF NATIONAL SECURITY
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
IN AN ERA OF IGNORANCE AND FAKE NEWS, COLD HARD FACTS HAVE NEVER BEEN MORE IMPORTANT
When ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis told the simple truth to Pauline Hanson during a Senate hearing on Thursday night in Canberra, he probably did not expect it to make headlines.
Hanson: “Do you believe that the [terrorist] threat is being brought in possibly from Middle Eastern refugees that are coming out to Australia?”
Lewis: “I have absolutely no evidence to suggest that there’s a connection between refugees and terrorism”.
A straightforward answer, based on the facts. And yet, it was noteworthy enough to drive several news stories the next morning.
Here’s the question: why would it be newsworthy for a senior official or politician to state the facts in the face of ignorance or intolerance?
Answer: because it has become so rare.
We have to remember that it was only two years ago we had a Prime Minister that said “I’ve often heard Western leaders describe Islam as a religion of peace. I wish more Muslim leaders would say that more often and mean it.”
And it was only last year that our Immigration Minister singled out Lebanese Muslims for denigration in Parliament, implying Malcolm Fraser should never have let them into the country.
It has become easier for politicians and others in positions of authority to use this kind of lazy, inflammatory rhetoric rather than speak the honest truth.
When you have someone like Pauline Hanson arrive in Parliament, it suddenly becomes very, very important to combat prejudice with facts.
Mr Lewis did so in a calm, non-patronising, but firm manner.
(Much in the same way another public servant informed Senator Hanson on a previous day that cows are in fact alive before they are slaughtered).
In response to Senator Hanson seeking to confirm that all recent attempts at terror attacks in Australia had been planned by Muslims, Mr Lewis told her she was wrong.
He also went out of his way to stress that ASIO is not interested in people’s religion, but rather their capacity for violence.
It was a masterly display of how to combat the kind of dangerous myths people like Senator Hanson peddle.
If only we saw it more from elected officials, and the people in charge in Mr Turnbull’s government.
In an era where “fake news” can spread myths and conspiracy theories with extreme efficiency, it is more important than ever for elected politicians to use what authority they have to present the facts and set people straight.
It is their responsibility to counter the demonising of one race or religion, to promote tolerance and inclusion, as well as to keep Australians safe.
And it’s more than just words – combating inflammatory rhetoric helps the security effort too. Divisive and destructive comments only harm the efforts that people like Mr Lewis make in order to keep Australians safe.
When people feel terrorised, they are more receptive to emotion than to logic. And so convincing people of the facts, as Mr Lewis tried to do, is the harder route.
But it is the better one.
Let us all learn from Mr Lewis’s example of countering fear and prejudice with facts, and let us hope that doing so becomes less newsworthy over time.
First published online on The Huffington Post Australia on Tuesday 30 May 2017