Parliament House, Canberra
Mr DREYFUS (Isaacs—Deputy Manager of Opposition Business) (11:38): The rise of terrorism has tested the strength of our character as a nation in the face of an ongoing threat of a probable domestic terrorist attack. As a nation, we are faced with two options: either we come together as a united, harmonious and inclusive nation, or we let ourselves be torn apart by fear. The aim of terrorism is to spread fear, and that is what it can do if we do not fight to protect the Australian values that we all hold dear. It is fear that leads people to turn against each other and to create scapegoats to be blamed for an external threat. But in these difficult times we must be careful that we do not become blinded by fear. When we are scared, it is easier for us to find someone to blame than to confront and deal with our fears with strength and clarity.
It is particularly important for Australian politicians not to succumb to fear and to the urge to blame and divide, which is exactly what our enemies want.
Instead of turning against each other we need to join together as a nation to celebrate our diversity, not to seek to denigrate or belittle our great history of inclusiveness as nation. It gives power to the forces of hate if we allow ourselves to be divided as a nation. We know from the reports of our security agencies that that is what ISIL and their like want. They want to create division and resentment. They feed off hatred, anger and fear. We must call out those who try to threaten our way of life, the life that Australians are accustomed to in a nation made great by migration and multiculturalism. We are a nation that prides itself on its diversity, and we must not forget that. We have been asked once again, as we have been asked many times throughout history, to reject extremist ideologies that seeks to divide people. We must draw on our ability to look beyond cultural, religious and racial differences to demonstrate respect for and recognition of those members of our community who practice a modern and tolerant form of Islam. As a nation we are presented with the challenge of whether or not we can turn away from hatred and embrace the challenge humanity that binds all us who value freedom and democracy. This was noted by ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis in mid-2015:
We understand we can't arrest our way to success.
If there is indeed a silver bullet to solving the issue of radicalisation, it is in the area of social cohesion.
That is why a very important approach to responding to the threat of terrorism is ensuring that we promote tolerance and acceptance to ensure that the fabric of social cohesion in this country cannot be unwound. We must also invest in programs that promote people's sense of inclusiveness and prevent young people from being radicalised. Such programs can provide options to young Australians who feel isolated and abandoned and then turn to terrorist recruiters. Unfortunately, programs like this have not been handled well by the government, and we are nowhere near where we should be.
If we do not call out divisive language we are playing into the hands of those who seek to divide us. It is shocking and astounding that some people in this place cannot see the impact of their own words and behaviour. We in this place have a responsibility to demonstrate to the Australian community the kinds of standards that we will accept the kind of language that we will tolerate. The recent comments by the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection have the potential to undermine Australia's tradition of multiculturalism, to undermine our national cohesion and to undermine our national security, for all the reasons I have outlined today. His suggestion that it was a mistake for a generation of migrants to come to Australia more than three decades ago, because of the crimes that are small number of their grandchildren may have committed, is unnecessary and inflammatory. These types of comments contribute to people's sense of isolation and resentment. This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing to defeat extremism.
It is because of anger hatred and fear that people are drawn to extremist ideology. It is fear and isolation that is turning our young people towards terrorism and towards embracing terrorist recruiters and joining the conflict overseas in Iraq and Syria. If ministers engage in inflammatory rhetoric that invokes fear, how then can we be asking those communities to take on the responsibility of teaching community and respect? In the Prime Minister's own words yesterday:
… governments cannot win this battle alone. Community leaders and groups have great responsibility both in denouncing violent extremism and teaching unity in diversity and mutual respect instead of hatred.
It is incredible that the Prime Minister could say those words yesterday after he has failed to reject the comments of the minister for immigration. He surely should be able to see the effects that the comments of the minister for immigration will have on the Lebanese Muslim community in Australia and on other communities in Australia who have contributed so much to our nation. How can he ask community leaders and groups to teach 'unity in diversity' when his own ministers do the opposite? Is he so weak that he is unable to even address this kind of, really, rank hypocrisy?
National security agencies have made it very clear that we need to work with, not against, local Muslim communities to change attitudes and behaviours that can foster extremism. The member for Cowan, an internationally renowned expert on countering violent extremism who has just joined the parliament, has spoken out against the minister for immigration's comments, just as we all should, and has received death threats towards her and her family. We must take our leadership responsibility seriously and be much more careful about what we do and say.
The rise of ISIL, and of al-Qaeda before it, has changed much about our world. The age of digital transformation has brought with it many benefits, but it has also led to new tools being developed and used to spread violent extremist ideas and to encourage more and more people to turn towards extremism. ISIL's extensive use of social media has had the unfortunate consequence of drawing into conflicts many people who would not otherwise have been attracted. We have seen propaganda that is used throughout history to turn people away from rational, progressive mindsets and instead go to a dark place of anger and resentment, and this most recent outbreak from ISIL is another example of that. If we are going to win the fight against violent extremism, we must limit the spread of violent extremist ideas. It is through relationships of trust and solidarity between governments and communities that we can all make sure that the right messages get through to communities: that Australia is a country of inclusiveness and that we welcome all people to share our values.
Labor is committed to ensuring that law enforcement agencies and security agencies have the powers and resources that they need to keep Australians safe. That is why Labor continues to take a bipartisan approach on national security. But the fight against terrorism goes far beyond just giving appropriate powers and resources to our security agencies. Our words and our actions matter just as much as our policy decisions. Practising isolationism and division is not going to help our security agencies; it will, in fact—and I know this as a former Attorney-General—make their job harder. I hear constantly in briefings from the security agencies of the importance of working with communities. What working with communities means is, in part, using the right language in public statements about national security matters and about our immigrant communities, and certainly not using the kind of demonising and ignorant language that we have heard from the minister for immigration in recent days. The minister for immigration must know this as well, yet he continues to make these kinds of comments, he refuses to apologise for them, he refuses to retract them, and, worse, the Prime Minister backs this minister for immigration. I find it astounding.
Labor is very proud of the diversity and multicultural heritage of Australia. We will continue to defend that diversity, multicultural heritage and multiculturalism against the divisive comments by cabinet ministers, and we will continue to defend that multicultural heritage and diversity against attempts to water down racial hate speech laws. We stand for unity in this country, not division.