The electorate of Wentworth has the country’s highest proportion of Jewish Australians, and my community is scared. The horrific attacks by Hamas on 7 October have not only created a war in Israel and Gaza; they’re causing an unprecedented rise in antisemitism in our community.
Ms SPENDER (Wentworth) (17:26): As an Australian, what I’m proudest of and what I treasure most is our success as a multicultural nation. We are the most successful multicultural country in the world. But our success is under threat from those who would divide us. Antisemitism is on the rise not only around the world but here in Australia, and it is the most serious threat to our social cohesion that we face. We know that antisemitism doesn’t just affect Jewish Australians; it is a harbinger of broader hate and prejudice. That is why this Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures) Bill 2023 is so important. It will ban some of the most egregious and hateful symbols of antisemitism, including the Nazi salute, and the trade and glorification of Nazi paraphernalia as well as banning proscribed terrorist organisations. It bears witness to our determination to support our Jewish community and our multicultural success. I support this bill with all my heart because, for my community, the rise of antisemitism is an existential threat. This bill sends a clear and unequivocal message that antisemitism will not be tolerated in this country—not now, not ever—but, in itself, it is not enough.
The electorate of Wentworth has the country’s highest proportion of Jewish Australians, and my community is scared. The horrific attacks by Hamas on 7 October have not only created a war in Israel and Gaza; they’re causing an unprecedented rise in antisemitism in our community. Australia has been a safe haven for many people from around the world. It has provided a chance for many, like my own mum, to come to a new country, to bring up their families safely, to work hard and to build a prosperous life for their families. Australia has been a particularly safe haven for the Jewish people, and they have paid that back in the contribution they have made to the broader Australian society. But, tragically, it is starting to feel like this is changing. In the words of one of my friends, ‘Australia is scary, which is awful, as it’s possibly one of the best places on earth to be Jewish.’
Antisemitism in Australia isn’t new. Even in the last year and a half since I became a member of parliament, I’ve dealt with a number of antisemitic incidents in my community. In one of the most egregious examples, a young boy from one our local schools was locked in a locker as a simulation of being in a gas chamber. Antisemitism in our universities has been on the rise, and it is heartbreaking to learn that almost two-thirds of Jewish students—this is from before 7 October—in our universities report antisemitic incidents and around half say that sometimes they’ve hidden their Jewish identity on campus. Since 7 October, antisemitism has become so much worse, with a fivefold increase in the number of incidents compared with previous times. In my community alone, in Wentworth, we’ve seen posters of Hitler and graffiti on Jewish homes and businesses, including ‘kill Jews’ and ‘Jews live here’. We have seen acres of antisemitic content on social media. We’ve seen imams preaching hate and a provocative motorcycle convoy travelling in our community to intimidate Jewish Australians.
Some are even calling for the boycott of Jewish or Zionist businesses, simply because they support the existence of a Jewish state in Israel. I find this appalling. Many of these businesses were created by first or second generation Holocaust survivors who came to Australia to create a better life. These businesses have contributed to our country. They have provided employment across the board to many different Australians. Don’t the people calling for that boycott realise that one of the first antisemitic acts of the Nazis was to boycott Jewish businesses?
Just two days after the 1,200 Israelis were brutally murdered by Hamas and over 240 were taken hostage, we saw hateful antisemitic chants at the Opera House, our Australian icon. My community still can’t believe that happened in Australia and is extremely troubled that no-one has yet been brought to justice for this. These antisemitic incidents have mostly been intimidation rather than physical violence, although what happened in Caulfield was a terrible example of physical violence.
ASIO is telling us that they monitor known threats of violence but that they are concerned about unexpected lone wolf attacks. So our schools and our synagogues in my area, who already have guards to check whether you would like to worship or drop off your kids, have significantly increased their security since the attack. That includes parents volunteering for security duty. I drive past those schools and those synagogues with those guards almost every day when I’m in Wentworth. It is very hard to believe that this happens in Sydney, which is one of the safest places on earth.
The members of my Jewish community are scared. They feel isolated. The impact is real. To give you some examples, on referendum day, on the day on which the Voice was voted, I was going around the polling booths and I met one of my volunteers. I said, ‘Where’s your wife?’ I knew she was a passionate supporter of the Voice. When I asked her husband, he said that there was some antisemitic graffiti outside their house and it made her too scared to go out.
Another woman came to see me the other week. She was born in Australia. She’s the daughter of a Holocaust survivor on one side and a long-time Jewish Australian family on the other who’ve been here for more than a hundred years. After seeing the antisemitic chants at the Opera House, her 12-year-old son asked her if they were still safe here. She talked to me about how she identifies as a progressive person and someone who cares a lot about environmental issues but how she does not feel safe or welcome in the environmental sector anymore. A man told me he received a text from an old university friend. It was the first time he’d heard from her in years, but the message was blunt: ‘What you are doing in Gaza is appalling.’ It was as if he was responsible for every action of the Israeli government and as if Hamas had never attacked.
Some of the antisemitism we’re seeing is particularly chilling because of the history of antisemitism in the world. The Jewish Holocaust survivors and their families in my electorate remember when they were accepted members of the Jewish community or other European communities. They attended schools. They worshipped as they wished. They ran businesses. They even fought alongside their nation in World War I. They remember how things changed, step by step, as antisemitism festered and grew, unopposed, until it overwhelmed them and saw two-thirds of European Jews murdered in the Holocaust. That the symbols of the Nazi regime could re-emerge and be celebrated 90 years on is devastating for them.
I am also concerned that we are seeing an increase in hostility to Israel. It’s not necessarily antisemitic—we can all disagree with Israeli politics—but it risks this emerging hostility and increasing antisemitism or, at least, really isolating the Jewish community in Australia. In a diverse country, we will inevitably see different views on conflicts overseas, including in Israel and Gaza. But what does it say to a Jewish student when the teachers federation promotes teachers wearing a keffiyeh into the classroom to express their political views? Where is the teacher’s care for those Jewish students? I support people’s right to protest; I support people’s right to wear their cultural or religious dress, but I am really concerned about teachers using their positions in our schools as political platforms.
This parliament and parliaments across the country must lead by example. Our first duty is the safety of our community. To this end, I have been a constant advocate for community security grants to ensure that our communities have the security infrastructure that, sadly, they need today. I know they need it. I have seen it with my own eyes in my community. I respect and thank the government for the recent investment that they have made since the attacks on 7 October.
We must also ensure that the laws and their enforcement are appropriate to protect people from vilification and violence. I support the New South Wales government’s work to improve the prosecution process for the offences of publicly threatening or inciting violence against a person or group based on race and religion. There is no place for that in this country, and we must ensure that people who do that are suitably prosecuted.
Our children are our future, and we need to protect them and ensure that they feel safe and welcome in all educational environments and that we are teaching tolerance to our children from the beginning. We need to adapt our curriculum for those challenges today. We cannot let the horrific events of the Holocaust slip beyond memory as the survivors pass. Education on the pernicious history of antisemitism must be ensured, and I support the work of the ECAJ on this and will be championing it.
My personal focus is particularly on universities. I was devastated to talk to young Jewish students who told me about their experience of antisemitism in universities, and this was all before 7 October. So I’m very proud to be working with Julian Leeser and Josh Burns as co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. We are working to encourage universities to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, to raise awareness amongst our university leaders of antisemitism on campus, and to improve the reporting and management of complaints around antisemitism. Through our advocacy over the last year, five universities have already adopted the definition, and we have received support from the education minister to present to the working group on university governance—specifically about antisemitism—so that the specific governance that we think is required in the university system to support the stamping out of antisemitism in universities is achieved. That is our goal. There is more work to be done on all areas, but I want to reassure the community that they are not alone in their work to stamp out antisemitism across this country.
To return to the bill, antisemitism takes many forms. This bill addresses some of the most egregious and horrific: the hate symbols and actions that celebrate the barbaric Nazi regime. Banning these symbols won’t address all forms of antisemitism, but it draws a clear line, and that’s important. It makes clear to Jewish Australians that all Australians recognise that bigotry, racism, hate speech and hate symbols are beyond the bounds of what we accept. Many in my community are Jewish, but this is not just an issue for Jewish Australians who suffer the direct affront of antisemitism. This is an issue of great concern for our whole community, because all Australians are diminished whenever antisemitism is allowed to fester and grow. But it goes beyond that; it goes beyond antisemitism, and it goes to the heart of our social cohesion and our multicultural strength.
Antisemitism diminishes all Australians and creates a space for other hate and prejudice to thrive. From history, we do know that, if the Jews are persecuted, other minorities are not safe. Antisemitism is a harbinger of further hate and prejudice, and we must stamp it out. I have listened to my community and I know how deeply they support this legislation. I support this law with all my heart, just as they do.