Julian Leeser MP – speaking on the Commission of Inquiry into Antisemitism at Australian Universities Bill 2024

photo of Julian Leeser MP
June 3, 2024

Today Australia faces its greatest threat to multiculturalism with the emergence of antisemitism—in particular, the studied indifference to Jew hatred on our campuses.

Mr LEESER (Berowra) (10:03): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today Australia faces its greatest threat to multiculturalism with the emergence of antisemitism—in particular, the studied indifference to Jew hatred on our campuses.

Jewish staff and students are abandoned by those charged with creating a safe place for students to study and for staff to research, teach and work.

This is a tragedy for Australia, which, unlike almost anywhere else, has been so welcoming to the Jewish people.

From the days of the First Fleet, when a dozen Jewish convicts stumbled ashore at Sydney Cove, Jewish people have had the opportunity to thrive free from discrimination and hatred.

With that freedom and opportunity, Jewish Australians have contributed to this country.

Our job in this place is to ensure that all Australians enjoy the right to an education free of harassment and intimidation.

Our job is to ensure that the next generation of Jewish students are not discouraged from entering any field of Australian life.

There’s a particular tragedy about campus antisemitism which seeks to exclude Jews from the intellectual life of this nation, because the Jewish tradition values education as one of the highest virtues.

Jews are taught to have arguments for the sake of heaven—to arrive at truth through debate and discussion. This is the essence of a university.

At their best, universities are life-changing places where people get an education and improve their opportunities in life.

It’s where the next generation of leaders is formed.

That’s why it’s so important that antisemitism doesn’t take hold. It’s why students need to be taught about the evils of antisemitism. It’s why it’s always important to reject antisemitism, however it manifests.

And it’s why it’s not okay to be a bystander.

If we’re not teaching this to the next generation, then we’re setting our society on a course for a future based on conspiracy not fact, on othering not personal responsibility, on social discord not social harmony.

It’s for this reason that addressing antisemitism on campus is so important, because what happens on campus today sets the tone for the Australia of tomorrow.

As a parent, I want my children to have the same educational opportunities I did. But I’m concerned about what today’s Jewish students are telling me.

Today, young Jewish Australians who are taking their first steps in the adult world are facing unprecedented levels of antisemitism.

The next generation of contributors are turning up to university open days, to lectures and to university lawns, and being met with a clear message: Jews are not welcome here.

I say, ‘Enough. We should not accept that in Australia.’


The antisemitism we’re seeing on campuses is not new. It goes back years.

In August 2023—two months before the Hamas terrorist attacks—the Australian Jewish University Experience Survey revealed:

64 per cent of Jewish university students had experienced antisemitism on campus.

57 per cent of Jewish students had hidden the fact they were Jewish.

19 per cent had stayed away from campus because of antisemitism.

when antisemitism occurred, 61 per cent who made a complaint were dissatisfied with the outcome.

In 2022, the Member for Macnamama, the Member for Wentworth and I, as co-chairs of the Parliamentary Friends of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, wrote to Australian universities to ask them to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism should not be controversial. We emphasised that legitimate criticisms of the State of Israel do not amount to antisemitism under the definition.

That definition has multipartisan support.

Unfortunately, only 5 of the 39 universities have signed up.

Since 7 October

And while antisemitism was already a problem before 7 October, since that time it’s been off the charts.

We’ve seen encampments where student chanting ‘intifada’ and ‘river to the sea’ are deciding who should be allowed to access university buildings based on their religion, and other stories which are deeply troubling.

Like the student living in on-campus accommodation who held a Shabbat dinner for both Jewish and non-Jewish students at her college. It had nothing to do with the Israel-Hamas war—it was simply an opportunity to gather for a meal and share her traditions.

But the following morning, that student woke up to find Palestinian flags shoved under her door.

At another university, a Jewish student wearing a kippah was walking through campus. He had to walk through a pro-Palestine gathering to get to where he was going. One of the people from the gathering approached him and asked, ‘Do you support the murdering of babies and the genocide in the Middle East?’

There are multiples stories of Jewish students being spat on and taunted with swastikas.

It’s happening to Jewish staff too.

In one incident, an expat Israeli staff member’s working area was urinated on and the word ‘resign’ scribbled on her desk.

The message in all these stories is: Jews are not welcome here.

It’s not just students and outside activists propagating this stuff—it’s professors and PhDs.

We’ve seen academics say that Jews don’t deserve cultural safety.

And last week we saw another academic deny that the rapes on 7 October even occurred.

Hamas deniers are no different than Holocaust deniers.

But for academics in places of learning and truth, to deny the truth of human testimony and history is to make a mockery of their mission.

What we’re seeing on Australian university campuses today is the next evolution of a hatred that has endured throughout human history.

The failure of universities

Long before 7 October, universities were failing to take antisemitism seriously and to act to protect Jewish students in the way that they protect other minorities on campus. But now we see:

vice chancellors negotiating research contracts with protestors.

university encampments allowed to run and fester.

universities unwilling and unable to evict professional agitators from the far-Left and people carrying jihadi flags.

Jewish students harassed and intimidated in lectures and tutorials.

student learning and staff teaching disrupted by protestors.

complaints mechanisms that are mere tick-the-box exercises.

vice chancellors implying that hate fuelled protests are just the price Jewish students have to pay for free speech.

and a collective statement from 39 university chancellors which was so weak it didn’t even mention the words ‘Jew’ or ‘antisemitism’.

I don’t believe that university leaders are antisemitic, but I do believe that they are wilfully blind.

One chilling aspect of this wilful blindness is their failure to acknowledge the antisemitic nature of: ‘From the river to the sea.’

Imagine if a terrorist group in our country committed terrible crimes and people started chanting: ‘From the Indian Ocean to the Pacific, Australia will be free of…’ and insert the name of the religion, the political affiliation, the sexuality or any aspect of identity that the terrorists might want to eradicate.

That’s what the phrase ‘from the river to the sea’ means.

It’s a statement of intent to violently annihilate Jewish people from the land of Israel.

From the river to the sea is a line that sends a chill because it’s spoken by murderers and parroted by people who know no better.

But the vice-chancellors of our universities do know better—and that’s why their complicity is such a problem.

That’s why we need a judicial inquiry into their systemic failures on this issue.

We need a judicial inquiry

This bill provides for the establishment of a commission of inquiry with royal commission powers led by a current or former judge to inquire into antisemitism on university campuses.

The inquiry will examine incidents of antisemitic activity on campus both before and after 7 October 2023.

It will consider whether the response of university leaders, regulators, representative organisations and others has been adequate.

Among other things, it will examine whether the universities adequately define and recognise the modern manifestations of antisemitism and whether they’ve put in place appropriate policy responses to prevent it, reject it and deal with it.

It will examine university policies and their enforcement, including complaints handling and disciplinary policies, security arrangements and university powers to expel people from campus for antisemitic activity.

It will examine what steps universities are taking to ensure course materials and what’s actually delivered during lectures and tutorials do not include antisemitic content.

And it will make recommendations on institution-specific and sectorwide policy, regulatory and legislative changes including education programs, disciplinary sanctions, and ministerial intervention.

This bill and its powers are based on the bill which established the 2007 equine influenza inquiry.

A judicial inquiry is crucial to ensure that the rise of antisemitism on our campuses can be effectively investigated.

A judicial inquiry is the most authoritative form of inquiry.

Led by an independent, respected jurist with full investigatory powers, assisted by skilled cross-examiners, the inquiry could hear evidence confidentially without witnesses fearing reprisals.

Such an inquiry provides the best chance to ensure that antisemitism on campus—a long-running cultural problem which is a serious concern for social cohesion in this country—is properly addressed.

The government’s proposal for an inquiry led by the Australian Human Rights Commission into various forms of racism on campus is woefully inadequate. It has neither the independence nor the powers or the personnel to deal with these matters.

The AHRC has proven itself to be unready and unwilling to respond to antisemitism in Australia despite a 738 per cent increase in antisemitic incidents since 7 October. The AHRC has sat on its hands or worse.

Jewish Australians simply do not have faith in an inquiry led by the AHRC.

This bill by contrast has the support of the Jewish community.


It’s tempting to think of antisemitism as the domain of the uneducated.

But history tells us that is not the case. History tells us that antisemitism also lives in the minds of society’s best educated.

More than half of the people who attended the Wannsee Conference that developed the final solution were either doctors or had PhDs.

This bill is about ensuring we never get to that point.

It was Martin Luther King who said, ‘In the end we remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.’

As Peter Dutton said:

Whenever and wherever the forces of antisemitism are on the march, there is a need for moral courage and moral clarity.

Today I call on the government to show moral courage and moral clarity by adopting this bill and allowing it to be brought on for debate.

The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?

Mr Wallace: I’m very proud to second this motion, and I reserve my right to speak.

The SPEAKER: The time allocated for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned, and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard