We were warned only weeks ago by the ASIO director-general of the direct correlation between language and inflamed tensions and violence. It is essential that we maintain space in our communities for people to legitimately express different opinions on matters which deeply concern them, without complex matters being reduced to artificially binary positions. Social cohesion and democracy cannot function without the ability to disagree peacefully and respectfully. At the same time, we must acknowledge that all forms of racism destroy social cohesion.
Ms TINK (North Sydney) (16:08): I just want to acknowledge all of my colleagues who have spoken in this place already and thank them for being here this afternoon. Thank you for enabling this conversation.
Coming into this place, I knew there would be times that would be difficult to navigate, both for my community and myself. The truth is that we find ourselves in one of those times at this very moment. In the course of the last six weeks, our country has had a number of challenges that would test the fabric of any society, from the bruising and divisive debate that dominated the referendum for a Voice to Parliament and the outcome of that referendum, through to the discussions we have witnessed in this place in recent weeks relating to the appalling attacks on innocent civilians in Israel on 7 October. I want to say from the outset that I do not think there is a single person in this country who does not believe that what happened on 7 October in Israel was abhorrent. I certainly know there is not a single person in my seat of North Sydney who does not believe that. The loss of any life is to be mourned, and the loss of a life taken so violently should shock us all to the core.
The challenge to our community since that time, however, has been to find a way to navigate what is a fundamental truth: that two things can be true at the same time. We can, as a society and a nation, condemn the acts that took place on 7 October. We can empathise with the Israeli community, and we can do everything in our power to embrace that community and to ensure that they are protected within the community and that they know that they are loved. At the same time, we can also be shocked by what we see taking place in Gaza, with thousands of Palestinian lives lost, including the lives of innocent women and children.
Today I met with a delegation of healthcare professionals who were here to represent over 25,000 of their peers. They’d all signed a petition calling on our government to do everything we can to urgently address the humanitarian disaster in Gaza. They came from different backgrounds, different medical specialties, different communities and different faiths. But, rather than be divided by their differences, they chose to unite behind their shared medical ethical principles to advocate for all life. For this reason, I will be eternally grateful to them. They represent the best of us. At this time, it is imperative that we work to create an environment in which everybody feels safe, in which everybody understands they’re valued and everybody recognises that there is no place in our country for racism in any form, be that antisemitism or Islamophobia.
Events like the ones we are witnessing globally challenge us, but, in doing so, they can either prove the strength of our multicultural fabric or they can prove its weakness. Certainly the Mapping social cohesion report, which was released only yesterday, found that social cohesion in Australia is at its lowest level in 16 years. The report indicates that significant numbers of people experience prejudice and discrimination routinely in everyday life and that the attitudes to government and democracy in this country are now politically charged and polarised. Who are we when we allow that in this place? Who are we as a parliament and who are we as leaders? A socially cohesive society is one where all groups have a sense of belonging, participation, inclusion and legitimacy. This sense is being severely tested at the moment, and I am seeing it, heartbreakingly, in my community.
We were warned only weeks ago by the ASIO director-general of the direct correlation between language and inflamed tensions and violence. It is essential that we maintain space in our communities for people to legitimately express different opinions on matters which deeply concern them, without complex matters being reduced to artificially binary positions. Social cohesion and democracy cannot function without the ability to disagree peacefully and respectfully. At the same time, we must acknowledge that all forms of racism destroy social cohesion. They must be forcefully, loudly and consistently condemned, rather than used to stoke division. Inciting racism for political gain directly threatens our social cohesion and, ultimately, our democracy.
As the member for North Sydney, I’m incredibly proud of the vibrant and diverse community I represent. We are a community that is a microcosm of the multicultural society which is today’s Australia. In this place I say that my community believes in the sanctity of all life. My community rejects racism in all forms. As the voice for that community, I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to speak with my colleagues today about the importance of prioritising, and fighting for, social cohesion. I undertake to continue that fight every day that I am enabled to stand in this chamber.