Matt Burnell MP – spoke in favour of the motion moved by Josh Burns MP on the IHRA working definition of antisemitism

Photo of Matt Burnell MP
March 6, 2023

Antisemitism has existed throughout the centuries in varying forms, though with many common similarities and themes. Antisemitism is something that exists right here in Australia, and its prevalence is increasing in a number of ways.

Full speech

Mr BURNELL (Spence) (17:26): I rise to speak in favour of the motion moved by my good friend the member for Macnamara. I would also like to acknowledge the member for Berowra’s fine contribution. Most importantly, I rise to speak in favour of a motion that seeks to stamp out hate. Hate is something that we should abhor, whether it exists as a flashpoint or festers, whether it occurs in the hearts of our communities or abroad. Antisemitism has existed throughout the centuries in varying forms, though with many common similarities and themes. Antisemitism is something that exists right here in Australia, and its prevalence is increasing in a number of ways.

Speaking against antisemitism in a place like this is important. It is important that the community sees its leaders, its elected representatives, condemn discrimination and hatred. It goes to the heart of who we purport to be as Australians. At our best, we are a people who go out of our way to be inclusive. At our best, our society is one that looks to eliminate negative forms of discrimination wherever it takes place, whether it be due to someone’s race, their sexual orientation, their gender, the colour of their skin, their ethnic origins, their religion or lack thereof. We as a people, at our core, hate hatred in all of the insidious forms it can manifest in.

Sadly, antisemitism is not something of the past. It is not something happening in a faraway place. It is something that happens every day. It happens in our backyards, in our communities and on our doorsteps. With the prevalence of antisemitism rising at home, it beggars belief that we should be importing it from abroad. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry is keeping score on this. We cannot stand idly by while the number of antisemitic incidents here continue to rise.

I look towards a recent example, straight from my home state of South Australia, at the Adelaide Writers Week. Adelaide Writers Week is a regular fixture amongst what is affectionately known as ‘Mad March’. In this case, that name could not be more spot on. In short, the festival organisers decided to bring in two international authors who are well known for their antisemitic views. This has had wide media coverage. I will not name them, as doing so in this place provides them with the notoriety that they crave. As such, I have no intention of validating their business model, which is one of outrage merchantry. It is not a business model that I intend to reward, not here, not now. Quite plainly, I wish the organisers of Adelaide Writers Week had the cognisance to have the same level of good judgement. They may say that they have zero tolerance for hate speech, and I most definitely believe their sincerity in this, but this explains the importance of maintaining an established definition of what antisemitism is. This is what the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, IHRA, has endeavoured to do across several countries and jurisdictions across the globe. Whilst it may not be as simple as it’s set out, a number of examples are provided to encompass a number of different circumstances where this definition would apply. Some who are against the IHRA definition point to the broad based nature of this, almost as if ‘includes but is not limited to’ is not regularly incorporated in some form or another in laws we make.

I wish there was more time permitted to speak to the contention used by many that the IHRA definition is an affront to academic freedom and an affront to free speech. To that point I’d ask them a simple question, one which I hope is seen as being about animus without rancour: what is it that, when looking at this definition of what antisemitism is, you would like to say? What is it that they would condone being said that would otherwise be prescribed as antisemitic by the IHRA definition? I’d like to think we have moved on from saying, ‘Everyone has a right to be bigots.’ We are a little bit better than that, or at least I’d like to think so.

You will find me standing up to speak out against this form of hatred every time it rears its ugly head. You will find me standing up against any form of hatred where it exists, in plain sight or in the bowels of Telegram channels by people who we would walk past on the street without thinking anything insidious about what values they hold in their hearts. Hatred, if left unchecked, undermines our values as Australians and undermines the success we have in being such a successful multicultural nation of so many different cultures and creeds, which is what makes us special. Most importantly, if we don’t stand boldly against hate we run the ever-present risk that we normalise it.

Link to parliamentary Hansard