It’s so important that we don’t let hate divide us, especially during these very challenging times. My heart goes out to the innocent men, women and children of Palestine, Israel and Ukraine and their families here in Australia who are currently suffering. In my personal experience, I recently had an experience with divisive speech when, in early October, I left a vigil service for victims of the 7 October terrorist attacks in Israel. As I got into a ride-share vehicle, the driver asked me, ‘What are you doing here?’ and said that all Jews should be gone from the country—at the vigil that was happening.
Dr FREELANDER (Macarthur) (12:04): The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures) Bill 2023, brought by the Attorney-General into this parliament, is very important, and I thank him for introducing this bill. I also thank the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, including the chair, the member for Wills, and the deputy chair, the member for Fisher, for the very bipartisan recommendations that will help bolster this bill and inform us about this bill as it passes through the House. I very much appreciate the bipartisan approach.
This is about not only safety but our community, and it goes to the heart of our multicultural society. On that note, I’d also like to thank the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the Hindu Council of Australia and representatives of the Australian Buddhist community for their support of this legislation and their consultation with the government. This is important as hate has no place in this country. We are a multicultural nation with shared values and ideals, which should not and must not be threatened by hateful speech, symbols or actions. My electorate of Macarthur has a wide array of people of different religions and ethnicities that live, work and study alongside each other in peace and in harmony.
Under schedule 1, the bill creates new offences for publicly displaying prohibited hate symbols such as the Nazi hakenkreuz—the hooked cross—the Nazi double-sig rune—or SS bolts—the Nazi swastika and other hate symbols. The public display offence in this bill is designed to prevent the harassment and vilification of innocent Australians whose communities are targeted by Nazi, Neo-Nazi and terrorist organisations and their supporters in person and online. Further, the trading offence would target commercial profiting, including selling, renting or leasing paraphernalia containing prohibited symbols or symbols associated with terrorist organisations. Nazi paraphernalia should only be used as a form of educating individuals on the horrors of hate and the dangers of misinformation.
It’s so important that we don’t let hate divide us, especially during these very challenging times. My heart goes out to the innocent men, women and children of Palestine, Israel and Ukraine and their families here in Australia who are currently suffering. In my personal experience, I recently had an experience with divisive speech when, in early October, I left a vigil service for victims of the 7 October terrorist attacks in Israel. As I got into a ride-share vehicle, the driver asked me, ‘What are you doing here?’ and said that all Jews should be gone from the country—at the vigil that was happening. It made for a very awkward trip, and I was glad when it was over. I can only imagine what other groups go through daily, when they see, hear and learn of similar interactions.
Regardless of whether it is antisemitism or Islamophobia, both of which are sadly on the rise across the nation, governments and politicians have a responsibility to speak out and act. Poor education and harmful, misleading information are already damaging our community, and social media is certainly a big part of that. It leads to interactions like the one I had on a more common basis, and I am worried about this. I believe it’s very important that this bill be passed to protect individuals from harm and ensure our wider community is not dragged down by the distress caused by those seeking to ignite hate and increase the tension and social disharmony in our communities.
This is particularly important regarding schedule 3, ‘Advocating terrorism’. Why anyone in our peaceful country would support terrorist groups, whose extremist and often violent views go against our nation’s values, is beyond me. But, sadly, these individuals and groups do exist—on all sides. It’s not just fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. It’s far-right terrorism, like what we’ve seen with some of the Neo-Nazi groups on the rise not just in Australia but across the world. Online forums and websites are an easy way for these groups to radicalise vulnerable individuals, and we have certainly seen that in my electorate.
In October this year, the Australian Federal Police issued an urgent warning to parents and guardians over increasing evidence of extremist groups recruiting or seeking to radicalise young Australians via video and online gaming. This is occurring around the world, with the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice finding that, of prisoners who were jailed for terrorism related offences, almost 50 per cent of them were either wholly or partly radicalised online. This statistic jumped substantially, from 2015, to 92 per cent by the end of the 2019-2021 period.
At home, the AFP has reported shocking increases in the number of far-right terrorism related investigations. These increased seven fold from 2020 to 2022. This is concerning. Far-right terrorist groups are growing their online and videogame presence, meaning that more and more vulnerable Australians are falling for their extremist views. I am worried for future generations, I’m worried for my grandchildren and the generations that will follow, and I’m worried about the available avenues through which radical extremists views can be broadcast to them. I’d like to thank the Minister for Communications for her efforts to curb the rise of hateful rhetoric on social media platforms, particularly the hateful images, speech and, worryingly, use of artificial intelligence. We’ve seen over recent years, particularly during the rise of ISIS, the power of online platforms to radicalise individuals in Australia and in their communities and to advocate further violent acts. We’ve seen people travelling abroad, even from my electorate, to fight for extremist groups in other countries.
On the topic of ISIS and other recognised terrorist organisations, schedule 4 of the bill removes sunset requirements from regulations that list terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code, and that’s a good thing. At present, every three weeks these organisations, of which there are currently 29 listed, must be either removed from the list or relisted, with the majority being relisted multiple times. We need to really stop that having to happen. Once a terrorist group, always a terrorist group, in my view. Some terrorist organisations have been relisted as many as eight times. This change will ensure that no terrorist organisation can slip through the cracks of the previous sunset clause and that, once a terrorist organisation is listed, the only way it can come off is when its activities and operations stop. This is a serious issue that this bill takes very seriously indeed, and the bill helps strengthen the safeguards to protect all Australians. It would be a shame and a disservice if this bill doesn’t get through parliament, especially at a time when we need to bring people together and bring down those who seek to harm and divide our communities.
As a paediatrician in my community, I ask many questions of people when I see them and their children as patients. The one question I never ask is about their religion, because it isn’t important. In Australia we have been so lucky to live in a society for many decades that is peaceful, that accepts people at face value, that does not discriminate and that has provided nurturing communities for people from all around the world of many different backgrounds. In my childhood, as a Jew I went to a Christian school, and I had many friends at school from a whole range of religions. My very good friend Kadeem is Muslim. I had Buddhist friends, I had Christian friends and I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney. And that should continue. We must ensure that our society works in a way that welcomes people, allows them to practise their religion and allows them to live their family life in the way that they want without harming others. In the last few weeks I have seen things in Australia that I never thought I would ever see. There has been a rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia that affects our children. That has an ongoing risk for our society, and we must be very vigilant about it.
This parliament is becoming more diverse, and that’s been a very, very good thing. But part of the work of our parliament in our communities is to make sure that our society remains harmonious and that we fight against social disharmony. We’ve seen demonstrations and acts around the country, particularly in our major capital cities, that frighten me greatly. I am an eighth- or ninth-generation Australian. There have been Jewish people in Australia since the days of the first white settlements. I don’t have a family history of people who fled the Holocaust during the Second World War to come to Australia. My family have been here for many, many generations. To think that we are seeing actions in Sydney that seek to divide us based on our religion—it is just absolutely shameful. I think that state governments in particular have been very strong in acting against this, but there are always—
A division having been called in the House of Representatives—
Sitting suspended from 12 : 15 to 12 : 25
Dr FREELANDER: If I can summarise what is happening now, we live in a world that has incredible stresses put upon it, and we’ve seen that in other countries. But in Australia we are so lucky to have a multicultural society that actually works, and it works for a reason. It works because our government and successive governments over many generations—Liberal, Labor, National—have put in the effort to make sure our society works. We have multiculturalism enriching our lives and enriching our society, but there are stresses. We’ve seen stresses from the pandemic. We’ve seen economic stresses around the world that are having their effect on Australia. We are seeing increasing division in terms of wealth and increasing division in things like housing. But we maintain a stable community that is multicultural, and that has huge benefits for our children and our future generations. It is worth protecting, and this bill will help protect that society.
I want the world that my grandchildren grow up in to be as successful as the world that I grew up in. That means we have to work hard to stop these messages of hate damaging our society. This bill will help with that, and that’s why I’m very proud to support it. We need to do more to tackle extremist views. The material, the propaganda, that appears on every corner in many different ways is affecting our children and affecting our society, and we must look at ways to prevent it. This bill is a step in the right direction.
I’m very grateful for everyone who has already spoken on the bill, on both sides of the parliament, and I thank them for their bipartisan support. I know that we are united in this parliament in believing that we have a society that is worth protecting, and this bill will go a long way to helping with that. I commend the bill to the House.