The depravity and evil of Hamas knows no bounds, it would seem, with what they have done by taking hostages, including children, back into Gaza and by what they’re doing by using the innocent civilians of Palestine, as it would seem, as human shields. There’s going to be a great deal of tragedy in the coming weeks and months. We need to acknowledge that too.
Mr BIRRELL (Nicholls—Deputy Nationals Whip) (18:38): I join with my parliamentary colleagues in my unreserved condemnation of the attacks on southern Israel by Hamas. These are brutal acts by people who have completely lost all sense of humanity. What we’ve seen reported out of southern Israel has been horrific and shocking. It brings emotions of anger and sadness to think that civilians can be targeted in such a way and that innocent children can be treated with such inhumanity and barbarity.
It’s really difficult to put into words what type of response any decent person would have to such an attack.
It’s so difficult to see hatred and intolerance flourish in any part of the world. In times like this I try to look back to my own community. The previous speaker talked about a successful example of multiculturalism, and the electorate of Nicholls is certainly that. I would like to share with the parliament something that happened last week, a vigil at the St Brendan’s Catholic Church in Shepparton, which is my hometown in the centre of the electorate of Nicholls. At the vigil people from all different religions came together to pray and to reflect on what was happening in Israel. I was fortunate enough to speak, as were other members of parliament. The two people who organised it and the people who spoke were young people driven by faith and driven by a sense of wanting to see peace in their community. One of them was the new Catholic parish priest in Shepparton, Father Jackson Saunders, and the other was his friend and the new imam of the Albanian mosque in Shepparton, Imam Hysni Merja. The Albanian mosque was built in 1960, and it’s a part of our community.
These are young people driven by faith to come together. They’re from different religious traditions and faiths, but they prayed in their own way together for peace. It was a bright moment in what was a very dark week. I was asked to speak, and, as I said earlier, it’s difficult to find the words to talk about such barbarity. I tried to go back to the values that I expressed in my maiden speech, which were that we seem to do better as a society when we celebrate each other’s culture but moreover focus on our shared humanity, the humanity being a stronger bond than any differences that seek to be amplified by race, ethnicity, gender or religion. The way that the Goulburn Valley does that and that many other parts of Australia do that means that our humanity is strong and our connection is strong.
It’s so shameful to see that connection breaking down in other parts of Australia. Some of the chants that I heard on the steps of the Sydney Opera House were an absolute disgrace, and those people making them are unAustralian. We have to call that out continually because that is not the Australia that we want. We have to hold onto our humanity, and there are examples of that in the Goulburn Valley, in my electorate of Nicholl.
I have connections with Israel. Before coming into this place, I worked as an agronomist or agricultural scientist with a water company called Netafim. I visited Sderot, which is one of the towns that was most affected by this unspeakable brutality. There are other southern kibbutzim and towns that have been affected, including a Hatzerim, a kibbutz near Bathsheba which has the Netafim factory. I’ll just reflect that these kibbutzim sustain themselves by world-leading water technology, mostly for agriculture, which is what I was involved in. They are sustained by this aspiration for technology to give life to communities throughout the world. There are obviously examples of this Israeli technology not only in Australia but in Africa, Asia, North and South America and Europe. It helps efficiently and with reverence to the environment to grow more food for people, which is life. That’s life, and, for people working on such life-giving technology and devoting their lives to making sure that the globe has enough food to be attacked by people who have this obsession with death, makes it even harder to bear.
My own experiences and my friendships and people who I’m still in contact with who I used to work with are going through a terrible time as a result.
The depravity and evil of Hamas knows no bounds, it would seem, with what they have done by taking hostages, including children, back into Gaza and by what they’re doing by using the innocent civilians of Palestine, as it would seem, as human shields. There’s going to be a great deal of tragedy in the coming weeks and months. We need to acknowledge that too. We absolutely need to acknowledge that too. I think it’s incredibly cowardly to use children and innocent civilians as cover for your own hateful, violent ways. I’m so regretful that there wasn’t leadership in that particular Palestinian territory that didn’t look at some of the other societies around the world that have flourished with economic activity, education, community and society. Gaza could have been that, but Hamas wouldn’t allow it. So I join, as I said at the beginning of this, with my parliamentary colleagues in condemning this.
Let’s just focus on what makes Australia a great community, like the Imam from the Albanian mosque, Father Jackson from the Catholic Church and other faith leaders at that event. I single them out because they’re young men who are hopefully going to be in our community for their lives, spreading messages of peace with communities of different faiths coming together. Let’s focus on what we have here; let’s condemn the hatred and barbarity we see around the world and reflect on what we do in this country.
We have arguments in this place, but we’ve got a great democracy and we’ve got a great social fabric. But that has to be fought for. As part of the fight for it, you’ve got to call out evil when you see it and you’ve got to call out hatred and intolerance when you see it. We saw it in Sydney, regretfully, and I called that out as well as condemning the evil attacks of Hamas on the south of Israel.