If ever there was an MPI, a matter of public importance, as the contributions from my colleagues today have demonstrated, it is this. I believe every member of this place would agree that the events of 7 October in Israel were abhorrent. The international community was appalled by the loss of life, overwhelmingly civilian life, and since that day we have recognised Israel’s right to defend itself. While we recognise that right, the footage, images and stories that have come from Gaza, and the loss of civilian lives is devastating. Again, it’s civilian lives overwhelmingly being lost—now in their thousands and with the number increasing every day. The huge number of children to die in this conflict is heartbreaking.
More constituents have written to me about this conflict between Israel and Hamas than on any other issue this year. My heart goes out to members of parliament here and their constituents who have been directly impacted. It is clear that Australians are deeply distressed by what is happening in the Middle East. I am deeply distressed by what is happening in the Middle East.
I am also deeply concerned by what is happening at home, here in Australia. One of the things that makes me so proud to be an Australian is our diversity, our multiculturalism and our acceptance and embrace of people of all faiths. Multiculturalism has shown us that there is so much more that unites us than divides us, but what we’ve seen in our communities here in Australia since 7 October brings me grave concern. And, while I support protesting or demonstrating peacefully for a cause, in many cases what has occurred is not a peaceful statement about what’s happening overseas. It has been about intimidation—confronting, devastating—as the member for Goldstein and the member for Macnamara have so clearly illustrated. It has been about sending a message to people here in Australia to make them feel unsafe and unwelcome, and that is never acceptable, and I believe every member here agrees.
It’s for this reason that I want to comment on the tone of debate in this House, and most especially yesterday. The words of leaders in this place must be careful and considered. What we say in this place matters. Words matter. And, while in times of such terrible international conflict we can stumble at times to find the right words, we must never deliberately choose to use words designed to divide. As leaders we must model the behaviour we want to see in our community more broadly. That is what generates cohesion. The role of an elected leader is a privilege, and to be the leader of a political party is a greater privilege, and one which comes with a microphone and a platform afforded to few people. We must think very carefully about how we use that privilege.
We should be doing everything we can to prevent unrest and division in our communities, and we should be doing everything to bring our communities together, centred around our shared humanity. We must not tolerate antisemitism, we must not tolerate Islamophobia and we must not tolerate hatred in any form. We absolutely should not be engaging in debate that seeks to be provoking, fuelling or encouraging division and the degradation of social cohesion. To do that to score a political point is not only dangerous to our national cohesion but defiles the gravity of this devastating international conflict. When the words spoken in parliament are intentionally inflammatory it legitimises and encourages further division in the wider community. We are grappling with the absolute tragedy of what is happening in the Middle East, with the frightening rise of antisemitism here at home and with the heartbreak of Palestinian Australians and Jewish Australians alike. To then come into this place and hear political pointscoring in a circumstance as grave as this leaves me, as a member of parliament, at a complete loss. To weaponise the tragedy playing out every day in Middle East and to weaponise the very problem of antisemitism against political rivals is completely irresponsible.
Since when has it been wrong to show compassion? Since when has it been wrong to acknowledge the humanity of those trapped in the unimaginable terror of a war zone? The way some members of this place have chosen to jump down the throats of others on this matter, deliberately seeking to score political points here in this parliament and in the media, is dividing our community and creating a very real threat to some individual members and their staff. Let it not be an unforgivable mistake to have a heart that breaks at the loss of civilian lives, no matter which side.
The conduct and language used in this place is having dual effects, inciting those who wish to use hateful language and silencing those who simply wish to express their humanity and sadness at the loss of thousands of lives. We are at a critical juncture, colleagues, and we must do all in our power to nurture social cohesion, not to divide this great nation.