November 30, 2015
Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Assistant Minister for Defence) (19:24): I appreciate the opportunity to speak on behalf of Gippslanders in relation to the terror attacks in Paris and to follow my good friend the member for McMillan in this place. Much has already been said and written about these barbaric attacks, but perhaps most importantly much has already been done to bring the perpetrators to justice and to help prevent further atrocities.
On behalf of Gippslanders, I offer my sincerest condolences to the people of France and extend the hand of friendship and solidarity. Throughout history, our nation’s finest have stood shoulder to shoulder with our French compatriots through war and bloody conflict, and it seems we may have to do so again for many years to come, because I fear that terrorism and violent extremism in various forms are the challenge for this generation.
As we have heard the Prime Minister and many others say, maintaining the safety and security of our people is the government’s highest responsibility. The security and the wellbeing of Australians, both at home and abroad, is the primary responsibility of any government. Australians understand too well the pain being experienced by the people of France because of the pain that we know ourselves through the Bali bombings, which forever changed our nation. And no decent person is immune from the pain and suffering we witnessed not only in Paris and Bali but in other indiscriminate, murderous attacks in places like Mumbai, Madrid, London and many other European capitals, and also on the African continent in recent weeks.
This violent extremism, clothed in a misguided and fanatical religious fervour, is a challenge for the world to face in the 21st century. It is simply not a problem for any single government alone. We need to keep collaborating with our allies and working with them as closely as possible. We need to share information, intelligence resources, deradicalisation strategies and counter-terrorism techniques, and we need to share the load if and when open conflict is justified.
I am pleased to say that, in my role as assistant minister, I have had the opportunity to witness directly how Australia is doing its share in relation to this issue, both internationally and on the home front. Our defence forces are deployed in the Middle East to train Iraqi forces, to take the fight to Daesh and the terrorists who seek to impose their rule over that country. Our Air Force personnel are also deployed, helping to degrade and disrupt forces in Iraq.
Particularly at this time of year, Deputy Speaker—and I know that you, as a member who represents an electorate with a significant defence presence, will understand this well—our thoughts and prayers are with the Australian Defence Force personnel involved in their dangerous missions throughout the world, but particularly at this time in Afghanistan and the Middle East. They will be away from their loved ones over the Christmas period. They are doing a dangerous job but they are doing it well. There is no greater service they could give than to put on our nation’s uniform and go out there and help people who cannot necessarily help themselves. It was a great privilege for me personally and many other members in this place this year to have the opportunity, as part of the ADF Parliamentary Program, to spend some time with the Australian men and women deployed overseas. We had just a small insight into the challenges they face, and we wish them well over the Christmas period.
On the home front, the government has taken decisive action to protect Australians from the threat of violent extremism. As the Prime Minister informed the House last week, the alert level in our nation was raised to high and has remained there for many months. The government has introduced new legislation and has invested heavily in counter-terrorism activities and programs to combat violent extremism. But, just as this is not a task for one government, this is not a task for governments alone. Our police and our intelligence agencies cannot keep us safe by themselves. The challenges we face of the home front require partnerships with our community, with parents of young people, with schools and, most importantly, with churches and leaders of all faiths.
I support the comments of several of my colleagues that the Islamic community itself has a critical role in countering violent extremism. The messages that came after the terrorist attacks in Paris denouncing those attacks were very important. All of us in this place have the great honour to represent diverse communities. But our communities right now are on edge, and the language we use as elected members in this place and in public is critically important—as important as the actions that we take in our electorates. The Muslim community itself should be expected to do its share of the heavy lifting to counter radicalisation, but it should not be unfairly targeted or maligned in the process.
We all know that social media can be a force for good or a force for evil. Some of the items I have seen in recent weeks are irresponsible, to say the least, in seeking to blame all Muslims for the acts of a relative few. I refer to the Prime Minister’s speech on this topic when he said:
Within Australia our counter-terrorism strategy calls for partnership between all levels of government, community and the private sector. The root cause of the current threat we face is a perverted strain of Islamist extremist ideology.
And further that:
The strongest weapons we bring to this battle are ourselves, our values and our way of life. Our unity mocks their attempts to divide us. Our freedom under law mocks their cruel tyranny. Our mutual respect mocks their bitter intolerance.
I appeal for calm and reasoned debate—not sensationalist and divisive ridicule.
Associating all Muslims with terrorism is simplistic and it is about as illogical as associating all Catholic priests with paedophilia. Just because some Catholic priests have systematically abused children, it does not mean by definition that all Catholic priests are evil. Likewise, just because some Muslims have killed in the name of religion, it does not mean that they are all terrorists. I hasten to add a crucial point: admitting there is a problem is the first step to solving it. It was only when the senior ranks of the Catholic Church acknowledged there was a problem with child abuse, stopped transferring the problem to other congregations and stopped covering up the abuse that decisive steps were taken to protect children throughout the world. Up to that point, paedophile priests hid behind the decency of the church until the brightest light was shone in the darkest corners and they were uncovered. It was those who are closest to the criminals who are best placed to uncover them.
I think it is the same situation facing our Muslim community today. A small minority of criminals who indulge in terrorism and violent extremism are like a cancer eating at the heart and soul of the Islamic community. It will take extraordinary leadership from Australian Muslims to shine the brightest light on the darkest corners of that part of our society. Again, we need to be partners in this piece, as we develop our strategies and our techniques to counter this extremism.
I have said it already tonight and I will say it many times in the future—governments cannot do this alone. It is not up to our police or our intelligence agencies or our Defence Force in isolation; we need to accept that there is a problem and work together to overcome this challenge in partnership with the Muslim community. This partnership will need to be based on our mutual trust, on our respect and our determination to uphold the values and the way of life which has made Australia such an extraordinarily successful and harmonious nation. This is a time for cool heads, for research and for reasoned and detailed analysis—not raw emotion or guesswork.
I have told this story about my own electorate previously, and it is worth repeating in the context of today’s discussion. It relates to my local surf lifesaving club in Lakes Entrance, and I have been a member of the surf lifesaving club there for about 10 years. One of the local policemen once said to me, ‘You know, I’ve never had to arrest anyone—not one person, not one young member—of your surf lifesaving club.’ I asked him why. Part of it is probably that they are too tired after a day at the beach, but he said, ‘What the older members of your club teach them is respect. You teach them about the spirit of volunteerism; you teach them about being part of something that is bigger than yourself.’ I fear that there is a large section of the Australian community, particularly young people, who are not being given that opportunity at the moment. Our nation’s great institutions, like the surf lifesaving movement, have helped to build communities and our nation. They have helped to build a bridge for disengaged youth to be given the opportunity to achieve their full potential—to make a meaningful contribution to our community.
It is not just about surf lifesaving clubs; we have other organisations and institutions in Australia—the Australian Defence Force Cadets where 25,000 young men and women get to participate in teamwork building exercises and learn about leadership—learn again about something that is bigger than themselves. All of our sporting clubs build teamwork and a spirit of camaraderie that give young people the chance to participate in an event that is bigger than themselves. The range of community groups like the Lions Clubs, Apex Clubs, Rotary, the Country Fire Authority, the SES—all of these great institutions have served our nation well and have been the glue that is held our communities together.
I believe we need to make sure that such groups are accessible to all sections of our community. At the moment a lot of our surf lifesaving clubs and our sporting clubs, even our ADF cadets program, are fairly poor representatives of the broader multicultural Australia in the 21st century. I was greatly pleased to see the Australian Defence Force Cadets has established a Navy cadet program in Western Sydney, TS Australia, which I have spoken about before and which is dominated by members of the Islamic community. I strongly believe that some of these national institutions are going to be critical in building that bridge from disengaged youth to a sense of something bigger than themselves and of what it means to be an Australian in the 21st century.
The former foreign affairs minister, Gareth Evans, wrote in today’s newspapers along reasonably similar lines about the interventions that may take many different forms as we deal with and try to counter violent extremism. He said:
What is already clear is that the most successful programs are those that are least visibly associated with government and law-enforcement authorities; those developed in close consultation with local communities; and, above all, those that are most practical and specific, relying primarily on individual interventions.
Those young men (and occasionally women) who are susceptible to extremism’s appeal respond best to those they trust — people who can help them step back from violence in a way that does not cause them to lose face.
I think there is great national institutions are going to be critical as we deal with the challenge of our generation.
I would like to conclude my comments tonight on a more positive note. I invited people in my electorate to make some comments in relation to tonight’s speech—I indicated that I have the opportunity to speak about Paris—and I invited them to post some positive remarks. I would like to share a few of the comments from people in my electorate today.
My name is French, we loved French wine so much that we had to grow our own, we fantasize about holidaying in Tuscany or Paris and my Dad always wished that he had a hot French Teacher … where would we be without the French! Vive la France!
The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France to the people of New York. Those two cities are deeply connected by their commitment to freedom, and terrorism will never destroy that. We stand with you NYC and Paris, and anywhere else in the world that has suffered at the hands of terrorists.
Finally, from Cindy:
My husband and I flew into Paris as the horrific event was unfolding. Hearing the continuous sirens throughout Friday night and walking around a very solemn Paris the next day has had a lasting impact. Simply eating lunch at a cafe made you realise the absolute callousness of the attack. We may live half way around the world but our thoughts remain with the people of Paris—for what they have been through and the journey ahead.
As I indicated, we are being challenged—possibly as never before—but I remain incredibly optimistic and confident that we can unite against a common foe and win. To quote the great Martin Luther King, I have decided to stick with love—hate is too great a burden to bear.