15 August 2017, Canberra, Australia
I want to speak about the appalling acts of violence by Nazis in Charlottesville in the US on the weekend and to speak about the death of Ms Heather Heyer, a brave 32-year-old who lost her life while protesting against hatred. She was run down by a car driven by a Nazi. Many other people were injured.
What happened in Charlottesville on the weekend was an act of terrorism. This conclusion is absolutely inescapable. What's happened in the United States has been the clearest demonstration—if we needed one—of how easily hateful words can become hateful deeds. If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.
In response to Charlottesville, what did we get from Donald Trump? A mealy-mouthed statement about the violence that, in his words, 'many sides' had committed. Donald Trump has not only embraced but encouraged extremist elements within the US society. He's brought many of them, in fact, right into the heart of his administration. So perhaps his timid, mealy-mouthed response shouldn't surprise, but it is in any event an abject failure of leadership.
But tonight I warn that parts of our political class here in Australia are sleepwalking us in the same direction that the United States is going. Frighteningly, we risk the same consequences. In response to the atrocity at Charlottesville, what we got from our Prime Minister was radio silence—no emergency meetings of important-sounding committees, no condemnation of the attack at all, no urgent review of the terror warning, no flag-clad press conferences, not even actually a press release. If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.
Of course, our Prime Minister's political career has been defined by his coddling of and his compromising with extremists in his own party. He's allowed those people to set his government's agenda, and he's refused to hold them to account for their words and their actions. He didn't offer a syllable of protest when a member of his government, Mr Christensen, spoke at a Reclaim Australia rally. Reclaim Australia is a group that has at least one of its members facing terrorism charges. Nor did Mr Turnbull lift a finger to prevent Mr Christensen going onto a white supremacist podcast, where he laughed it up with anti-Semites and Nazis. This is despite the ASIO head, Duncan Lewis, warning about the threat posed by radical right-wing groups and telling a Senate committee that that threat is increasing. Mr Turnbull has done nothing to reprimand Mr Christensen. If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.
Mr Turnbull has allowed the ongoing torture and the deliberate causing of harm to people seeking asylum in our country on Manus Island and Nauru under the watch of his immigration minister, Mr Dutton. Our Prime Minister has appeased Mr Dutton—if you like, rewarded him—for the harm he's deliberately causing to some of our fellow human beings by giving him greatly increased ministerial powers and supporting him in the introduction of citizenship laws that passed through the House this week that have got throwbacks to the White Australia policy. At a time when racism in this country is on the rise, Mr Turnbull ignored multicultural Australia and the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country to try and gut the protections against hate speech contained in the Racial Discrimination Act. If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.
But the extremism in this country is not contained to this building. There's also an increasingly radical element to the media, with obvious but frightening parallels to the United States. It's of course difficult to think of a more egregious example than Quadrant's Roger Franklin, who called for the ABC to be bombed. We shouldn't overlook the consistent racism of people like Andrew Bolt and people like his News Corp stablemates, Gary Johns and Jennifer Oriol, whose writing contains horrific elements that range from racist dog whistling to downright racist foghorning. Look at the disgraceful campaign against Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who was basically run out of the country for a seven-word Facebook post. She was run out of the country, I might add, by the very people who claim to support freedom of speech in Australia. This was a vindictive effort by some of the worst elements of this parliament and the press—notably, Prue MacSween, who said she'd like to run Yassmin over. If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.
Whilst Sky News has in its employ a good deal of credible journalists, by night that channel becomes a fiesta of the far right, where people who should be unemployable spew vitriol and whip up hatred against minorities in this country. Even triple j had a neo-Nazi on this week to argue his case. We shouldn't dismiss the threats that hate speech pose just because they come from mainstream outlets. Nor can false balance be used to justify giving airtime to Nazis. It's extraordinary that someone even needs to say this in our country today. What's happening in Australia, driven by elements in this parliament and in the media, is nothing less than the continued normalisation of extremism.
We cannot continue sleepwalking in this country until we see a repeat of Charlottesville on our own lands. We cannot allow the continued attacks on multicultural communities and on minority groups in this country and the continued setting of one group of Australians against another. We cannot allow our Prime Minister to continue to appease and give succour to extremists, whether they be in his own party or in the media or in the wider community. We cannot and we must not sit silently by as our rights are eroded and our harmony undermined.
Heather Heyer's last Facebook post before she was murdered in an act of terror by a Nazi in Charlottesville on the weekend was this:
If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention.
Let's honour her memory. Let's pay attention, let's get outraged and let's fight back.