Senator Richard Di Natale
Senator Richard Di Natale Photo Parliament of Australia Website

Each week since November, I have stood up in this place, on Ngunnawal land, to convey to this chamber the personal experiences of many Australians, most of them Muslims, who have experienced racism or bigotry. Sadly, Islamophobia is absolutely rife in Australia right now. You need only look at my Facebook page or my Twitter account, or indeed the comment threads under news and opinion articles on the internet; every day, they are chock full of bile and hatred towards our fellow human beings. We cannot ignore the fact that the people who contribute to these threads are influenced by opinion leaders—Senator Williams interjecting—

Well-paid shock jocks in tabloid papers and political leaders—indeed, some of them making interjections to this speech right now—who are trading on people’s fears and insecurities instead of offering real solutions to the problems that we face. And of course, it is not just Muslim Australians who are copping it right now in Australia.

Unfortunately, there are certain people who do not like the idea that there are any restrictions on their ability or their capacity to inflict as much racial hatred and abuse as they choose. I have spoken to Australians who have lived through race-based conflicts and wars in other countries, and they say to me that they are worried—indeed, terrified—that Australia is at risk of going down a very dark path. I hope they are wrong.

Despite a parliamentary inquiry having just heard overwhelming evidence that current protections against racist abuse and hate speech are a necessary bare minimum, the Turnbull government today has said that they should be weakened. So today, on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, I want to share with you some of the experiences that were conveyed to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights during its recent inquiry into protections against hate speech.

One person told me that he could not attend Anzac Day celebrations at school because he was ‘the enemy’. Another person had racist messages permanently scrawled into the wet concrete in front of their house. Another person, a parent, was walking her children to school, and someone driving past yelled out their window, ‘Eff off back to your own country.’ Her kids are 10, six, four and two. She is as Australian as you or I. An Aboriginal person told the hearing that she is in her 40s, and she has been listening to racist comments made by other people all her life, but people have not realised that she is Aboriginal, because she has fair skin, so she has had to put up with it and has not called them out. People are telling us that they are afraid to leave their houses. People are saying that they are being attacked on Melbourne’s trams and trains.

We know that that racist hate speech causes real harm to real people. Racism is absolutely unacceptable in Australia—indeed, it is unacceptable anywhere. It is not who we are.

The reason we call today Harmony Day in this country is that, compared with other parts of the world, we overwhelmingly live here in peace and harmony with one another. We are rightly proud of our multicultural nation. Today Australians everywhere, from all over the world, went to school together; they worked together; they lived together, and they loved each other—just as we do every day. We are the most successful multicultural nation on the planet because that is who we are. It is what we do better than any other nation. It is what we are most proud of. Multiculturalism is at the absolute core of our social harmony, our peace, our prosperity and our very identity. So racism, when it occurs, is not just an attack on the individual; it is an attack on all of us, and it is up to each of us to take a stand to put an end to it.

Let me finish with the words of 27-year-old engineer Nada Kalam, who also happens to be a young Muslim woman. She told the National Press Club last week:

My right to exist is constantly under fire and … under threat. I am a … victim of casual and impersonal racism, on public transport, in the supermarket … I have been chased down the streets … But this isn’t the Australia I have grown up in. It’s not the future that I want.

 Senate Speech Matter of Public Importance Green Member Di Natale

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