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13 March 2024

It is wonderful to be here at this gathering of the Cook Society.

This biannual gathering recognises that countries are shaped by their histories, their values, character and policies.

Here in Australia our country is made up of three great strands.

The first strand spans 65,000 years of Indigenous heritage and I acknowledge here in Melbourne the Boonurrung and Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation, and I pay respect to their elders, past, present and emerging.

The second strand is the British foundation whose origin starts with the arrival of Captain Cook. A strand that has delivered the building blocks of our freedom – constitutional government, the Crown, the rule of law, the separation of powers, the separation of church and state, property rights, and a system of parliamentary government that celebrates the liberty and the equality of all people.

And the third strand is Australia’s multicultural character and outlook.

This strand is more than a universal acceptance of each other’s differences. It also embodies a shared adherence to Australia’s democratic inheritance.

It is an inheritance best described by the Citizenship pledge:

“I pledge my loyalty to Australia and its people,

whose democratic beliefs I share,

whose rights and liberties I respect, and

whose laws I will uphold and obey.”

Some see the strength of countries in resources, military power, and geographic position. There is some truth in those assessments.

But what is a country? Surely, it is the values we share, the stories we retell, and the relationships between all of us. That’s what we mean when we talk about social cohesion: what is shared and how we relate to each other.

We know we live in a world where broad shared narratives are fragmenting.

It is demonstrated by societal changes that have occurred over the last half century.

For good and bad, there was once a sameness about Australian life.

We mostly watched the same TV programs, listened to a radio station or two, held beliefs prescribed by mainstream dominations, and we largely voted for the same binary choice of the two major political parties.

Today much of that has broken down. The rise of cable TV and streaming services, news on demand, the development of the internet and social media echo chambers and the use by advertisers of micro targeting have changed our civic culture.

We are simultaneously witnessing a new belonging and a greater fragmentation – the greater belonging is found in the smaller groups of identity, and the fragmentation is the loss of the broader shared community.

One of the byproducts of this is a new anger and disdain for those who do not share our political, cultural and personal beliefs. More and more people are threatened where they confront ideas that sit counter to the dominant ideas of their tribe or the zeitgeist.

The ability of humans to engage in what is now known as “othering” of groups is as old as humanity itself. Our capacity to inflict cruelties on others and then to call our cruelties righteous is just as old.

In many ways, the greatest defence of humanity from the worst of our humanity has been liberal democratic ideals. They have allowed us to accept differences between people and groups.

But we are discovering today that the loss of those ideals, and the challenging of liberal democratic principles, is resulting in a profound change in the way we are treating each other.

Today, I want to speak about one aspect of this othering that is tearing at the social cohesion of Australia, Britain and many other Western liberal democratic societies at this time, and that is the rise of anti-Semitism.

The Moral Courage of Australians

I want to start my reflections today, not here in Melbourne but in Europe in 1936.

It was there that the Polish-Jewish violinist Bronislaw Huberman persuaded 75 Jewish musicians from major European orchestras to immigrate to Palestine. Those musicians were joined by their families in Tel Aviv.

Huberman saw the horror that was coming in Europe, and just as importantly, he hoped for a future Jewish State with music and culture to shape the soul.

It is music, literature, debate, popular culture and our institutions that shape the broader culture.

Too often, we think it is just politics. It’s not.

The first concert of what became the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra took place on the sand dunes of Tel Aviv on Boxing Day 1936.

On that day, the orchestra was led by the great Maestro Arturo Toscanini.

When asked why such a great man was conducting this fledgling orchestra Toscanini said he was doing it “for humanity”. And so he was.

The Orchestra played in war and peace – and eventually three decades later, in a concert hall in Berlin, not far from where the final solution had been developed. There, the Orchestra played Hatikvah – which means the Hope – it is the Israeli national anthem.

Such is the power of music.

Huberman once said “One has to build a fist against anti-Semitism—a first class orchestra will be this fist.”

The soul matters in the debates that shape our world – because as people we feel as much as we think.

I was reminded of Huberman only last week when I received an email from a constituent who lives on the far side of the world.

Daniel Smith is the most famous Australian musician you have never heard of.

Daniel grew up in my electorate. He attended school at Normanhurst Boys High School, and played the flute in the Hornsby Marching Band.

Now he is a world-renowned Maestro. He is the only orchestral conductor to have been awarded Laureate in four of the world’s most prestigious international conducting competitions.

He has conducted orchestras all through Europe – an embodiment of Australian soft power.

And you might ask why I called a conductor a musician? It is answered by the fact Daniel can play every instrument in the orchestra.

In a few weeks time, Daniel will conduct the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv.

He is the first Australian ever to do so.

Like Toscanini and Zubin Mehta he is also not Jewish.

I am grateful for Daniel’s talent, but more so his courage. He is a wonderful ambassador for Australia and its values.

The British General who became Australia’s Governor General, Field Marshal Lord William Slim once said moral courage is a “rarer thing than physical courage” – because moral courage, in Slim’s words, is about “doing what you think is right without bothering very much what happens to you when you are doing it”.

As Peter Dutton has said this is a time for moral clarity.

And I have seen that clarity in the most unusual places.

I’ve seen it in the quiet courage of an orchestra conductor.

I’ve seen it with Indigenous leaders – leaders such as Sean Gordon, Warren Mundine, Marica Langton, and Nova Peris standing alongside Jewish Australians. Just like the great William Cooper did in this city in 1938 after Kristallnacht.

I saw it during the referendum campaign – when YES and NO campaigners came up to me at pre-poll voting stations and on referendum day to let me know they stood with Jewish Australians in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 7 October.

I saw it through the warmth of church congregations – St Stephen’s in my own electorate dropped in flowers to my office in the days after those attacks.

I also saw this Christian courage and generosity when a church congregation from Sydney’s inner city organised a rally of 10,000 people to declare “never again”.

And I saw it when a High Court Judge, Justice Jagot delivered a lecture on anti-Semitism on 5 October.

Note the date, two days before the 7 October terrorist attacks. Justice Jagot is not Jewish, but she was concerned enough about what she was seeing on our campuses and in other places to call it out. I honour her strength.

And I saw it in the parliament when all parties – with the exception of the Greens and some of the Teals – stood together on motions condemning Hamas and standing with the right of the people of Israel to live in safety.

I wanted to mention all of these actions, because all too often our national dialogue seems to be dominated by the disrupters who know how to shock rather than the Australians who diligently and faithfully knit together our communities and national life every day.

Yes, we must confront and call out anti-Semitism wherever we see it, but we must equally be mindful of not giving a megaphone to a squeaky wheel.

These are trying times, but I believe these times must be more defined by the shining light of Daniel Smith, Sean Gordon, Mark Leach and Freya Leach, Marcia Langton and so many more, than the few who seek the road of anger, base politics and division.

Our Shared Democratic Ethos

The premise of a democracy is the understanding that we will not always agree on the issues and priorities of our nation, state or indeed local communities.

But our democracy, like any other, does rely on a commitment to a shared set of ideals.

What the public doesn’t see very much, alongside the argy-bargy of question time and the theater of the parliamentary chamber, is the camaraderie of members of parliament who recognise that, while we see the world a little differently to each other, we express those differences through our participation in our democratic institutions. Institutions that are built on some degree of civility and our common life as Australians.

That camaraderie was felt last week when a former member lost a son in the service of Australia. My thoughts are with the Fitzgibbon family and I honour the service of Lance Corporal Jack Fitzgibbon. May his memory be a blessing.

I’ve said many times that while we teach our children about the architecture of our civic life – the parliament, the courts, the Crown, and the free-press, we don’t teach the ethos that lies behind them – and that is to our cost.

A democratic ethos accepts there will always be differences – and also that we are shared inheritors of this land and its bounty.

A lesson from nature is that active, moving waters that brush against rocks and formations are cleaner and fresher than stagnant waters that do not move. So it is with the debate that occurs in free countries.

I am reminded of the story of the night Ben Chifley died.

He and Sir Robert Menzies had a rivalry for the ages.

…the train driver and the country’s youngest King’s Counsel,

…the sons of Bathurst and Japaarit,

…the Catholic and the Presbyterian – during a time when that sectarian divides meant that those differences seemingly mattered, and

…the Labor leader who wanted to nationalise the banks and the Liberal Party founder who believed in liberal ideals.

And yet on that fateful night, when Menzies heard of the death of his opponent, he wept.

And he said: “although we were political opponents, he was a great friend of mine and yours, and a fine Australian….(and) sometimes find we have a warmest friendship among people whose politics are not our own.”

Recently in his valedictory, Scott Morrison reminded us of the words of the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks who wrote that the great tragedies of the 20th century came when politics was turned into a religion and when the nation itself was made an absolute and turned into a god.

When people believe that their politics or their worldview make them more moral or virtuous than their opponents, that belief utterly debases them – because it results in them displaying cruelties and harms that they might not have otherwise done.

And they do so because such people believe they are morally superior to everyone else.

The Two Flawed Ideas of the Corbynite Left

The poisoned fruit that the Greens are partaking in is the coupling of two flawed ideas – that must be unpacked if they are to be understood.

The first is the modern idea of privilege and the belief that certain races embody privilege.

Such a belief denies individual circumstance, it denies human suffering and the understanding that most of us have to struggle to find our place in the world.

The idea of racial privilege robs people of their God-given individuality and agency.

It attributes to Jews a set of common negative characteristics: manipulative, greedy, controlling, privileged and a dozen other frames you can easily find by thumbing through the pages of Mein Kampf.

The idea of Jewish privilege has become the Protocols of the Elders of Zion for the 21st century. Its central premise is that if you want to tackle ‘white privilege’ you must start with ‘Jewish privilege’.

It is a thinking that is found on university campuses across Australia – and in classrooms where the world is divided into two groups: the oppressors and the oppressed.

It is why ground zero for anti-Semitism in Australia is our universities. It is why I have called for an Independent Judicial Inquiry – effectively a Royal Commission, into anti-Semitism on our campuses.

The American poet Peter Viereck famously said during the historic 1960 US presidential campaign, “anti-Catholicism is the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals”. Sadly the experience on campus demonstrates that anti-Semitism is still the anti-Semitism of the intellectuals.

It is worth unpacking this idea of privilege, particularly as it relates to Jewish people.

Think about it: The very people who were refugees throughout the entire world just two generations ago now somehow embody privilege?

The Jewish community in Australia is small – it is but 100,000 people consisting of 0.4% of the Australian population.

By contrast, there are 1.4 million Chinese Australians, 800,000 Indian Australians, and 800,000 Muslim Australians.

What we are witnessing is the smaller the group, the bigger the lie – because so few Australians actually know a Jewish person.

But the belief of privilege persists. If you judge the actions of the various state police forces, the Australian Human Rights Commission, and most of the equality, diversity and human rights apparatus that exists in this country, Jews – even when their physical security is threatened – are not worthy of any form of protection.

What we have discovered during these past terrible months is that issues about equality, diversity and racism are about some and not all.

Sadly, diversity, equality and inclusion, is about the advancement of subgroups attached to political causes rather than the advancement of a society where all should flourish.

By accepting that racism is subjective, it means that opposition to racism is not treated as a truth. Instead, it is just a tactic for political advancement, rather than a belief that frees all.

I believe racial and religious equality is a truth. It has been an Australian truth – and it should be a universal truth. That all men and women are made in the image of the divine and they derive their human dignity from that very fact.

The second poisoned chord is the belief that Jewish Australians must be held to account for the actions of the State of Israel.

Justice Jagot nailed it when she said in her October 5 lecture that anti-Semitism “involves the fallacy that Jews are an indivisible and a non-individualised whole that can be somehow equated with and held collectively responsible for every action of Israel”.

It’s why for two decades the Greens have sought the boycott of businesses owned by Jewish people.

It’s why the Greens, invoking the imagery of Goebbels and speak of “Jewish tentacles” and demand Jews be excluded from public life.  It is worth noting that when the NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong, who happens to be the Shadow Minister for Anti-Racism – you can’t make that up can you, an anti-Racism minister propagating racism. Worse still, not a single one of her Green colleagues condemned the words. Not one.

The extremist Greens and the radical left impose a false standard on Jewish Australians they apply to no one else.

The false standard was best expressed by David Leser, a Fairfax columnist who recently wrote about “the failure of so many Jewish people to condemn an Israeli government”.

I have googled but not found any Leser articles questioning the local Chinese community’s views about the fate of the Uyghurs, or the local Russian community about the actions of Putin in Ukraine, or the Persian community and the suppression of Iranian women by the Iranian Regime. 

Here’s the thing – I know these Australian communities – be they Jewish, Persian, Chinese or indeed Muslim, and they enjoy their freedom by having a range of views.

In the same way that Jewish Australians have their own range of views too.

But no Jew, here or anywhere else in the world, should be required to “refute their Jewishness” as a means of being left alone by an online or political mob.

I will not refute my Jewishness. I will not do it for applause, or to acquiesce to the demands of others.

Instead, we all must continue to unmask the poisoned strands of the extremist-left that are driving anti-Semitic hatred – be they the ideology of racial privilege or the belief that Jewish Australians must be held to account for the actions of the State of Israel.

It is also worth noting from history that the fires of anti-Semitism rage when the arguments of the intellectuals and the elites merge with the frustrations of economic dislocation. That is the moment when the extreme left and extreme right find common cause.

The kindling is in place.

We must call out anti-Semitism where we see it, and we must demand more from the institutions, agencies and corporate apparatus that are charged with stamping out racism and prejudice.

The Australian Human Rights Commission

The most complete aberration of duty in this regard has been the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Though it does some good work in settling private disputes, they have vacated the field when it comes to the anti-Semitic attacks on Australians.

It’s worth making a few observations about the Australian Human Rights Commission.

It is a big institution with about 200 staff, and is projected to cost taxpayers $43 million this year.

According to their last annual report in 2022-23, their achievements included 29 major reports, publications and resources; 28 projects attracting strategic partnerships; 9 major events; 237 speeches and presentations; 87 web news items; 235 media interviews and 16 opinion pieces.

Their annual report also tells you about their recycling activities in their workplaces and the emissions from their cars and business class travel.

Inspiring stuff. Everything is documented. Sir Humphrey would be proud.

Do you know how many speeches, op-eds, publications, strategic partnerships, media interviews and opinion pieces have been written or given by the AHRC specifically condemning anti-Semitism since October 7?

It’s ZERO!

At least, we know there have also been zero emissions resulting from their lack of action!

But that is not the complete story. In the days after the Opera House riot which celebrated the Hamas terrorist attacks and tarnished Australia’s reputation around the world as a bastion of multiculturalism and tolerance, the President of the AHRC did put out one statement.

It was a statement on Friday 13 October which specifically expressed her concerns that the rights of Australians to protest might be curtailed.

Six days after the Hamas attacks, and there was no statement on the evil actions of Hamas.

Nor was there any reference to the 200 plus men, women and children held hostage.

Nor was there any specific warning about anti-Semitic hatred.

Instead, there was a statement of bland generalites and a warning that we must protect the rights of demonstrators.

Last week, we saw another media release from the Commission. It did make an oblique reference to “anti-Semitism” but it was in a statement condemning a possible Israeli ground assault on Rafah. That release contained no mention of the word “hostages” or indeed the word “Hamas”.

I acknowledge, as my colleague Senator Paul Scarr did in Estimates hearings, that the Commission President gave a fine speech on the evils of anti-Semitism six years ago and in the past she has spoken out on anti-Semitism. But frankly, the President hasn’t spoken when it’s mattered, and that’s been in recent months.

Since the pogrom on October 7 and the resultant 738% increase in antisemitic attacks on Jewish Australians detailed in a report by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Human Rights Commission has become frozen by political paralysis that has made the Commission fearful of acknowledging and engaging with the anti-Semitism that Jewish Australians are facing.

The AHRC has gone AWOL.

Its approach is further typified by the Commission’s response to an anonymous letter from AHRC staff condemning the Commission for not speaking out forcefully in support of the Hamas attacks.

During Senate Estimates, the President of the AHRC, Professor Croucher, said the concerns of the staff expressed in the anonymous letter were “a paramount concern”.

No Professor, the paramount concern should be racism and Jew-hatred and prejudice faced by Australians, not the preciousness of staff.

And for the AHRC staff concerned about Australia’s foreign policy, my advice is take it up with the elected government – and when you do, have the courage to put your name to it. Anonymous letters are not worth anyone’s time or energy.

Friends, my record of supporting institutions and laws that provide protection on the basis of race is clear.

At times, in my career, I have paid a price for those beliefs.

Earlier in my career I fought to maintain s.18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. And you all know where I stood on the Voice.

But I want to be clear, if an institution charged with protecting Australians from racism and hate is not fulfilling its mandate, then Australians should question why it exists in the first place and whether it is doing the job it should be doing as it is currently constituted.

To that end, we should put the AHRC on notice. I believe Australians will not tolerate the continued funding of government agencies and programs charged with building social cohesion, turning a blind eye to racism or prejudice.

The dangers of false equivalence

One of the great failings of this government when it comes to anti-Semitism and what we have witnessed over the past year has been its unwillingness to engage singularly with anti-Semitism.

Successive governments have had to deal with specific issues directly relating to the safety of particular communities.

In 2019, we witnessed the terrible Christchurch massacre.

A vile attack on a Muslim place of worship orchestrated by an Australian.

The day after the attack, I visited the mosque in my electorate to express my solidarity with the Muslim community and I lobbied Prime Minister Morrison for funding for increased security for Muslim places of worship.

When Islamophobia has been the issue I have stood with Muslim Australians. I have done it before and I will do it again.

To Scott Morrison’s credit, he announced an immediate $55 million grants program to fund security upgrades for religious communities.

It was a direct response to Islamophobia.

And it was a direct acknowledgement that we defend all Australians.

It was simply the right thing to do to defend our fellow Australians who happened to be Muslim.

If any religious or racial group needs support for increased security I will back it in – 100%.

But we have seen since 7 October, the government projecting a false equivalence whenever it talks about the attacks on Jewish people.

The government has stopped being unequivocal about anti-Semitism – always having to add the word Islamophobia as if they are embarrassed about defending Jewish Australians, or as if there is an invisible ledger needing to be balanced.

Instead of moral clarity, we are getting perverse outcomes.

Last year, after the Hamas attack, the government announced $50 million in funding – with half going to Jewish groups and half to Palestinian and Muslim groups.

As I said, I have no opposition to money spent on the security for any group – or any funding to support mental health initiatives. As an Australian I support that.

We know that much of $25 million given to Jewish groups is being spent on security upgrades. I welcome that.

And indeed I would welcome any such security initiatives for Palestinian and Muslim communities.

However, during recent senate estimate hearings we found that the funding of Muslim and Palestinian groups is not for security, but for publicly funded activism for “fighting Islamophobia”.

Let’s look at the recorded facts – and particularly as they relate to Victoria.

In the last three months of 2023, Victorian Police registered 145 prejudice-based crimes.

102 of those complaints, or 70 per cent, were related to instances of anti-Semitism.

As well there were 12 reported crimes of Islamophobic – or 8% of all prejudice-based crimes.

I am against Islamophobia. Wherever it is found, I want it stamped out.

But the evidence is that a tide of anti-Semitism has been unleashed on Jewish Australians since 7 October – and that is where the government’s overwhelming focus must be.

Instead, the government is engaged in a narrative that is a false equivalence. In so doing, it is downplaying the challenges of anti-Semitism.

I am concerned about what might happen with the $50 million announced last year.

My concern is that in its desperation to be seen to be even handed, the government is forsaking due process. If misdirected, or mismanaged, this funding for activism could further inflame the anti-Semitic fervor that is found in too many places in our country.

Likewise, the government must be thorough in its processing of refugees from the region.

Since the Hamas terrorist attacks on October 7 we have seen terrible human suffering. In so many ways, the Palestinian people are the victims of the brutality of Hamas.

We know Hamas murders their Palestinian political opponents at home and propagates violence abroad.

To Hamas, the people of Gaza are no more than human shields for their terrible work.

As Senator James Paterson has repeatedly pointed out, Hamas are now trying to escape the net by seeking to blend in with a tide of refugees.

Australia can’t get this wrong. I would urge incredible caution in making sure we know who enters this country and that this does not include people who are involved with Hamas.


Friends, it was Ronald Reagan who reminded us that freedom is but one generation away from extinction.

We are being called during this time to defend freedom again.

Those who wring their hands will be left behind by history.

This is a time to stand against racism, and a 21st century Nazism that seeks to replicate the hatreds and prejudices of time’s past.

History shows us that in Jonathan Sacks words “the hatred that starts with Jews never ends with Jews.” One by one it picks off every other group of difference – people of faith, political enemies, the weak, the isolated, and the minorities.

In Australia we celebrate a country that is blind to race, creed, gender, sexuality and any other attribute, but these times require a deep adherence to democratic ideals.

Ideals that honour the equality of men and women.

Ideals that accept the rights of LGBTI Australians to live free of discrimination.

Ideals that celebrate the diversity of beliefs – be they religious or otherwise – and the right of all to follow those beliefs.

Ideals that protect the rights of all citizens to live free of hate-speech, harassment, discrimination and boycotts.

Ideals that reject the hatreds of the political extremists and the nefarious external actors and algorithms who seek to turn us against ourselves.

We are Australians. We are shared inheritors of this great land – and we must reject hatreds and prejudices polluting this great land – by standing together.

This is a time for choosing, a time of moral clarity, and it is a moment that I believe Australia and Australians will rise to.

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