Australia is a wonderful country.
A country with an Indigenous heritage – spanning 65,000 of history. And here in Melbourne I acknowledge the Boonurrung and Wurundjeri peoples of the Kulin Nation, and I pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
A country with a British foundation – deeply influenced by the enlightenment providing us with constitutional government, the rule of law, the separation of powers, the separation of church and state, property rights, and a system of parliamentary government that celebrates liberty and the equality of all people.
And we are a people with a great multicultural character and destiny that draws people from around the world.
It is wonderful to be here at the Robert Menzies Institute and I want to acknowledge and congratulate your wonderful Executive Director Georgina Downer on all her work.
As a former Executive Director of your sister organisation, the Menzies Research Centre, I have pondered the remarkable life of Menzies.
His enormous intellect.
His deep understanding of the Australian people.
His ability to face adversity.
His capacity to change and come back after setbacks.
And of course, his political successes that will stand for all time.
I came to the conclusion that whilst times change and the particularity of Menzies and his time will never be repeated, we can nevertheless still draw strength from Menzies and his ethos.
Policies changes, strategic outlooks evolve, the economy changes with the time, but our humanity doesn’t.
We must hold on and advocate for truths, rather than let them slip into disrepair.
The late Martin Luther King had a beautiful turn of phrase. It was: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”.
It’s a beautiful turn of phrase. It really is. It invites us to believe that though change is slow, once human progress and liberty is achieved, it then cannot change.
As a hope, I’d like to think it’s true. But as a reality, I know it’s not.
It’s true there has been remarkable progress in the way we see people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, the way we see women and the way we see LGBTI Australians. More Australians are free to make a contribution to the future of this country than ever before.
It is profoundly different than ten, twenty and fifty years ago. That’s a good thing.
But there are new threats to our freedoms. Threats that have multiplied over the past decade.
New technology has given us unlimited information at our fingertips. Yet those same tools are now harnessed by criminals and bad faith actors turning this advancement into a quagmire of human mistrust and a new tower of babel.
It was Ronald Reagan who understood that the success of free peoples is not an inevitability.
As he said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like… where men were free.”
This is such a time for free peoples.
To again stand for truths.
And to rebuild our shared democratic ethos.
Peter Dutton said on Wednesday this is a time for “moral courage and moral clarity”. He is right.
However, the story of humanity is also one where clarity emerges when much is at risk.
It’s why in the midst of the Second World War, President Roosevelt spoke of the four freedoms.
Menzies took those four freedoms and claimed them for our party.
Freedom of speech. Freedom of worship. Freedom from want. Freedom from fear.
Freedom of speech – because it is the proof of our God-given autonomy and our human dignity.
Freedom of worship – because it asserts loyalties to belief, community, and action.
Freedom from want – because poverty is its prison.
And freedom from fear – because autocrats, dictators and bullies will seek to coerce and control through intimidation.
Today, I want to speak about two of these freedoms. Freedom of worship and freedom from fear.
And I do so in the context of the disturbing rise of anti-Semitism in our country.
The Jewish Community.
I love our country. I am a proud Australian.
And I am a proud Jewish Australian.
I love my country.
I love my local community.
And I love the faith community which has contributed so much to my life and to the values which I try to bring to my contribution to Australian public life.
This is the story of Jewish Australians.
We are a beautiful and small community.
About 100,000 people in a country of 26 million.
About 0.4 per cent of the population.
Australia has always allowed Jewish people to be free not just to worship but to be.
Australia is one of the few nations on earth that has never discriminated against Jewish people. I honour that history today.
And that generosity has been returned a hundred fold, with a community that Menzies once said was not only “in Australia but of Australia”.
Jewish Australians participate and give back.
We volunteer and serve.
Go to any Commonwealth War Cemetery and you will inevitably find a Star of David amongst the Christian crosses.
We give to this country and have always been part of the mainstream.
Nothing in this country has been off-limits to Jewish Australians.
Two Jewish Australians have been our head of state.
Jewish Australians have headed the armed forces, served as Chief Justice, Federal Treasurer, Health Minister, Attorney-General, and served as I do in the Federal Parliament.
The remarkable thing – which is so Australian – is that it has all been so unremarkable and indeed, unremarked.
That is the triumph of Australia in that it has never mattered.
We judge people on the job they do and not the book on which they might take an oath.
For Jewish people, Australia has always been a safe and welcoming land with a good-hearted people.
Today, I want to speak to those good-hearted people about anti-Semitism and our national character.
The vast middle of Australia who have been horrified at what they saw at the Sydney Opera House and from the terrible events from Coogee to Caulfield.
The Australian Character
I believe it is one of Australia’s crowning achievements that we live relatively free from sectarian, religious and ethnic conflict.
One of the people who influenced that culture was Sir Robert Menzies.
He abhorred and fought against sectarianism at a time in our history when it was hard to do so. Indeed, it is the thing that most marks him out as a liberal.
Our longest serving prime minister and the founder of the Liberal Party believed in – to use his words – “freedom for all, Catholic and Protestant, Jew and Gentile, and that to deny it was to go back to the dark ages of man”.
There was a moment when Sir Robert was in state parliament, when he was criticised, including by members of his own family for attending the opening of a Catholic School. He said to his critics:
“..you are overlooking one thing. I am the Member for East Yarra – Presbyterians, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Brahmins for all I know. Certainly a few Jews in this electorate. I think you have forgotten I am the Member for the lot – and consequently any of them who are of repute and respectable who want me to do something, I will do if I can”.
It’s the approach I’ve taken as Member for Berowra.
I think I visit more Christian schools and churches than most Christians, and I value my Hindu and Bahai friends, and after times like the Christchurch massacre, I reached out and visited the local Muslim community who were feeling incredibly vulnerable at their Mosque.
Because I believe that an attack on the freedom and safety of one is an attack on all who share our freedom.
That’s not to pat myself on the back, because that’s the Australian way.
Menzies, invoking the metaphor of St Paul, said of our country that we are members of one another.
We share the stories and memories of this land – the art, music, humour, television and sport – from cricket to the Matildas.
At the foundation of our country is an ethos.
Of responsibility, generosity, and acceptance.
Of hard work, and laughter too.
We aren’t a people of airs and graces, because we see the humanity of each other.
I pay tribute to the Christian influence on our culture.
At the time of Federation, Australia was overwhelmingly Christian. Almost everyone was a Christian adherent. Yet, we chose to include in the Constitution a protection against the establishment of a national religion or religious tests for public office.
Menzies, who we honour today at this conference, reflected a time when the values of faith strengthened and built this country from the family up.
To quote the wonderful David Furst-Roberts, Menzies’ faith drew from the well of “decency and moral earnestness, independence and a sense of duty to improve society”.
That faith expressed itself not through proselytising to others, but through its wisdom: to do unto others as they would do unto you, to love your neighbour as yourself. And to engage with the great Judeo-Christian question, which is a universal question, ‘who is my neighbour?’
This is the great Christian legacy that we all benefit from – no matter our faith or lack of faith.
So I want to speak about the emergence of anti-Semitism which is an affront to our great national character.
Anti-Semitism is not a new thing. It is a hatred that has endured throughout human history.
It robs Jewish people of their God-given individuality.
It attributes to Jews a set of common negative characteristics: a selfish, greedy, controlling, privileged people that deserves to be attacked.
This old hatred morphs with every generation.
As you all know, the last six weeks have been a trying time for Jewish people around the world with the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel.
It was an event that drew out from our DNA the trauma and memory of thousands of years.
And we saw things in our country that I had never thought we would see – with large anti-Semitic and violent protests here in Australia.
What we have witnessed on the streets of Sydney and Melbourne has been shocking, but in some ways, not surprising.
The Terror Attacks of 7 October were the match that lit kindling already in place.
There has been a rise in anti-Semitism in Australia over a number of years. So much so that I introduced a private members bill banning Nazi symbols and salutes earlier in the year. The Government is currently finalising legislation.
Anti-Semitism has been fed by the conspiracy theorists of the far-right, and the extremist Greens on the far-left.
The quiet rise of anti-Semitism prompted High Court Justice Jagot to address the topic in her Sir Zelman Cowen Lecture on 5 October.
Note the date of that lecture, two days before the terrorist attacks.
Reminding us that anti-Semitism is not only a threat to Jewish people, it is a symptom of an underlying loss of confidence in liberal, democratic ideals and practices.
Quoting the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, Ahmed Shaheed, Justice Jagot reminds us that anti-Semitism is “the canary in the coalmine of global hatred”.
As I said, the kindling was there.
It has been quietly growing over recent years.
The petri dish of this cancer is the campuses of our country.
In August this year, the Australian Jewish University Experience Survey was released. It was undertaken by the Social Research Centre on behalf of the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Australasian Union of Jewish Students.
The survey found 64% of Jewish university students in Australia had experienced anti-Semitism at university – and 88% of these had experienced anti-Semitism on campus over the preceding 12 months.
57% of Jewish students had hidden the fact they were Jewish at university.
And 19% had at some point stayed away from campus because of anti-Semitism.
When anti-Semitism occurred, 85% of students did not make a complaint. Those that did complain, 61% were dissatisfied with the outcome.
Why is this?
Because anti-Semitism is a by-product of a flawed worldview being taught on our campuses. I call the anti-Semitism of the campuses, the anti-Semitism of the far Left.
It’s different from the anti-Semitism of the far right.
The anti-Semitism of the far right lives within the well of conspiracy theorists, anti-Vaxxers and the isolated.
The anti-Semitism of the Left grows on our campuses and is festered in classroom and discussion groups.
It takes the modern lens of the Left – seeing the world through the lens of oppressed and oppressors.
That justice in the world is denied through inherited privilege.
And that privilege must be struck down.
Their arguments go as follows – and I have taken this from a left-wing piece that is online.
“If there are a thousand people…
…10 of them would be in the top one per cent.
…20 of them would be Jewish
…9 of them would be Jewish and in the top one per cent.”
Then the clincher – that brings together the entirely of modern left teaching “ending white privilege starts with ending Jewish privilege”.
Little wonder that we have seen a massive overlap from those who were part of the BLM in the United States and in Australia, and those now undertaking anti-Semitic protests.
Let me be very clear. I support the right of any group to make peaceful protests.
I particularly support the right to protest of the people I disagree with – because that’s what freedom is. The right of all to speak up.
But mostly, we haven’t witnessed peaceful protests.
At the step of the Sydney Opera House, crowds chanted “Gas the Jews. Kill the Jews.”
We witnessed the appalling events in Caulfield, targeting a synagogue as Jewish Australians were trying to observe Shabbat.
We’ve witnessed convoys targeting suburbs and streets with significant Jewish populations at night.
And graffiti targeting Jewish businesses and homes.
These anti-Semitic attacks conflate a person’s Jewish faith and identity with a disagreement with the policies of the government of Israel.
And as Justice Jagot reminded us in her 5 October lecture, anti-Semitism “involves the fallacy that Jews are an indivisible and non-individualised whole that can be somehow equated with and held collectively responsible for every action of Israel”.
In other words, the anti-Semitism directed at individual Australians is disguised by arguments about Israel and Gaza.
As Georgina Downer put it so eloquently in her op-ed earlier this week, “dressing anti-Semitism up as anti-Zionism doesn’t vilify Jewish people any less”.
That is the challenge for the far-Left. It is their almost semi-religious ideology with its focus on our attributes – be they gender, race, religion, sexuality.
All of which denies us our individuality, our autonomy and our God-given gifts.
It takes us back to ancient times where punishments were dispensed to sons and daughters for the sins of parents.
The world cannot be only seen through the lens of oppressors and oppression, or justice and injustice. It must be seen through the lens of freedom and choice, and individualism and autonomy, and through a lens that respects our differences.
The Way Ahead
There are many ways we can tackle this moment.
At the personal, community and national level there are many things we can do.
But today, I want to focus on one area and that is our universities.
We have to engage in what is taught – and the outcomes that follow, and we have to engage in the day-to-day policies that are making Australian universities anti-Semitic hotspots.
Along with my friends the Labor Member for Macnamara, Josh Burns and the Independent Member for Wentworth, Allegra Spender, I co-chair the Parliamentary Friends of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).
Our work has been to give practical effect to Holocaust remembrance through education and policy change.
Long before the terror attacks of 7 October, the three co-chairs wrote to universities across Australia calling on them to adopt the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism.
That definition spells what anti-Semitism is.
It includes things such as
- Calling for, aiding, or justifying the killing or harming of Jews in the name of a radical ideology or an extremist view of religion.
- Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.
- Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.
- Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
Of Australia’s nearly 40 public universities only Monash, Melbourne, Macquarie, Wollongong and the University of the Sunshine Coast has fully signed up.
Mostly, we have been met with silence and excuses.
Despite the evidence, university Vice Chancellors are all saying “nothing to see here”. Well, there is.
And I repeat my call to all the campuses of Australian universities to adopt the IHRA international definition of anti-Semitism.
Universities are multi-billion taxpayer funded businesses and Australian students deserve to attend universities which are free of political, racial and ethnic discrimination.
The lack of moral clarity on so many of our campuses is appalling.
I think we have got to a point where we need a formal independent inquiry into anti-Semitism on our campuses, with the terms of reference and a leader to undertake the inquiry to be worked out by government after consultation with the Jewish community.
Separately, as Liberals we need to find ways of engaging again on the intellectual debates shaping our campuses and call on universities to remember and celebrate the Western tradition which has given us an inspiring story of progress and achievement.
We see bright sparks with the Ramsay Centre’s work on the University of Wollongong, Queensland and ACU, as well as the emergence of colleges such as Campion.
However, we need to identify ways of accelerating a culture that celebrates democracy, rather than seeks to tear down our liberal democratic traditions.
The Greens and anti-Semitism
We must tackle the hotbeds of anti-Semitism.
And that includes calling out those who are whipping it up.
It doesn’t appear to be an accident that the epicenters of anti-Semitic rhetoric and action appears to be in areas where there is political jostling between Labor and the Greens. The inner-suburbs of our major cities.
We have seen from October 7 that the Greens are treating the horrors of the war on Israel as an opportunity to whip-up anti-Semitic hate.
The Greens behaviour online and in parliament since 7 October on these matters has been nothing less than disgraceful.
In doing so, they join a long list of opportunists who have targeted Jewish people since time began.
As a Jewish Australian, I have always had an aversion to race based politics.
It’s why I have always preferenced One Nation last.
But frankly, it’s clear to me that the Greens are now worse than One Nation.
Yes, One Nation is full of kooks and conspiracy theory nutjobs, but anti-Semitism is now a full-blown feature of the extremists-Greens political ideology.
It represents a danger to Jewish Australians and all Australians who value freedom.
It’s why I believe that from here on, the major parties of Australia must preference the Greens last.
I am calling on the Liberal Party, the National Party and the Labor Party to put the Greens last in every seat at the next election.
Thank you for allowing me this privilege to speak today.
We live in a wonderful country.
Free, open, and democratic.
We are a beacon of freedom throughout the world.
A truly successful, multi-faith and multicultural people.
It is beholden on all of us, to ensure that bright light continues to shine way into the future.
When we do so we are well and truly honouring the memory of Sir Robert Menzies.