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Response to Julia Irwin in the Parliament today

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (4.49 pm)

—I wish to place on record my concern over the comments made by the member for Fowler in this place on 13 September and 8 September this year and 2 December last year. It follows on from comments made earlier in this adjournment debate by the member for Chifley and from a question asked by the member for Casey to the Attorney- General in question time today.

As the member for Stirling, I represent in this place a large Jewish community, a community that makes a large contribution to my electorate and to Western Australia as a whole. Indeed, I think the contribution that the community makes is out of proportion to the size of that community, which is not numerically large. I was reminded just this week that they can feel uniquely vulnerable, and as a community they have legitimate security needs. Also—and I think quite rightly—they are sensitive to any reference to the Holocaust. To come into this chamber and use terms like ‘concentration camp’, ‘ghetto’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ against Israel is enormously insensitive. No matter what your views on the conflict in the Middle East—and I am not disputing the right of the member for Fowler to hold a different view to mine on the conflict there—it is completely inappropriate for her to come into this chamber and to compare the mass extermination of six million people in concentration camps to events that are occurring in the Middle East at the present time.

That is why using the language of the Holocaust against Israel causes such hurt to members of the Jewish community in Australia, some of whom actually survived the events she is now using to push a case about Middle Eastern politics. The member for Fowler needs to recognise these concerns in any future comments on this issue and she must apologise for going down this path in the first place.

I well remember her earlier comments in December last year in this place eulogising Yassar Arafat— something I believe was very ill-advised given his well-known record as someone who used violence to achieve his political ends. For the parliament of a country that is one of the world’s oldest democracies to be used to eulogise as a hero someone who ruled as dictator and used violence to achieve his goals, sometimes against his own people, is a very sad occurrence in the history of this place.

I know that the member for Fowler has a particular view about Middle Eastern politics. As I said before, although I do not share this view I respect her right to hold it. But this tolerance does not extend to using this parliament to eulogise people of violence or to deeply offend Australian Jewry by using the language of the Holocaust in a wholly inappropriate way.

While I am addressing this issue, I want to highlight some other comments made by the member for Fowler on 8 September in relation to Islamic fundamentalism.In my electorate of Stirling there is a large Muslim community. I have spent quite a bit of time at the two mosques in my electorate, and I have taken the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and the Attorney-General to meet with community leaders at different times. They have always been very clear with me that they reject Islamic extremism and the terrorism that emanates from that ideology. Sadly, though, the member for Fowler rejects this link and has used the parliament to outline her view that these terrorists are killing Westerners because of Western actions in the Muslim world. Last week she said:

"terrorists do not hate us for what we are; they hate us for what we are doing in their home countries. When we can appreciate that, we will be a lot closer to solving problems in Iraq and reducing the risk of terrorist attacks against Australians. But this cowardly government wants to hide behind another lie—the lie that Islamic fundamentalism is the root of terrorism."

This goes well beyond the ALP’s position on this issue, and I believe that this thinking skates very close to justifying the terrorists’ repulsive actions. It also reflects terrorist propaganda. Islamic fundamentalists are killing Westerners because of who we are, not for any other reason. They despise us for our freedoms, and they despise us for our democracy. The Labor Party as a whole need to face up to this issue. Will they tolerate people within their ranks who believe that somehow Western nations have brought this savage terrorism upon themselves, or will the opposition Leader show some ticker and repudiate— (Time expired)

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