The dignity of difference

March 18, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Prime Minister Scott Morrison has told an Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce event that “the Jewish people know what it’s like to be the victim of hate-speech, to be politically objectified”.

PM Scott Morrison at the AICC event

The prime minister had prepared to address the audience of 200 at Melbourne’s Southbank on Australia’s fair go economy but the tragic massacre of 50 Muslims at prayer in Christchurch on Friday changed his focus to race hatred and announced a $55million in community safety grants with the bulk going to places of religious assembly including day schools and synagogues.

Extracts from his speech:

“I know the people in this room, and across Australia, have been horrified, devastated and ashamed about what happened in Christchurch, the attack on innocence in a place of worship – a terrorist atrocity committed by an Australian.

The Australian Muslim community has offered counsellors and is providing support to the New Zealand Muslim community – along with, I’m sure support from Muslims from countries around the world.

In Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, there have been prayers for our Muslim brothers and sisters, bound by our Abrahamic faiths.

And thousands of Australians, of other faiths or no faith, have reached across ‘the ditch’ with love, support and prayers.

Rosa Lew, Scott Morrison, Kate Ashmor and Solly Lew

Naturally, at a government level, we are providing New Zealand with every assistance they require and standing up every necessary capability here in Australia to keep our own people safe.

Rightly, this is a time for grief and it is a time for reflection.

In time, we will have a better idea of how this all happened.

How did this terrorist stay in the shadows, hiding among us in plain sight?

Where and how did his vile radicalisation take place? During the last three years, the terrorist spent just 45 days in Australia, travelling extensively overseas.

What laws need to change, what additional actions and precautions need to be taken?

Answers to those questions will come with time, and must.

Such questions are practical and necessary and can be posed and considered without the need for defensiveness or blame.

About a month ago, I spoke at the National Press Club about keeping Australians safe. I spoke about what we are doing in terms of keeping Australians secure: more resources for police and intelligence services; more powers; the 12 tranches of anti-terrorism legislation; our strong border protection policies and our efforts tackling illegal narcotics like ICE; and funding extensive anti-domestic violence programs.

As part of our efforts keeping Australian safe, we have a Safer Communities fund that has provided since 2016 $70 million in local community safety grants for schools, pre-schools, community organisations and local councils.

For some months now we have been working to expand this programme.

Today, I am announcing an acceleration and extension of that program, to provide $55 million in community safety grants – and for priority to be given to religious schools, places of religious worship and religious assembly.

The grants from $50,000 to $1.5 million will provide for safety enhancements such as CCTV cameras, lighting, fencing, bollards, alarms, security systems and public address systems.

When I say I believe in religious freedom – and I am one of its staunchest defenders in Parliament – I know it starts with the right to worship and meet safely without fear. This must be the first freedom we secure, to practice their faith in safety, others should follow.

Religious freedom is not just an inalienable right as free citizens. It is important to the very cohesion of our society. It is for many Australians impossible to separate their faith from their culture.

Now this announcement, along with everything else we have announced over recent years is ‘the how’ of keeping people safe – and we’ll keep investing and working on ‘the how’, because the greatest responsibility of any government is to keep Australians safe.

If we allow a culture of ‘us and them’, of tribalism, to take hold; if we surrender an individual to be defined not by their own unique worth and contribution but by the tribe they are assigned to, if we yield to the compulsion to pick sides rather than happy coexistence, we will lose what makes diversity work in Australia.

As debate becomes more fierce, the retreat to tribalism is increasingly taking over, and for some, extremism takes hold.

Reading only news that we agree with, interacting with people only we agree with, and having less understanding and grace towards others that we do not even know, making the worst possible assumptions about them and their motives, simply because we disagree with them.

This is true of the left and the right. And even more so from those shouting from the fringes to a mainstream of quiet Australians that just want to get on with their lives.

Hate, blame and contempt are the staples of tribalism, it is consuming modern debate, egged on by an appetite for conflict as entertainment, not so different from the primitive appetites of the colosseum days, with a similar corrosive impact on the fabric of our society.

Contempt, is defined by the philosophers as “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another”.

The worthlessness of another! That is where mindless tribalism takes us.

It ends in the worst of places. Last week it ended the lives of 50 fellow human beings, including children praying in Christchurch.

I agree with the American author, Arthur Brooks who has recently said, “What we need is not to disagree less, but to disagree better.”

When we disagree better: we engage with respect, rather than questioning each other’s integrity and morality.

Tribalists constantly seek to appropriate legitimate policy issues and public concerns as a tool to promote their separatist and exclusive agendas. To contort and misrepresent disagreement in the worst possible terms.

Immigration is a classic example.

A discussion about the level of annual migrant intake is not a debate about the value or otherwise of multiculturalism or the economic contribution of migration. It must not be appropriated as a proxy debate for racial, religious or ethnic sectarianism.

Just because Australians are frustrated about traffic jams and population pressures encroaching on their quality of life, especially in this city, does not mean they are anti-migrant or racist. To the contrary. Australians respect the positive contribution that migration has made to our country.

For the overwhelming majority of Australians concerned about this issue, this is not and never would be their motivation.

But that is how the tribalists seek to confect it, from both sides.

The worst example being the despicable appropriation of concerns about immigration as a justification for a terrorist atrocity. Such views have rightly been denounce. But equally, so to must the imputation that the motivation for supporting moderated immigration levels is racial hatred.

We cannot allow such legitimate policy debates to be hijacked like this.

Managing our population growth is a practical policy challenge that needs answers. Answers I will continue to outline as we approach the next election, from our congestion busting road and rail investments to ensuring we frame our migration programme to meet the needs of our economy, the capacity of our cities and the opportunities and needs in our regions.

We see a similar trend in relation to the debate on border protection policies.

For me this has always been about ensuring the integrity of our borders because I believe this is essential to a successful immigration programme, a view shared by many migrant communities in Australia, and preventing the horrific impact of the people smugglers trade.

I have never sought to question the compassionate motives of those who hold different views about the best way to manage Australia’s borders. I have rarely had this courtesy extended by those who hold contrary views to my own.

As Australians we need to stand against the militant and lazy group think that distorts our public debate, stand up for our individualism and seek to think better of each other.

Part of disagreeing better, is to appreciate our differences – or to understand, in the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “the dignity of difference”.

Extremism, or in a different form fundamentalism, is simply an inability to tolerate difference.

It is to feel threatened by others who do not conform to your world view.

And it takes many forms: religious extremism, secular extremism, and political extremism.

Every terrorist attack has at its core a hatred of difference and a hatred about the choices and lives of others.

Prime Minister Ardern grasped the essence of this on Friday – when she said of the New Zealand Muslim community, “they are us”.

Tribalists always want to separate us, divide us, set one Australian against another.

As Prime Minister I want to continue to bring Australians together, not set them against one another.

I want us to reject the thinking that one person’s gain is another’s loss. This is a doctrine of scarcity that betrays our social and economic prosperity and creates an environment for conflict and division.

I want to remove the demarcation lines between Australians.

I see every Australian as an individual, not part of some tribal group to be traded off against another.

And I believe, not in a tribalism that divides, but in an us that unites.

So let me affirm today what us means:

Indigenous Australians are us.

Immigrant Australians from all nationalities and backgrounds, including Chinese, Lebanese, Greek, Indian, Turkish, Vietnamese, just to name a few,  are us.

Muslim Australians are us.

Christian  Australians are us.

Jewish Australians are us.

Hindu Australians are us.

Atheist Australians are us.

LGBTIQ Australians are us.

Whoever you vote for – us.

Older Australians are us.

Young Australians are us.

Female Australians are us.

Male Australians are us.

Regional Australians are us.

From the bottom of Tasmania to the tip of Cape York, from Byron to Broome, all 25 million Australians are us.

We belong to each other. We stand with each other. We must love and respect each other more. That’s what we must affirm today to fight the forces that will otherwise weaken our nation.

I will finish with a Maori exhortation to us all in this difficult time, Kia Kaha – stay strong. That is my plan for Australia.”

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