Eager to meet a new member of the ministry

February 17, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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Newly appointed Federal Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs is a man Jewish groups are eager to meet…in light of a speech made in federal parliament  during which he said “If you look at the Middle East and the issues that we as a globe confront today, we can trace it pretty much back to this region some 60 or 70 years ago.”

Responding on December 1 2014 in the Federation Chamber to motion by Maria Vamvakinou to recognise 2014 as the United Nations International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People (IYSPP) Craig Laundy, the Liberal Member for Reid who will replace Concetta Fierravanti-Wells as Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs told the chamber:

Craig Laundy

Craig Laundy

I rise today both to second the motion that the member for Calwell has brought to the chamber and to speak in favour of it. My predecessor spoke about going to Palestine. I have not had the opportunity to go to Palestine, but in a weird twist of events in the electorate I represent I did not have to, because people of Palestine came to me. I have lived in my part of Sydney my entire life, and in fact I am the third generation of my family to do that. Being Catholic you are cursed, I think, with leaning right on values and leaning very left on social justice. If you were to talk about this topic in my electorate, this is one that resonates. It is the social justice side of this that particularly resonates with me. I learn better by immersion and, after I was elected, the member for Calwell contacted me, I guess on a hunch that the demographics of my electorate would have over time given me exposure to this cause—and I am very thankful she did that. What I did do once I agreed to be the co-chair of the Friends of Palestine was that, because I am a simple character that learns better by immersion, I contacted friends of the member for Calwell and I asked to basically go and sit and listen, as I learn a lot better when I listen. I went one step further. It was a Saturday afternoon in Auburn and around 50 or 60 people had gathered together. I took my wife and my two daughters with me to spend an afternoon with some truly amazing people and to listen to their stories. 

We hear the constant referral to the two-state solution; both parties refer to it. But I am as frustrated as the previous speakers are on this topic, because quite often I believe this is used as a line to hide behind; it does not get past that. The sole motivation of everyone in this place is to make this country and this world a better place for our kids—and to do so, this is an issue we need to attack; we need to be real about it. I have great faith in the hearts of Australians—I always have had and I always will have. A slang term that we use is the ‘fair go’. For the last almost 60 years, the people of Palestine have not had a fair go. What my wife and daughters and I heard that afternoon over three hours was story after story from first generation and second generation Palestinians. We heard about the impact that the situation in Palestine has had on the parents. Imagine, if you will, going home this afternoon and going to put your key in the door and it doesn’t fit. You think, ‘Hang on a minute. What’s happened here?’ You knock on the door, and someone that you do not know opens the door. They are in your home. That is what happened in Palestine. That is what happened all those years ago. A people were displaced and they have been fighting for their identity ever since. That is it simply. If you look at the Middle East and the issues that we as a globe confront today, we can trace it pretty much back to this region some 60 or 70 years ago. Anyone who stands in this place and argues differently is not being fair dinkum. 

We got back in the car after three hours. I am blessed with three beautiful children, and all of them, fortunately, look like and take after their mum. In the safety of our own car, where we could voice our opinions and talk amongst ourselves about this issue, my middle daughter, my 15-year-old daughter, Sophie, said from the back seat, ‘Dad, you’ve got to do something to help.’ You cannot listen to the stories of people who were directly impacted on this front and not come away with any other desire than to help—and to do that we must be fair dinkum. We must take our soft diplomatic voice through both the UN and the halls of these chambers. The things discussed in this chamber should not be influenced by the power of the lobby; they should be influenced by what is right. 

Member for Calwell, in the Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People—many of whom call my electorate home—what you propose here is right. I will stand side by side with you at all times on this issue. I will debate this topic and yell for change—because the definition of insanity is doing the same thing every day and hoping for a different solution.”

Executive Director of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry Peter Wertheim told J-Wire: “The ECAJ will be seeking a meeting with the new Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs at the earliest opportunity.  Many of our community’s most pressing concerns fall within his portfolio – the recrudescence of antisemitism, communal security costs and threats to religious freedoms.  We hope to persuade the Assistant Minister that comments of the kind he made two years ago are not only untrue but also inflammatory and divisive.  From the constructive role he played in helping to defeat attempts to weaken our laws against racial vilification, we believe that the Assistant Minister well understands that the responsibility of government is to promote social cohesion, not discord.”

The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council’s Dr Colin Rubenstein added: “While we have certainly had our concerns about Craig Laundy in the past, especially in terms of his poorly-informed, one-sided comments on Israel and the Middle East, we look forward to constructively engaging with him in his new role as Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs.

We hope his knowledge of Israel and the broader Middle East, as well as other issues of concern to the local Jewish community, will grow, and anticipate he will both better understand and endorse his Government’s commendable policies towards Israel  and the peace process. We note that, importantly for anyone promoting Australian Multiculturalism policy, he is on record in supporting the need to retain Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, unlike some of his party colleagues. We will be requesting a meeting with Mr. Laundy as soon as possible to discuss both our common interests and our concerns and wish him well in his new role.

Federal Labor MP for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby added: “Malcolm Turnbull might charm Jewish audiences in Wentworth by joking about being a member of the “Mishpocha”, but I think the community has the right to be disappointed with his choice for the Multicultural Affairs portfolio.

Although Mr Laundy and I agreed on the Government’s changes to 18C, his APAN-inspired 2014 speech on ‘International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People’, during which he claimed “the lobby” was restricting free speech on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; and that Israel’s creation was the source of all today’s unrest in the Middle East, was as ugly a sentiment as it was factually and historically incorrect.

But more than that, inflammatory comments like that are the antithesis of Multiculturalism, it can only serve to create division between communities.

The Prime Minister ought to remember that Multicultural Australia is a lot bigger and more diverse than Mr Laundy’s constituents in Western Sydney. I understand Mr Laundy has never even met, indeed has refused to meet, with Jewish community leaders, which I take it he will now have to do. His comments on the Israel-Palestine issue show he is a parochial spokesman for the worst Islamist elements in NSW and has zero understanding of the deep international relations or cultural conflicts in Australia that are involved. “



One Response to “Eager to meet a new member of the ministry”
  1. Liat Kirby-Nagar says:

    It seems to me, Colin Rubenstein, that it’s a bit early to be dismissing concerns with Craig Laundy to the past. While it could be that you think softly, softly diplomacy is the way to go, in this case it is not. That Laundy has been given this important position when he’s on record as being narrow in his perspective and theatrically dramatic in his response to the Palestinian cause (due of course to his own ambitions and his electorate), even using his own daughter in a distasteful attempt to solicit favour via sentimentality, viz. a father’s pride in his daughter’s sentiments urging him towards greater action to the cause, is concern enough in itself. You should have come out fighting on this one, not pander in what amounts to smarmy tones to a man whose sum of experience rests in his own electorate, and always will. The only way to deal with him is full on. He should be forced to consider the Israeli perspective and, as new Federal Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs, asked to elaborate his views in the light of that position. Our Jewish leaders need to command respect, and maintain dignity; this will not happen by playing diplomatic games with a man whose sympathies lie elsewhere and whose intellectual capacity appears limited.

    If Laundy can’t broaden his horizon he should go. Is he still the co-chair of The Friends of Palestine? If so, he should relinquish that position as it’s not appropriate to his new role. Jewish leaders need to state the Israeli position strongly and unequivocally and give Laundy a history lesson.

    So all the troubles in the region started 60-70 years ago and anybody who argues with that is not ‘fair dinkum’? Depends which side you’re on, Mr Laundy, and you in your new role of Multicultural Affairs should not have ‘a side’. Also, perhaps be more careful with use of language – the Australian/English definition of ‘fair dinkum’ makes it inappropriate within the context you used it.

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