Inner West Council Campaign Coordinator

I move:

That this house takes note of the rising vilification of and discrimination against Victorian Muslims and calls on all political parties to take a stand against this and to preference One Nation last on the ballot at the 2018 Victorian state election.

We are at a crossroads in relation to multiculturalism and the rise of right-wing ideologies and groups. It is vitally important that we recognise this, that we assess and understand the full implications of our options and that we make a conscious decision about where we are headed. In putting forward this motion we are calling on all political parties to make the right choice based not on narrow, political self-interest but on the need to protect multiculturalism as one of Victoria's greatest strengths.

This motion is driven by a number of urgent concerns. We note that public discourse in Australia is characterised by increasingly Islamophobic overtones and that this is partly driven by global discourse, including the actions of President Trump and his administration. We have grave concerns about the decision behind the Western Australian Liberal Party's preference deal with One Nation, and these concerns are shared by many in Australia, right across the political spectrum.

We are gravely concerned about negative attitudes and criminal behaviour within Victorian communities, driven either in part or to a significant extent by Islamophobic attitudes. We are alarmed at the actual and potential impact of an increasingly Islamophobic discourse and actions on culturally and linguistically diverse communities within Victoria and around the country. Finally, we note that the current discourse exhibited by conservative political parties and media has the potential to result in grave and unintended consequences in terms of social and political exclusion and, potentially, radicalisation. I will address each of these areas in turn.

There is no doubt that events far beyond our shores are having a significant and damaging effect on politics and public opinion right across Australia. One of the most significant drivers of Islamophobia right now comes from the US administration itself. I cannot understate how disturbing this is. Millions of people around the world have recognised the threat this poses on many fronts, and I am pleased to note that in Australia thousands recently marched in Sydney and Melbourne not against Trump's election per se but more broadly against the values espoused by his campaign and the early months of his presidency.

Ordinary people are saying no to anti-Islamic attitudes and behaviours, to homophobia, to racism, to misogyny and to propaganda aimed at furthering the damaging ideologies associated with these. Others, however, seem to be choosing a different path. Pauline Hanson and One Nation, at one time a fringe party with limited pockets of support, are exploiting this narrative to the fullest extent. And of course they are not on their own. The Western Australian Liberals have taken the decision to preference One Nation in upcoming elections above all other parties. The narrative employed both within WA and nationally within the Liberal Party should be of huge concern to anyone who values Australian multiculturalism and social cohesion. To be very clear, I am referring here to the vast majority of Australians. Premier Colin Barnett is quoted as saying on record:

Pauline Hanson is more moderate than she was back in the 90s. (It's) just a mathematical equation, the Liberals best chance of winning. (We) can't sit back and let it all happen.

He and others have couched the deal purely in terms of pragmatism and say it is in no way indicative that they support the objectives and policies of One Nation. This may have been a pragmatic deal, but the second part of this argument is dangerously misguided. Make no mistake: this preference deal will have the effect of legitimising One Nation. It will have the effect of legitimising everything that One Nation stands for, including its dangerous brand of Islamophobia and xenophobia, and it sets a very dangerous precedent.

Political pundits have questioned whether the deal will have any beneficial effect for the Liberals in WA and that it may actually be aimed at testing the waters for upcoming elections here in Victoria, in Queensland and at the federal level. Either that or they have just made a very stupid decision, which should not be ruled out.

Based on this trend, we fear that the coalition here in Victoria could follow suit and abandon their traditional support for multiculturalism. This may be evidenced by what the Victorian Leader of the Opposition has put on the public record in recent months. Mr Guy has taken aim at migrant youth, claiming that crime is out of control in Victoria, advocating the deportation of migrant youth involved in crime. He seems determined that his position will not be influenced by facts. Victorian crime statistics show the vast majority of youth crime is being committed by children born in Australia and that the majority of youth gang activity involves Caucasian youths.

In relation to Islamophobia specifically, the coalition has not done enough as a party to denounce Islamophobia and the significant damage it is doing to our communities. It has to date taken the opposite path, evidenced by the coalition's failed attempt only weeks ago to introduce the so-called burqa ban under the guise of disrespectful behaviour in court.

Again, we do not need to look far to identify a number of serious and recent developments to illustrate the crossroads that we are at and the impact of the choices we make as political parties, but more importantly as Victorians, as Australians and as people. This week the head of the anti-Islamic group the United Patriots Front (UPF) had a number of charges against him heard by the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Backgrounded against resistance to a new mosque in Bendigo, members of the UPF staged a mock beheading using a dummy outside the City of Greater Bendigo council offices, filming the incident and posting it on social media. The dummy was set up to shed fake blood, and those involved reportedly spoke Arabic phrases on camera. This is the kind of behaviour that has resulted from a tacit legitimisation of One Nation and its ideologies. It is toxic, and it should be a call to action to us all, right across the political spectrum.

In my own electorate of South Eastern Metropolitan Region we are seeing how pockets of Islamophobia can run rampant, heightening tensions within communities and threatening to spill over into other communities. Last year the City of Casey refused to acknowledge that it has a problem in this respect, with Mayor Aziz bizarrely claiming that his own cultural heritage made it impossible that racism or Islamophobia could even exist let alone be running rife within the Casey City Council, despite very public disparagement towards Muslims being a trademark of his tenure on council. His fellow Casey councillor Rosalie Crestani doubles as the deputy leader of Rise Up Australia, the whole political agenda of which appears to centre around anti-Muslim sentiment.

These anecdotes are well and truly backed up by evidence. No doubt we all recall the Newspoll and Essential polls that purported to show such high levels of anti-Islamic sentiment that their validity was called into question. It is fair to say that this kind of survey does not represent best practice in social research and that these extremely high levels of anti-Islamic sentiment have not been consistently found across all research efforts in this area. However, make no mistake that even the most rigorous research being undertaken in this area demonstrates high and concerning levels of Islamophobia. At best these levels will remain consistent; at worst they will rise.

Deakin University is undertaking substantial work in this area, and its findings should be of concern to us all. Research consistently points to a political environment that allows anti-Islamic discourse, which increasingly creates an unwelcome environment for Muslims. Deakin's research has shown that the level of negative attitudes towards Muslims is three times higher than that of negative attitudes towards any other religious group. Research has shown substantial support for discriminatory acts, such as higher levels of security searches for Muslims and lower levels of trust in practising Muslims.

The most distressing part of this situation is the very real impact it is having on communities across Victoria. With growing regularity I hear story after story of discrimination, exclusion and sometimes even violence against law-abiding citizens of Muslim communities, including Muslim women being refused service in shops, children being excluded in the playground based on judgements of their parents' appearance and religious observance, drivers being forced off the road and verbally abused with Islamophobic slurs, women having their hijab ripped off them by force in the street, teenagers being assaulted on public transport, again due to wearing a head cover, and Muslims receiving death threats due to their support for the building of a mosque in their local area. These abuses are often perpetrated against women and children and are usually because of the visible presence of a head covering that they or their parents are wearing. Furthermore, many report a growing feeling of hate and animosity towards them, their families and friends in a way they have not experienced before in Victoria.

These are the very real repercussions of an ugly public discourse that has resulted in a growing number of services and projects to address these problems specifically. National organisation Islamicare has recently launched a helpline to specifically service Muslim families. In the short time they have been in operation they have already seen a sizable proportion of their community make contact to discuss their anxiety and fear caused by the rise in Islamophobia and what seems to be a lack of public support from non-Muslim political and community leaders speaking out in solidarity with Victorian Muslims. This is a clear example of how what we as political leaders say in this place, in the media, to our stakeholders and out in the community has repercussions. Nothing we say is in a vacuum. Our communities are listening and heeding the example we set.

The legitimisation of One Nation and high levels of Islamophobic attitudes within our communities are of immediate and pressing concern. We need to be aware of and act on these immediately. We also need to take a step back to consider long-term impacts. The first relates to social exclusion and disenfranchisement. There is very little doubt that the legitimisation of One Nation and its policies will result in culturally and linguistically diverse communities both here and across Australia being excluded and in some cases actively persecuted. This is already happening. The process of disenfranchisement and social exclusion runs a long-term risk of driving divisions within our society and of driving radicalism. A huge amount of research has focused on drivers of radicalism, and this has consistently found social and political exclusion to be a significant factor. Research among ethnic communities has shown that promoting healthy social connections, being part of a community and being politically interested seem to be important targets for prevention. Culturally diverse debate has real risks attached, and we ignore them at our peril.

As I said earlier, we are at a crossroads. We should be concerned about increasing Islamophobia, we should be aware of the role of political discourse in driving this and we must be cognisant of the possible outcomes of our actions. At the same time we need to focus on ways in which we can protect multiculturalism in Victoria — something most of us will agree represents one of our greatest strengths. Political leadership can make a difference. Comparative research looking at political leadership on this issue in Canada is particularly interesting. President Trudeau's policies on multiculturalism have not significantly reduced Islamophobia in Canada, but they have had a hugely important effect in this space. They have empowered Muslim communities to play an important and constructive role in the wider community, and they have made these communities feel significantly safer. Research has also shown that the more Australians know about Islam, the less likely they are to show prejudice against practising Muslims. Education is the key, and political leadership in ensuring and promoting this kind of education makes a difference. These are just two examples of what strong political leadership can do, and this is the kind of leadership we need to exercise in Victoria.

Given these risks and the fallout we are already seeing in our own communities, we as Victorians need to be having this conversation now. The Greens will not be silent on this issue, and we will not allow a last-minute scrambling for preferences and poorly thought out deals to drive this conversation. Pauline Hanson cannot gain a significant foothold in Victoria without the support of the major parties. Political self-interest cannot be allowed to drive deals and decisions that have politically disastrous outcomes for Victorian communities.