Thu, 06 Jun 2024 - 12:19

Judicial Inquiry

I'm pleased to second this motion by the member for Berowra calling for a judicial inquiry into antisemitism on campus or, to be specific, calling for this House to immediately debate the bill that the member for Berowra has moved. 

I congratulate the member for Berowra for introducing the Commission of Inquiry into Antisemitism at Australian Universities Bill 2024. He, of course, is a proud Jewish Australian. He is also a proud Australian committed to mutual understanding, tolerance, respect and the effective functioning of our liberal multiparty democracy as a nation in which all Australians, regardless of race, creed or background, can feel safe. As he has eloquently pointed out, the reason the issue is urgent is the sad fact that today Jewish Australians do not feel safe on campus or in other aspects of our national life. 

This is an urgent issue for this House to deal with, because the lessons of history are very clear. If antisemitism is allowed to fester unchecked, it can lead to very, very damaging and dangerous consequences. That is particularly so when such antisemitism is being encouraged and fostered by the cynical political manoeuvring of the Greens political party. This issue is urgent. It is hard to imagine an issue which better meets the criteria for standing orders to be suspended. 

We, secondly, say that the government has proposed a method to deal with the issue of antisemitism on campus and that method is too weak, inappropriate and unworkable. It is the proposed method to have the Australian Human Rights Commission hold an inquiry into all forms of racism on campus—an inquiry that would run for two years and be carried out by an organisation which manifestly, and for very good reason, the Australian Jewish community does not trust. We have seen from the Human Rights Commission a lack of willingness to deal with the challenge of antisemitism in Australia, despite a 738 per cent increase in antisemitic incidents since 7 October. For more than six months the Human Rights Commission has said nothing to publicly, singularly and specifically condemn antisemitism in Australia, and, sadly, as the member for Berowra has eloquently demonstrated to this House, there is clear evidence of systematic hostility towards Jewish Australians by staff and contractors of the Human Rights Commission. In these circumstances, you could not think of a less credible and appropriate body to be investigating what is an extraordinarily serious issue.

It is for that reason that the member for Berowra, the Leader of the Opposition and the coalition, the Liberal and National parties, have sought to provide leadership on this issue when leadership has been lacking from the government. That is why we have proposed—and specifically the member for Berowra has proposed—a judicial inquiry. The functions of it would be equivalent to a royal commission. It would be led by an independent current or former judge. It would have full investigatory powers. It would be assisted by skilled cross-examiners. It could hear evidence in confidentiality, without witnesses being in fear of reprisal. It is a sad reality that, given the nature of this issue and some of the cynical political manoeuvrings fostered by the Greens political party, it is understandable that some who might be called as witnesses might fear for their personal safety, so the measures and powers of such a judicial inquiry would be extraordinarily important in these circumstances.

Since this bill was introduced by the member for Berowra we have seen from the government silence and equivocation. That equivocation must end. This parliament must act on this important issue, and the first thing we must do is debate and vote on this bill immediately. I'm proud to second this motion.