I'm pleased to speak in support of the motion moved by the member for Scullin, and I thank him for the great work that he's doing in this area. I also thank the member for Scullin for appearing in a recent Zoom visit in Queensland to speak on much the same matters that were raised in this motion.
I've stood here many times to talk about racism, as have members on both sides of the chamber. It is something that the Parliament of Australia has been very strong on more recently. Each time I talk about racism, it gets me thinking: what will it take, what will it actually take? Unfortunately, fear is a great driver of our emotions and our actions. Why are we afraid, and what are we actually afraid of? The reality is that each and every one of us is exactly the same: when we bleed, our blood is red.
In the first weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, all across our nation, we saw behavioural change. We saw fear spread and manifest itself in some very unexpected ways—the hoarding of large packs of toilet paper was certainly a surprise; hoarding tins of tomatoes and all the pasta in the world—and for weeks we were all stuck at home with growing anxiety and, in some cases, for some people, anger and bewilderment. We were looking for some sort of answer to blame the unpredictable and frightening circumstances that come with a global pandemic. This is not a good mix, because it means there is a large audience out there who are vulnerable to misinformation as they spend their time online looking for answers that will give them certainty. Unfortunately, the mulga wire has become a vulgar liar.
Only last week ASIO issued a warning that the far Right is using COVID-19 as a cover to push its dangerous ideas and recruit new members. This means that right-wing rhetoric is now reaching the unprecedented audience of those stuck at home, increasingly socially isolated and spending time online because of the pandemic.
According to Deakin University's Matteo Vergani, an expert in countering militant extremism and hate crime, 'COVID-19 has created fertile ground for extremists to spread their rhetoric'. And ASIO's assessment, as reported by ABC's Background Briefing is:
We assess the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced an extreme right-wing belief in the inevitability of societal collapse and a 'race war'.
ASIO's report suggests:
Messages have been posted on burgeoning COVID-19 conspiracy forums, providing links to white supremacist forums which promote violent extremism and often blame China and Chinese people for the virus.
Unfortunately, this calculating and destructive behaviour is a threat to our social cohesion and national unity. We should all be alarmed about recent reports that in Brisbane earlier this month neo-Nazis flew swastika flags from my Story Bridge, from Brisbane's Story Bridge. These groups are online and are actively recruiting locally, and we need to stand up to them.
The Australian Chinese community in Moreton recognised the potential danger of the coronavirus immediately. They were fearful and they were cautious. On returning from overseas, they were isolating well before the time when there was any suggestion of overseas arrivals doing this. They supported each other online, in isolation, and they closed down their new year celebrations. It was the right thing to do, and my waistline thanks them I guess. Their instincts were to protect Australia. In other words, they were thinking about the safety of this nation before others started to act on this.
Since the start of the pandemic, Asian Australians have been verbally and physically assaulted, refused service, received death threats and their property has been damaged. Are we going to accept this as the experience of others in our community? Are we going to accept that there are some in our community who think it is okay to behave towards other human beings in this way? No, because Australians are so much better than that, as the member for Scullin has called out so often. The majority of Australians know that Asian Australians did not cause this pandemic. The majority of Australians know that we are all in this together.
Let me go back to where I started this conversation, talking about fear, because we are all vulnerable to extremist groups spreading conspiracy theories to scapegoat certain groups like the Chinese people. These groups try very hard to prey on and exploit the fears of some for the sole purpose of increasing their power and recruiting new people to their sorry, spiteful, very cruel and, as ASIO has said, very dangerous cause. These are the people who hate on others. We will not let them divide our Australia, and we cannot let their voices be the only voices. We must stand together and eradicate racism from our country. We call on the Morrison government to attack racism head-on and introduce a new national antiracism campaign. And to the Australian Chinese community of Moreton, let us stand against racism together or 'rang women gongtong fandui zhongzuzhuyi'. I apologise for my pronunciation.