By Chris Hayes, MP
Australians are entitled to express concern about involvement in another international conflict. The memory of our previous venture into Iraq a mere decade ago still lingers, as does how that involvement has contributed to the human tragedy which is currently unfolding in the Middle East. The misguided and poorly planned coalition of the willing, which was opposed by the United Nations and most European states, led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. That was largely responsible for creating the power vacuum impacting all levels of Iraq’s administration and bureaucracy, which has in turn contributed to the rise of terrorist groups such as ISIL. For the record, we should not—and should never—refer to them as the ‘Islamic State’ because, I think, that is offensive to anyone of faith, particularly those of the Muslim faith.
We know that since 2003 more than 1.4 million Christians, Assyrians, Chaldean Catholics, Mandaeans, Yazidis and other minorities have fled their homeland or faced what could only be referred to as a genocide. Thousands of families are being driven from their homes, with innocent people being killed and women and girls being raped and forced into sexual servitude. The simple fact is that the international community has no choice. The international community must take action to support vulnerable communities and minorities, and therefore we should be committed to being in Iraq.
It is for that very reason that Labor fully supports Australia’s contribution to the international humanitarian mission. That is why Labor also supports the military assistance and efforts to degrade ISIL and prevent further genocide. Particularly when the Iraqi government is requesting help from the international community to protect its people from further atrocities, it means it is time for Australia to act. Given the fact that we were part of the coalition of the willing, Australia holds a higher moral responsibility to lend assistance in this instance.
I have the honour of representing the most multicultural community in the whole of Australia. The colour, the vibrancy and the diversity of my community is something that I have great pride in. My electorate also has a very high proportion of Muslim Australians, many of whom in recent weeks are certainly feeling stigmatised by the crimes and atrocities committed by ISIL.
Over the past few weeks I have been visiting many members of the Islamic community in my electorate. I know Australian Muslims to be, in the main, good, honest and hardworking people. I also know how repulsed they are by the crimes and atrocities being committed by ISIL, particularly when it is being said that those crimes are being committed in the name of religion.
One thing that is common at the various mosques and Islamic schools that I visit is that they are angry that their religion is being hijacked by extremists. We know that there are a number of Australians fighting alongside terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria. We understand that a lot of these people have left Australia against the wishes of their families and communities. Therefore, it is only right that Australia takes every effort to stop young people, for whatever reason, seeking to leave this country to fight with terrorist groups. The new national security laws give our law enforcement and intelligence services the ability, or a greater ability, to do that. Where there is credible evidence of these people intending to join terrorist groups, we should be intervening. We should not simply be preventing people exiting this country; we should make sure that we are doing enough to provide services to families and communities to ensure that ISIL’s cause is not embedded in their psyche that they need to join a terrorist organisation in order to make a difference.
One thing that we do have and celebrate in this country is our democracy. People are entitled to have views, but people are not entitled to take extreme views to the extent of working in concert with a terrorist organisation, an organisation that detests not only our free and democratic way of life but everything that we stand for. That is really what our new national security laws are intended to do: they are there to protect the freedom and our way of life.
ISIL’s hatred is intolerable, and hence our renewed commitment in Iraq. But can I just say hatred in our own community, impacting on fellow Australians—in this case Muslim Australians—regardless of their religion or beliefs, is also intolerable. It is intolerable to our way of life. It is simply un-Australian.
Muslim Australians who peacefully follow their religion, with a faith of peace, should not be associated in any way, in any of our communities, with the twisted ideology of ISIL. I say this not just as a member of parliament who represents a large Islamic community but also as someone who, like most here, shares a deep love of family. I am a father of three and, yesterday with the arrival of Arabella, a grandfather of seven, so family is really important to me. I understand how family structures develop and how we constantly stand by and support our families, particularly in times of need.
Just as a bit of background, my daughter’s sister-in-law, Celeste, married this really lively young local bloke, Kenny Darwich, and over a period of time they have had two delightful children, Ayah and Zane. Being very close and at the same age as my grandchildren, Ayah and Zane have grown up calling me ‘pop’, and for all intents and purposes I see them as my grandchildren. Kenny and Celeste have raised their kids in a loving household, very active in sport and community affairs. They, like many people of faith, have favoured private religious based education for their children. Their children attend Amity College in Liverpool, which is an Islamic school. You see, Kenny and his family are Muslims. While my family have grown up in the Catholic religion and my children have attended Catholic schools, as I did, and I do attend mass on Sundays, under my roof there is no distinction between our two families. Sure, we make allowances for Ramadan, when we have our Sunday meals during that, and for Eid—as does Kenny. When we visited his place one time on Ash Wednesday, he made sure he did not serve us meat. We are conscious of each other’s religious beliefs. Kenny’s children, Aya and Zane, should be able to grow up like any other Australian kids. The fact that Kenny and his family follow their religion and practice their faith should not be the reason that anyone in our community would seek to associate them or others like them with the abhorrent crimes of ISIL.
I wish to finish almost where I started. Australia cannot stand by while ISIL and its supporters perpetrate crimes of hatred and genocide against the innocent people of Iraq. Australia has a higher moral responsibility, given our initial involvement in Iraq in 2003, and I remind the House once more that the consequences of that engagement have largely set the path for the creation and development of an organisation such as ISIL. We do have a responsibility to degrade this organisation. We have that responsibility on behalf of humanity.
Chris Hayes, MP is the federal member for Fowler (NSW) and Chief Opposition Whip. He has been a member of the Australian Labor Party since 1975.