ABC News Interview: News Breakfast: Fraser Anning’s First Speech



SUBJECTS: Fraser Anning’s First Speech 

MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: We’re joined now from Parliament House by Labor MP, Peter Khalil. He’s a former multicultural commissioner in Victoria and is also the son of Egyptian migrants. Peter Khalil, good morning to you.


ROWLAND: Very well. What do you make of Fraser Anning’s speech?

KHALIL: Well, look, it’s deeply offensive, but more problematic, it’s very deeply divisive. He’s promulgating a racist world view in which only people of anglo background or a particular type of conservative Christian are either able or capable or worthy of being Australian. And that’s fundamentally racist and excludes people of colour, it excludes people from pretty much the rest of the world and people of many different faiths. He used some phrase in there like ‘the final solution’ which are deeply offensive to Jewish Australians and to people who fought, frankly, and many Australians, millions of them who fought against fascism in World War II. And that is the problem with his speech. And he’s a Senator, so his speech is being heard. And that kind of hateful, divisive speech is something that we need to call out and say no to. Because that is not what being Australian is, Michael. Being Australian, it doesn’t matter what your faith is, it doesn’t matter what your ethnicity is, it doesn’t matter what your race is. Being Australian is about embracing our democracy, embracing our rule of law, equality before the law regardless of faith of gender or ethnicity, and that quintessential Australian value of the fair go.

ROWLAND: Now he’s arguing this morning, this is Fraser Anning, that the people he meets in, he says, bars and restaurants and other places support what he’s saying. Is that your understanding of where the Australian electorate sits?

KHALIL: Not at all. There are millions of Australians who have come here from other parts of the world, who have migrated to Australia for a better life. My parents were just two of them. But they’ve come from all parts of the world. Not necessarily just Europe. And they have many different faith backgrounds as well. And what he fails to understand – or maybe he’s deliberately doing this for political opportunism, to get that alt-right or that right wing hatred and anger whipped up, and that might translate to votes for him – is that Australia is a successful multicultural country because our model of multiculturalism means you don’t have to choose between your identities, Michael. We can be proud of our heritage, our faith, background and embrace being Australian. And in-fact that is what it means to be Australian. That diversity in Australia is actually a strength of our country and has been a fantastic part of being Australian for the past several decades. Of course there’s been difficulties. There’s always racism, there’s always prejudice. We’re seeing it play out in the Australian Senate yesterday. But we have a responsibility as political leaders to call that out and to fight against what is effectively a fascist view of the world, which is judging people based on their race or their ethnicity or their faith.

ROWLAND: What do you say to the argument that we value freedom of speech here in Australia as well and therefore Fraser Anning had the right to say what he did and also we had David Leonheljm, you would have heard him before you came on, saying people who are concerned about this are, in his words, snowflakes?

KHALIL: Well Michael, you hear that the right and the far right hide behind the cloak of free speech all the time in order to make very offensive, very hateful comments and remarks. Free speech has never been unlimited, or limitless under the law. That’s why we have defamation, we have laws that guard against vilification or incitement of violence and hatred. So he can’t hide behind that. There’s also something else. It’s about common decency. It’s about a form of respect of empathy for fellow human beings and there’s a fundamental misunderstanding of the human condition in a sense when you’re judging someone by their skin colour as to whether they’re able or capable of being part of society. That is a view I utterly reject. I don’t look at you, Michael, and think straight away white male, I judge you based on, you’re a good journo, you ask the tough questions, you’re friendly, you’re engaging. If my starting point was, you’re a white male, I would then associate you with the white males, the experience of racism that I went through in the 70s and 80s in Australia. But I don’t. I’m not putting you in a group. We need to have a better common decency in our society and the ability to empathise with others based on the individual and judge people based on their character. What they say and what they do. Not their ethnicity, their gender or their race.

ROWLAND: Just before we go, as you say, there’s almost universal condemnation this morning of Fraser Anning. The Prime Minister has tweeted his concerns about it, but would you like Malcolm Turnbull, as the leader of the Australian Government, to get up and formally make a point in Parliament about this today?

KHALIL: Absolutely Michael. And that leadership needs to be shown by Malcolm Turnbull. It’s all very well for him to say we’re the most successful multicultural country in the world. That’s certainly true. But he needs to stand up and tell us why we’ve been successful. And why what Fraser Anning is saying is deeply hurtful, hateful and divisive to the vast, vast majority of Australians. Whether you’re a Muslim Australian, a Jewish Australian, or any Australians frankly, because we’ve all come from somewhere else, unless you’re an Indigenous Australia, and stand up to that and call it out and talk about why we’re such a successful multicultural country.

ROWLAND: Peter Khalil in Canberra. Labor MP. Thank you so much for joining us on News Breakfast.

KHALIL: Thanks Michael.

Video of interview: