Parliamentary Speech: Motion to Condemn Vandalism of Australian War Memorials

House of Representatives on Tuesday 2 July 2024

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Mr HASTIE(Canning) (16:24): I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the member for Canning from moving the following motion:

That this House:

(1) condemns defacing any war memorial monument in Australia for any reason at any time; and

(2) further condemns the defacing of the Australian War Memorial on June 14 and the Korean War, Vietnam War and Army memorials on ANZAC Parade in Canberra on Saturday with language including the violent 'from the river to the sea' slogan.

There are around 4,000 to 5,000 war memorials across Australia that have been erected to honour and commemorate Australia's war dead over the last century. Small grieving towns and large cities alike erected these memorials in the wake of the calamity of the First World War. Sixty thousand Australians perished in the First World War, a huge number of men killed for such a young and relatively small nation.

Australian historian Geoffrey Blainey, in his A Shorter History of Australia, put it like this:

Perhaps the most drastic effect of the war would never be enumerated: it was the loss of all those talented Australians who would have become prime ministers and premiers, judges, divines, engineers, teachers, doctors, poets, inventors and farmers, the mayors of towns and leaders of trade unions, and the fathers of another generation of Australians. It was a war in which those with the gift of leadership, the spark of courage, and the willingness to make sacrifices often took the highest risks. A young nation could not afford to lose such men.

Geoffrey Blainey wrote that that's why we responded in the way we did, with so many memorials across our great country. He continued:

No nation in Europe showed such a visible desire to remember, to honour.

We've added to those memorials with subsequent wars. We fought in the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and, more recently, the Afghan war. All those wars, sadly, have led to the loss of more Australian men and women in service. We have 103,000 war dead remembered on those memorials across this nation. It's a reminder that this nation has sacrificed greatly and has borne the cost of war.

That's why the Australian War Memorial was built and opened on Remembrance Day in 1941 and why Anzac Parade was opened on Anzac Day in 1965 by Sir Robert Menzies. Anzac Parade is lined with memorials on both sides: the Hellenic Memorial, the Kemal Ataturk Memorial, the Army, Navy and Air Force memorials, the Service Nurses Memorial, the Rats of Tobruk Memorial, the Boer War, Vietnam War and Korean War memorials, and the Desert Mounted Corps Memorial. The architecture and design of all those memorials remind us of sacrifice. They remind us of sacrifice and the values of our fighting men and women—the values of service, courage, respect, integrity and excellence. These are Australian values and our ADF are their custodians. If you go to the ADF website, you will see those values listed out: service, courage, respect, integrity and excellence. Australians have fought for these values, Australians have died for these values and our memorials reflect these values.

That is why the ugly defacement and desecration of our war memorials is so disgraceful. It dishonours our war dead, and this, sadly, is a pattern that has emerged over the last six months. We saw, on 11 November last year, the Melbourne war memorial vandalised on Remembrance Day. On 12 January 2024 we saw the Tasmanian war memorial vandalised. On 11 March we saw the Vietnam War Memorial vandalised. In May this year we saw the Hyde Park Anzac Memorial vandalised after protests. Red dye was poured into the Pool of Reflection. On 14 June 2024 the Australian War Memorial was vandalised with pro-Palestinian slogans. Just on the weekend, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial and the Army Memorial on Anzac Parade were vandalised. This vandalism represents something far deeper and grotesque. This vandalism is an attack on our Australian values, but it's also an attack on our way of life. It's an attack on the thing that binds us together—a shared heritage of service and sacrifice, something that on 25 April, Anzac Day, every year all Australians come together and focus on as a nation.

But, sadly, it goes even deeper than that. On the Vietnam and Korean war memorials were written phrases like this: 'They didn't die so we could fund genocide,' 'Free Gaza,' 'Blood on your hands,' 'Free Palestine,' and, the most disgraceful, 'From the river to the sea'—a deeply anti-Semitic slogan with origins in violent terrorism.

Indeed, 'from the river to the sea' has its origins in the Hamas charter of 2017. Hamas is a terrorist organisation listed by the Australian Commonwealth. It is committed to the destruction of the Jewish people and the state of Israel. It is an organisation driven by extreme religious ideology that celebrates death, violence and hatred. They are people who will not compromise. Just in case people don't believe this, I'll make it very clear; I'm going to read now from the 2017 Hamas charter, their document of general principles and policies. Paragraph 20 says this:

Hamas believes that no part of the land of Palestine shall be compromised or conceded, irrespective of the causes, the circumstances and the pressures and no matter how long the occupation lasts. Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine …

And here are the words:

… from the river to the sea.

Hamas represents the worst of humanity. We've all heard it said: 'By a fruit its tree shall be known.' On 7 October, we saw the poisonous and evil fruit of Hamas's ideology on full display when they attacked, murdered and raped more than 1,000 innocent Israelis on that terrible day.

And now we have Australians defacing our war memorials with phrases straight out of the Hamas charter. In this country now we are seeing mob rule challenge the rule of law. In this country now, we are seeing mob rule challenge the rule of law. We are seeing the mob tear apart our social cohesion. We are seeing the mob challenge the values that define our nation. And we are seeing the mob trample on our war dead and the values they died for. Everyone here on this side of the House condemns in the strongest possible terms this vile, disgraceful, destructive, divisive and un-Australian behaviour.

We've all been touched in some way or other by 7 October. I think of some Jewish friends in Melbourne who I came to know through this tragedy—a couple who are living in my electorate of Canning, who contacted me soon after 7 October. I'll leave their names off the Hansard in order to protect them, because they feel unsafe. They are Jewish Australians, and the female's mother was killed by Hamas on 7 October. She'd just rung her up to let her know she was pregnant. Her brother was killed protecting his family, and her 10-month-old niece was brutally murdered. I think of her when I read 'from the river to the sea'. As an Australian, how must she feel having suffered so badly at the hands of evil terrorism? It fills me with shame. It fills all of us with shame. That's why we raise this today in the House. I say it again—we condemn this in the strongest possible terms.

This is not an isolated pattern of behaviour. We're seeing electoral offices across the country also targeted. We've seen the Prime Minister's office besieged by protestors chanting the same sorts of things. We've seen the Deputy Prime Ministers, the Attorneys-General, the minister for immigration, the minister for NDIS, the member for Franklin, the member for Wills, the member for Cooper, the member for Jagajaga, the member for Macnamara and the member for Riverina—I could go on. This is a pattern of behaviour which is tearing at the cohesion of this country. We're seeing our universities encamped by protesters who are willing to chant the same slogans that we find in the Hamas charter. We're seeing this at the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne, Monash University, the University of Adelaide, the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, Deakin University, Curtin University, RMIT University, La Trobe University, the University of Wollongong and the University of Tasmania. We have a rot at the heart of Australian society right now, and we have young Australians who are chanting terrorist slogans and defacing our war memorials. It's got to stop. It requires political leadership, and that's why we're raising this issue right now.

We believe this issue demands political leadership, and we want to ensure that our law enforcement agencies across the states feel that they have our backing to enforce the rule of law, to arrest these people and to prosecute these people, and send a message that modern Australia, with all its diversity, will only cohere if people respect each other, respect the rule of law and uphold the Australian values that I've outlined today.

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