Topics: Botany bomb threat;
9 January 2024
Mark Levy: Now this story showed up yesterday just after we came off air and it simply disgusting. A suspicious device which looked a lot like a homemade bomb, was planted on a car outside a home in Sydney, South New South Wales Police were called to a street in Botany on Friday, following reports of an item being left on a car bonnet and the property they were called to, it was displaying a Palestinian flag. On arrival, police found the device with a note on the front. It reads, “enough take down flag. One chance.” The item, it was a dark green jerry can with a small amount of fuel inside, stuffed with rags and large bolts and a lighter strapped to the top. Now that, in my view, is a bomb threat, pure and simple. And of course, it’s not how we handle free speech in this country. It simply isn’t. Someone who did speak some sense on this yesterday was the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, and I’m pleased to say he joins me on the line. Senator, good morning to you.
Simon Birmingham: Good morning, Mark, and good morning to your listeners.
Mark Levy: Well, you said online and correctly so that we are a democratic nation of free speech and that this act, no matter any of our views, is illegal and reprehensible behaviour. Surely as a nation, we’re better than this Senator.
Simon Birmingham: Well, we certainly should be, Mark. It’s concern me deeply ever since the attacks of October 7th, the way in which there have been outbreaks of intolerance across the country. Now, I have been as strong as anybody in defending Israel’s right to self-defence, in the need for Hamas to be removed as a terrorist organisation, and indeed have been deeply concerned by the very weak responses we’ve seen at times. Particularly in Victoria, but from the Albanese government, too, to the acts of anti-Semitism to the growth there, to the intimidation against Jewish Australians. When we’ve seen car rallies go into Jewish populated suburbs or the like. But it cuts both ways well and truly, and somebody who is peacefully flying a flag should absolutely not be subject to this type of intimidation or attack. It has no place, and we need to be very, very clear about that.
Mark Levy: And I want to go on record to Senator and say exactly what you’ve just said. I mean, I’ve been calling out some of the reprehensible behaviour and some of these disgraceful sermons being, you know, peddled by some of the Muslim clerics. But you’re right that two wrongs don’t make a right in this situation. If an Israeli person is responsible for this, well, they need to be called out as well. I mean, it comes down to free speech. That is the basis of our democracy, is it not?
Simon Birmingham: Well, that is very much the basis, and we have no idea where this comes from. It could come from somebody who’s just a fed-up neighbour of no particular political will. Or it could come from somebody who harbours Islamophobic tendencies, which have no more place in our society than anti-Semitic views. Whatever it is, it has no place. The types of hate speech fuelled by radical preachers absolutely needs to be stamped out. And Peter Dutton’s very clear in media comments today that the Coalition will give support to the Albanese government if they need to act to provide for tougher laws and to give police the powers to act in this regard. Because we are a country that has said we welcome people from all types of backgrounds, but there is one precondition that comes with that. Leave your troubles at the door, leave your troubles behind. Come to Australia and respect the differences. Be that in faith, in culture, in other backgrounds of other Australians who have come here in the same circumstances. And we have a proud history having welcomed post World War II and some of the largest populations of Holocaust survivors in the world, that is one of the reasons why we should be so firm in stamping out anti-Semitism. But we also, of course, have welcomed people from many other faiths and backgrounds since then, too. And we have to make sure that they are able to have their views that can be respected so long as they practice them in ways that are respectful of others.
Mark Levy: Senator, maybe you can answer this question for me. I mean, all I keep hearing about, from whether it be the New South Wales government or the federal government that they have increased powers, they’ve increased the powers to police, to stop hate speech, to stop anti-Semitism. Why aren’t the people responsible for some of this anti-Semitism and hate speech? Why are they not before the courts and why aren’t the police charging them? Can you answer that for me?
Simon Birmingham: Well, I can’t easily. I hear those calls and that language made. Indeed. That’s why Peter Dutton has said, well, if the police can’t act against these types of radical clerics and their hate speech, and then we have to make sure the powers are effective for them to do so. Of course, there is a fine balance between free speech and being a nation that upholds that right to free speech and enforcing laws against the way people exercise that speech if it is crossing a line. But pretty clearly some of these things do cross the line in terms of inciting hatred that can incite violence. And that has absolutely no place in our country, and that is where we’ve got to be crystal clear and make sure the police have the effective powers and then use those powers effectively as well.
Mark Levy: And this is where we need leadership from the federal and state governments. I mean, what we had the Executive Council of the Australian Jewry come out yesterday, calling for additional powers to haul those preaching hate in front of a court. Senator, it shouldn’t be up to the Executive Council of the Australian Jewry to be begging for more powers to stop people from spewing hate. I would have thought that’s where leadership is required from the Prime Minister and all those in the federal government.
Simon Birmingham: It absolutely should not be up to Jewish Australians or individual Australians to have to try to take on these types of things themselves. They should be led by government and delivered by government. And of course, action should have been taken strongly, emphatically with moral leadership as well as legal action. Back at the time, we saw the huge spike in some of these anti-Semitic behaviours after those terrorist attacks of October 7th. I mean, we must remember what we saw on October 7th was the largest single killing of Jewish people on a single day since the Holocaust. They were innocent civilians, babies, women, the elderly, young people at a music festival deliberately targeted. That should have been a moment where people universally came together to condemn that terrorism and to support the removal of those terrorists from a position of being able to carry it out again. Tragically, though, we saw a rise in anti-Semitism. We saw intimidatory behaviour, such as the car rallies targeting more heavily Jewish populated suburbs and similar acts even worse, in fact, in Melbourne. And these things should have been the focus of strong action by police and others and yet we haven’t actually seen anybody charged, particularly in relation to some of those actions in Melbourne where clearly they should have been.
Mark Levy: Mm. Well, it’s good to see somebody in Canberra speaking sense when it comes to some of the hate speech and anti-Semitism that we’re seeing on our streets at the moment. I can’t believe some of our political leaders are sitting on their hands on this. I mean, they’re too busy out there signing calls for a ceasefire when they need to be calling out the evil. And some of the hate that’s happening here in Australia. That’s got nothing to do with us in the Middle East. Simon Birmingham, I really appreciate your time. Thanks for talking some sense and we’ll catch up with you again in 2024. Appreciate your time.
Simon Birmingham: Thanks, Mark. My pleasure.