Topics:  Rally Adelaide Parliament House steps;  

08:45AM ACDT
4 March 2024


David Bevan: Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister here and South Australia’s most senior Liberal. And he joins us now. Good morning, Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: Good morning, David. Good morning, everyone.


David Bevan: You were at the Parliament House yesterday afternoon. Is that correct?


Simon Birmingham: Yes, yes, I was David.


David Bevan: Yeah. And can you describe the scene for us? There were a group of people who had organised an event. I think it was a Christian group that in support of the Jewish community, saying, look, we want to just stand here and make a statement against antisemitism. And then there was another group who came along and they said, well, look, we’re trying to raise concerns about Gaza and what’s going on there and Israeli actions in Gaza. Is that a fair description?


Simon Birmingham: That is, broadly speaking, a fair description, David. yes. An organisation representing the Never Again is Now coalition, organised largely by some of the Christian churches wanting to show their solidarity with the Jewish community at a time of rising antisemitism. Tragically, here in Australia and in far too many parts of the world. I was invited to come and speak to this event, I thought it was important to accept that as a show of support for really, the type of interfaith dialogue and interfaith support that I want to see us encourage right across all of the different religions and the fact that we had the Christian churches wanting to stand with the Jewish communities was a good step at this point in time to send those messages. Now, after they had initiated their event and sent their invitations out and promoted that I was speaking, and that former Labor premier and of course, now Reverend Lynn Arnold, was also speaking, along with others. Another group decided to organise their rally. Now they of course, have a right to protest. They were there putting their views in relation to the situation in Gaza at present and their arguments for the Palestinian peoples. But, they didn’t need to do it right at the same time and in the same location as the first event that was organised. And as a result, it did, of course, put a huge pressure on South Australia Police and really did create an environment of contest in what should have been instead a peaceful and reflective event that was initially organised.


David Bevan: Is the issue here that when people say we’re here as a protest against antisemitism. That’s seen by people who are a little cynical, saying, no, that’s code for you support Israel and what it’s doing in Gaza. And on the flip side, the people who turn up and say, well, we’re protesting against lives being lost in Gaza by people who are cynical. That’s seen as, no, you’re pro-Hamas and you want to drive Israel into the sea. Is that part of the problem here that the words that are used are seen as codes?


Simon Birmingham: Unfortunately, David, there are proxies used in this debate. I guess there are in all debates at times, and things can be perceived in those ways. My opening remarks to the rally yesterday were very explicit. I said to people, I thank you for being here, not for anyone who is here to support Israel, not for anyone who is here to support Palestinian territories, but for people who are here to support Australian values and values of inclusion, values of respect for one another, and the type of multicultural, multi-faith society that we have successfully built in this country and for which we shouldn’t be allowing international conflicts to infect that society in Australia and create divisions unnecessarily. That is why, as I said, I think really trying to encourage particularly different faith groups who have been at the scene of many conflicts tragically right around the world for such a long period of time, to encourage them to come together at times like this is really crucial.


Sonya Feldhoff: Is that possible when the tensions remain so high? Simon Birmingham.


Simon Birmingham: It is. difficult and it is unquestionably very difficult at present between the Jewish communities and the Islamic communities. And I would wish and I’m sure we would all wish that were not so. But there are, again, competing emotions. I speak with people in the Jewish communities and they feel sometimes let down, if I can put it that way, that when things like the Christchurch massacre had occurred, they felt they rallied publicly and explicitly to support Islamic communities in their time of grief. And there was a sense that some of that wasn’t reciprocated sufficiently after the bloody Hamas attacks of October 7th. But of course, within the Islamic communities, there is enormous grief at the suffering and toll occurring in Gaza at present. Now, these are significant international events, and people are entitled to have their views and perspective on them. It’s important for me as a shadow foreign affairs minister, to have clear views and moral perspective around those debates. And people can disagree with my position on this, but I guess the message that I thought the Christian groups organising yesterday’s rally were trying to create was one of encouraging Australians to at least come together and say in Australia, let us say very clearly, there is no place for antisemitism. Let a stand by people of all faiths together.


Jules Schiller: On that what’s an example of antisemitism that isn’t linked to, you know, to Gaza? So are you seeing just anti-Jewish sentiment, you know, as opposed to anti IDF or the Israeli kind of government sentiment? What’s an example of what you’re protesting about?


Simon Birmingham: So you see the banners at, at different rallies that that have been had since October 7th that explicitly show things like putting Jews in the bin. Now, this is taking centuries of anti-Semitic type content, suggesting that somehow Jewish people are dirty or filthy and spreading that type of hatred. So that’s just one example. There are many documented cases. And tragically, unfortunately, we’re in a situation where, especially in Melbourne and Sydney, there are plenty of stories now of people wearing their religious garments, feeling that they are at risk of being abused. Just because they are Jewish, being abused over what is happening in Israel. Now, abuse the Israeli government abuse a politician like me who takes a stand in different things, but by no means conflate that with somebody else’s faith, because you might find that they in fact agree with you. And I guess that is where people who are anti what is happening in Gaza or even anti-Israel are sadly inflicting those views on Jewish Australians, and that has no place in our country.


Sonya Feldhoff: You’re listening to Simon Birmingham, SA liberal Senator, Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister and he also was speaking at the rally we’re talking about from yesterday in the steps of Parliament House. Rob has given us a ring. Rob, you want to make a comment around this?


Caller Rob: Yes I do, look, every second Sunday for the last 20 weeks, they have been running a rally on Parliament House steps in support of the palace of what’s been going on in Palestine now. These people could have had their rally at any other time in Parliament, on Parliament House steps. And I support democracy and I support their right to do it. If they’re going to run that rally on the off week at exactly the same time as the Palestinian rallies have been running, it was a provocative attempt, I think, designed to provoke people. Now, the people who were down there were not part of the Australian Friends of Palestine. It was not organised by them. There has been a there has been a Israeli rally every Sunday in the middle of Rundle Mall that the police have, uh, you know, there was only one confrontation down there and that was not violent or in any way nasty. Um, and the police have kept the two groups separate, and I emphasise the police have been wonderful in all of this. The policing has been excellent. They’ve got a lot to be proud of. But I think yesterday’s rally on the on Parliament House steps was a deliberate attempt to provoke a response.


Sonya Feldhoff: Rob, thank you for your call. Simon Birmingham, your response to the location of that?


Simon Birmingham: Well, the Parliament House steps are a place where all manner of causes and competing causes come to rally. And, ultimately, what we should celebrate is the fact that all perspectives are free to rally and free to express their views in Australia. What is un-Australian was the way in which yesterday we had not just two competing rallies, but really one seeking to drown out the voices of the others. That, not just for me I’m an ugly, well-seasoned politician now, so I can take people heckling me. But for other speakers who are less accustomed to those type of situations, having every word they are trying to say, being drowned out by, or an attempt to drown it out by people chanting from an opposing rally. That’s quite confrontational and it’s not necessary, and it’s not respectful of the freedoms that we have in Australia for each of us to be able to express our views and do so freely.


Sonya Feldhoff: Simon Birmingham is an SA Liberal Senator and the Shadow Foreign Affairs Minister.