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MPs criticise 'normalisation of hate speech' at Grand Mufti dinner for Muslim voters

File images of Labor MP Tony Burke and Australia's Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohamed.

Representatives of Australia's major parties have appealed to Muslim voters at a dinner hosted by the Grand Mufti, where hate speech ahead of the federal election was a hot topic.

The Grand Mufti of Australia and New Zealand Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed held an invite-only event in Sydney on Thursday night for hundreds of Muslim voters and campaigning federal politicians, including Labor MP Tony Burke, Greens leader Richard Di Natale and Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells.

The event, attended by SBS Arabic24, was held to gauge the sentiments of voters amid tensions within Australian politics over anti-Muslim comments. 

Three Liberal candidates were dumped this week after their anti-Muslim comments on social media were unearthed.

NSW Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells recognised the rise of religious intolerance, telling the reception that the Coalition had the "right measures to deal with it".

“We have seen the rise of religious intolerance around the world and as we pray for the victims and families of the recent NZ terror act it reaffirmed the need for stand-alone legislation to protect religious freedoms,” she said.

“This is the practical and necessary response to religious intolerance and the time has come where this is crucial and it is part of the government response to religious intolerance.”

Labor MP Tony Burke is campaigning in the Sydney seat of Watson, where 23 per cent of the population was Muslim.

Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells
Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells during the Election Symposium.
SBS Arabic24

He told the reception that the past three years have been the worst in the history of Australian politics in terms of hate speech. 

“Obviously every election I hope to win, that’s how it goes, but I really want a change of government this time more than ever before. I believe the last three years have been the worst three years I have seen in Australian politics.”

Mr Burke referenced comments made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton in 2016 that it was a “mistake” for Australia to welcome Lebanese Muslim refugees in the 1970s.

“We are seeing right now the Liberal party and Liberal National Party in Queensland referencing One Nation, we were told by senior Liberals that One Nation is more sophisticated now, while all they said instead of being swamped by Asians, they now say swamped by Muslims," Mr Burke said.

“You know when people give a normalising on hate speech and prejudice, it affects how people treat each other at work at schools on public transport and at shopping centres and it must stop.”

Hon Tony Burke MP
Hon Tony Burke MP at the event in Sydney
SBS Arabic24

The Grand Mufti called on federal politicians to "listen to aspirations" of Muslim voters when campaigning. 

"[We're] concurrently urging all Australians of Islamic faith to vote, properly and accurately, to ensure their votes are valid and a significant part of the political process,” he said.

“As the Muslim communities grow in size and organisation you need your local state and federal representatives to represent your values and interests.”

Dr Mohamed doubled down on calls for new laws to combat Islamophobia, something he considered as a “necessary response” following the Christchurch attack.

“We have seen the rise of religious intolerance around the world and as we pray for the victims and families of the recent NZ terror act. It reaffirmed the need for stand-alone legislation to protect religious freedoms,” he said.

“This is the practical and necessary response to religious intolerance and the time has come where this is crucial and it is part of the government response to religious intolerance.”

Australian Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi
File: Australian Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi speaks during Senate business, in Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, 2 April 2019.
AAP Image/Lukas Coch

Greens leader Richard Di Natale made a connection between his party's stance on climate change and the Islamic faith by referring a story the Grand Mufti shared with him.

“I want to talk to you about the challenge of climate change and how critical it is and it is something the Grand Mufti about how essential told me about the Quran. We need to treat the earth like we treat each other because it is God’s creation. When someone plants a tree and a person or an animal eats from that tree it is an act of charity and will be rewarded for it.”

Mr Di Natale reminded the audience that Australia's Muslim senator, Mehreen Faruqi, was from the Greens.

"I am a proud product of Multiculturalism. My family were post-war Italian migrants, I see the way my family was treated. I think of my grandmother who spoke no word in English but raised a family and contributed greatly to this country," he said.

"We are one people together regardless of our skin colour or our religion. We are one people and we share our humanity.”

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