Statement on university encampments

Free speech and hate speech are not the same thing. Hate speech must not be tolerated.

Students have every right to peaceful protest; to advocate for an end to the conflict in Gaza and for the protection of civilians.

However, while most protestors are acting in good faith, these encampments are inherently intimidatory for Jewish students. Jewish students are already in an environment where they feel unsafe. Many have been verbally abused, excluded and humiliated. Some are no longer attending campus. They describe the university environment as hostile.

While this may not be the intent of many of the protestors, this is the experience of many Jewish students.

These students have a right to safety and security. To abuse and exclude them on the basis of the conflict in the Middle East because they are Jewish is wrong.

Some of the participants in the encampments are not members of the university community. This makes it difficult to communicate with protest organisers when empathetic and respectful communication is most needed between the opposing groups of demonstrators.

I have raised these concerns directly with Education Minister Jason Clare.

I have written to him along with the Member for Wentworth, Allegra Spender, asking him to activate a recommendation of the Universities Accord report for a study into racism at Australian universities with a particular focus on antisemitism.

Antisemitism was on the rise on campuses before the horrific Hamas attacks of October 7 and has escalated since.

It is incumbent on universities to ensure that all students are safe on campus, to enforce student codes of conduct and to use the law to act against those who are not peacefully protesting.

Antisemitism must not be tolerated in our universities or in our communities, ever. Excluding and abusing Jewish students is just that and it must stop.

Protest is a basic democratic right, a right we should protect. Advocacy for peace is very important, but we must take great care that advocacy does not spill over into fomenting social division.

I have spoken to the Vice Chancellor of Monash University and to Mark Scott, Vice Chancellor of Sydney University and current Chair of the Group of Eight. I have also reached out to representatives of Jewish students to hear their concerns first-hand.

The Israel-Gaza conflict is having a shocking impact on civilians. I support a ceasefire and have repeatedly called on the Israeli government to protect civilians. Any ground invasion in Rafah will be disastrous and must be avoided. Hamas must release the remaining hostages and Israel must remove roadblocks to humanitarian aid while a ceasefire and peace deal is
secured.

This is the only way to end both the conflict in Gaza and the unrest and division across the world.

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