SUBJECT/S: Engagement with Australia’s Islamic community
KIERAN GILBERT: This is AM Agenda, with me now is the Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare, a former Home Affairs Minister as well. We will get to these issues relating to Counter-Terrorism Minister, Michael Keenan, appointed to that yesterday but the first thing that I want to ask you about is as the Member for Blaxland in Western Sydney, a high population of Australians of Muslim faith, what do you make of the fact today that the Prime Minister is going to announce Concetta Fierravanti-Wells with expanded responsibilities to basically foster consultation and engagement with Muslim leaders?
JASON CLARE, SHADOW MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: Well Connie is a nice person, I think she will do a good job but the problem isn’t whether or not we’ve got a Parliamentary Secretary responsible for consulting with the Muslim community, the big part of the problem is what the Prime Minister said in February.
In February here in Canberra, he made a speech where he said Muslim leaders need to speak up more and they need to mean what they say and that had a terrible impact across the Muslim community. He was basically saying that you need to tell the truth, he was accusing them of lying and that is the way they interpreted it. I was talking to Senior Federal Police officers who are tearing their hair out because guess who is responsible for giving law enforcement the best intelligence and information about what is happening on the ground in the Muslim community, it’s Muslim community leaders, and the Prime Minister was accusing them of lying so it had a terrible impact. Connie can’t fix that, only the Prime Minister can fix that by changing the words he uses.
GILBERT: So you are saying that he is accusing them of lying, can you elaborate on that? What exactly do you mean because isn’t he just simply saying that they should be more committed to their opposition to extremism?
CLARE: Remember the words he used when he was over at the Federal Police Headquarters in February where he was announcing some of these proposed changes and he said you’ve got to speak up more and mean it. If you are hearing those words and you are a Muslim community leader, how do you interpret that? Well, many community leaders interpreted that as the Prime Minister of Australia saying that Muslim communities don’t mean what they say and that’s had a terrible impact.
I was at an event the other day where I was hearing it again from leaders on the stage who are still upset about it and still offended by it and the people that suffer as a result of those sort of words is the Federal Police because they are relying on intel on the ground from community leaders and if community leaders feel like the Prime Minister does not trust them or believe them or think they are telling the truth, then what sort of message is that going to send to community leaders to work together with law enforcement and tackle this problem.
GILBERT: So what’s your understanding, because obviously you’re very much in the middle of the Muslim community’s engagement with the rest of nation, is your feeling that the leaders are still engaged in that process?
CLARE: I think they are, I think they want to be. They understand that if something terrible happens on the streets of Sydney or Melbourne, the first people that get targeted and victimised are the Muslim community. They understand that if we are going to be successful here, we’ve all got to work together but the words that leaders use, that Prime Ministers use, that Ministers use, that Shadow Ministers use are very important. We’ve got to make the whole community feel like they belong. If people feel isolated, if they feel like they don’t belong then that’s when terrible things can happen.
GILBERT: Is enough being done by Muslim leaders to not just make the case or condemn when things happen but to condemn the radicalisation, the extremism in the first place, in the mosques?
CLARE: Well I think they certainly are condemning it, they feel angry and frustrated that whenever something terrible happens overseas that they’ve got to come out and do a press conference and say that they are angry about it. Of course they are – 99.9% of Australian Muslims are good, honest, hardworking people that are being stereotyped by the behaviour of lunatics overseas. But we’ve all got to do more Kieran, not just Muslim leaders. Teachers, parents, parents in particular, health workers and law-enforcement working together. We’re only going to solve this problem by working together and solving some of the deeper more entrenched problems like unemployment and lack of education.
GILBERT: Now your seat, as I say, it is either the highest percentage, if not the closest to the highest percentage of Muslim Australians.
CLARE: That’s right, it would be right up there.
GILBERT: It would be right up there with Reid, Craig Laundy’s seat and Watson, Tony Burke’s seat. So you would I guess have a better sense of the mood in the Muslim community, what’s it like among those, I guess who are susceptible, the most susceptible potentially to radicalisation – young Muslim men?
CLARE: Well I work closely with Craig Laundy on this, as well as with Tony Burke, it crosses the political divide. They both understand how difficult these issues are. We work closely with community leaders and that’s important because they tell us better than anyone else can what’s going on. That’s why I made this point before about if you start attacking community leaders, you have trouble finding out what is going on.
The idea of getting into our schools and working more closely with young students, I think is terribly important. I spoke to some police officers the other day who said that if you want to tackle this problem of radicalisation, then you’re going to start young, sometimes the 18, 19 and 20 year olds it’s all too late. So what we do in schools is important and I’m still waiting to see what the government plans are here, we have been waiting for about nine months, I hope they’ve got a good plan here, we want to see it rolled out.
I also think that we need to do more on outreach, on services where you’ve got organised social workers and young people going out to see other young people on the streets and at the railway stations, identifying people at risk and talking to them as well. Outreach services work and we do not have enough of them.
GILBERT: My understanding just finally, before we wrap up, that the radicalisation message is happening and you can see that through the centre in Melbourne, allegedly right at the heart of the radicalisation process there. But it’s through prayer halls and centres like that, not through mosques.
CLARE: It’s not just through that, it’s through the internet. You know you can be radicalised at the click of a button. Here’s the problem, you could have a child in a bedroom looking at something on their iPad and next thing you know they think they should get on a plane to Turkey to head to Syria. That’s the challenge, that’s why it’s so hard to fix and that’s why it is a problem for all of us, parents, teachers, doctors, community leaders and politicians.
GILBERT: Jason Clare, thanks for your time, appreciate it.
CLARE: Thanks Kieran.
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