SUBJECTS: Student safety on campus; Hamas-Israel conflict.
CHRIS O’KEEFE: Jason Clare is the Federal Education Minister, and he’s been good enough to join me on the line. Minister, thank you for your time.
JASON CLARE, MINISTER FOR EDUCATION: G’day, mate.
O’KEEFE: It’s a bit frightening, isn’t it? 64 per cent of Jewish students saying that they don’t feel safe on a university campus.
CLARE: Of course it is. And I think it’s worse today than it would have been this time last week, mate. I met with Jewish students here in Melbourne. I’m in Melbourne at the moment today, and their reaction was all the same as you’d expect. They’re on edge. They’re worried because what’s happening on the other side of the world is having an impact here. And there’s nothing more important than safety, not even freedom of speech. And these sort of things like you’ve just read out, that just stokes hate and division, whether it’s on campus or right across the country, there’s no place for antisemitism or, for that matter, Islamophobia or any kind of racism or vilification or hate speech, whether it’s in our universities or anywhere else.
O’KEEFE: What is it, do you think? Because we’ve seen – I don’t know, you never saw anybody jumping up and down after 9/11. No one was supporting Osama bin Laden or ISIS when they went into the Bataclan Theatre in Paris. What is it about the Israel-Palestine conflict that’s different to other acts of terrorism?
CLARE: Most Australians, I hope all Australians, were shocked and disgusted by what they saw on the weekend. That was like a horror movie in real life. And every Australian should be condemning what happened, Hamas attacking Israel. We’ve got a situation here where you’ve got a lot of Australian people that have got family or friends on both sides of the border, and a lot are terrified. I spoke to a Jewish mate last night, he’s worried about his kids going to school today. And I spoke to another Palestinian mate, who’s worried whether his relatives will be alive tomorrow.
There’s people who have come to Australia from other parts of the world that are worried about what’s happening there. A big part of the reason why we’re the best country in the world is because we’re made up of people from all around the world living here in harmony. We can’t lose that.
O’KEEFE: Understood, but you went to university, right?
O’KEEFE: Where’d you go?
CLARE: University of NSW.
O’KEEFE: At the University of NSW, at O Week. Did you get in your bag of progressive causes, a ‘Free Palestine’ bumper sticker?
CLARE: I don’t think so, mate, but you never know.
O’KEEFE: But I think isn’t that kind of the point? It’s become almost entrenched at universities that unless you think this way, you’re the enemy.
CLARE: Here’s the rub, right. Most Australians, like most Israelis I suspect, most Palestinians, want a two-state solution, want two countries next door to each other, behind the border where everybody’s safe, where they can send their kids to school and know they’re going to come home, where they can go off to work and know they’re going to come home. And what these terrorists have done over the weekend has put that back for years, if not decades.
O’KEEFE: But it doesn’t excuse the behaviour, I suppose, on campus, does it? And ultimately, it doesn’t matter what you think, how you think, you’ve got to understand that the person standing next to you, whether they’re Palestinian or Jewish, deserve to feel safe.
CLARE: And a bit of respect. That’s what makes us Aussies. The point I want to make here is, no tweet, no protest, whether it’s on campus or out the front of the Opera House or no political argy-bargy, for that matter, between the big parties is going to help here. We’ve got to lower the temperature, we’ve got to work together here. That means Labor and Liberal, that means community leaders on both sides here.
I fear this will get worse before it gets better and if we want to protect the magic that is Australia, which is people from all around the world living together in harmony, then we’ve got to keep working at it. And it’s more important today than ever.
O’KEEFE: Have you spoken to Mark Scott?
CLARE: No, I haven’t spoken to Mark about it, but as I said, I’m in Melbourne here. I met with the Acting Vice Chancellor of Monash University today. The sort of things they’re putting in place. A counselling service, mental health services for all students that are potentially affected by this, extra security patrols, escorts for students if they need it, and it’s exam time in a couple of weeks, assessments are due in, so they’re offering special consideration for students as well.
I’ve written to every Vice Chancellor of every university this week asking them, “What are you doing to make sure that we’re protecting students and what further steps are you planning to take here?”, including Mark. Because every university is potentially affected by this and as I said, I fear that this will get worse before it gets better in the weeks ahead.
O’KEEFE: Minister, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much.
CLARE: Good on you, mate.
O’KEEFE: That’s Minister Jason Clare, he’s the Federal Education Minister. It’s all about just lowering the temperature, and I think he’s spot on there. But it’s one of the things, right, you see all these Federal politicians, especially the Labor politicians, and that’s why I asked the Minister, “Did you get the Free Palestine bumper sticker in your bag of progressive causes at O Week?”. Because this stuff is entrenched on campus, and I mean like the cement footpaths, this stuff is entrenched. You’re not allowed to think any other way. And you’ve got to feel for Jewish students all around Australia because they’ll be walking onto campus, and I reckon our university campuses are where they’re confronted with antisemitism more than anywhere else in the country. And it breaks my heart, and I mirror what Jason Clare just had to say. I think we’ve just got to lower the temperature and offer a little bit of respect because Australia is where we are. We’re not in the Middle East.