Andrew Bragg tells parliament racism is ‘a disease of the heart and of the mind’ that must not be tolerated
The Liberal senator Andrew Bragg has joined opposition parties in condemning anti-Asian racism in Australia and “cowardly” attacks during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a Senate adjournment speech on Tuesday, Bragg lent support to an 86,000-strong change.org petition denouncing racist attacks, also referred to last week by Labor’s multicultural affairs spokesman, Andrew Giles, in a speech calling for a national anti-racism strategy.
Bragg told the Senate that Australians “give everyone a fair go” and the “actions of a few cowardly idiots do not reflect the overwhelming views of Australians”.
Bragg noted that Anti-Discrimination New South Wales had received 241 official complaints between January and April, 62 of which were specific to race.
Reported incidents included people being spat at in public and harassed for wearing a face mask, and car windows being smashed.
“One attack is an attack too many,” Bragg said, announcing that he “stands with” Asian Australians, who had been part of Australia’s success for 150 years. “The coronavirus has nothing to do with Asian Australians,” he said.
“Racism in all its forms must be opposed. All Australians, whether they arrived 60,000 years ago, two centuries ago or two days ago should feel welcome and a sense of belonging.
“Racism is a disease of the heart and of the mind and must not be tolerated in our society.”
On Monday parliament passed a motion recognising the “significant contribution made by Chinese-Australians to Australia” and condemning “appalling racist attacks on Chinese-Australians”.
The change.org #UnityOverFear petition urges Scott Morrison and other political leaders to “stand beside your fellow Australians to call for national unity and say no to racism against Asian Australians”.
On Tuesday the prime minister told the Coalition party oom that Chinese Australians had provided “one of the greatest defences we had in those early weeks” of the pandemic.
The mention of the petition in parliament comes at a sensitive time, given that China’s ministry of education warned students to reconsider going to Australia because of a string of “incidents of discrimination” targeting people of Asian descent.
Senior government ministers and universities have taken issue with that description. The education minister, Dan Tehan, said Australia “rejects China’s assertions that Australia is an unsafe destination for international students”.
In a speech to parliament on Wednesday, Giles said the petition deserved a strong bipartisan response, with leaders uniting to confront “the scourge that is racism”.
“It is critical that our parliament unites in standing up for multiculturalism and for every Australian, that we recognise that Chinese Australians have been subjected to awful and shocking racism through the pandemic, and that we respond to this without equivocation,” he said.
“This evening, we can start the process of recognising as a national parliament, that ending racism is a national responsibility – that when we say we’re all in this together, we mean it.”