SUBJECT/S: Attack on Mount Scopus College; Social Cohesion; Safety for students; Migration; International Students; Papua New Guinea; Ukraine; Collins Class Submarines; Vaping


MEMBER FOR CHISHOLM, CARINA GARLAND: Good morning everybody. We’re gathered here today at Mount Scopus in Burwood. Where myself, the local Member for Chisholm, Carina Garland is with Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles, and Josh Burns, the Member for Macnamara and the Principal of Mount Scopus, Dan Sztrajt. And we’ve met with students this morning, at an assembly following some really hideous vandalism of the school, where we saw some terrible graffiti on the buildings here- anti-Semitic attacks, really on a school and we’re here just to show support and solidarity with students in the school community, and to listen to the students and their concerns. I’d now like to introduce my colleague and friend, Josh Burns, the Member for Macnamara.

MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA, JOSH BURNS: Thanks. Thanks very much for your kind words. And this is my old school- Mount Scopus, where I spent six years in high school and it was just devastating to see the graffiti outside a place that was such a big part of my life. And it has no place in Australian society, that sort of vilification and that targeting of a school, a place for young people to come and learn, and to be proud of who they are. And seeing that on the gates of Mount Scopus was devastating. But that’s why we need to be here today, to stand strong and to stand firm against antisemitism in all of its forms, especially when it’s targeting young people. It is not acceptable. So I’m proud to be back at my old school. It’s changed a little bit, but also feels very familiar. And I couldn’t be prouder of the school and the way in which they’ve responded, and the students for turning up proudly, as Jewish kids, and as Jewish Australians are ready for another big week of learning. I’ll now hand over to Richard Marles, the Deputy Prime Minister.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER, RICHARD MARLES: Well, thank you, Josh. And it’s a real privilege really to be here at Mount Scopus, with Josh, a former student of Mount Scopus, with Carina, the local Member, and with Dan, the Principal. And of course, we’re here after the appalling graffiti, which we saw over the course of the weekend, which was just an appalling acts of antisemitism. Antisemitism is directed against the Jewish community but antisemitism is an issue for the entire nation. And it is absolutely critical that in this moment, the Jewish and non-Jewish Australians alike are standing up against antisemitism. The levels of antisemitism that we have seen in the past few months, are more than any that I’ve seen during my lifetime, and it must stop- it has no place in our country. The sorts of words that we saw, written on the walls of this school have no place in our society. And it is critically important that at this moment, the nation stands up against this antisemitism- which is why we are here today. We stand here today in solidarity with the Mount Scopus students. We stand here today in solidarity with the school. But we stand here today in solidarity with the Jewish community. The Jewish community are proud Australians, and they have every right to be able to pursue their life as Australians to enjoy the benefits of our country, to do so in a way where they proudly wear the symbols of their culture without feeling abuse without feeling intimidation, without feeling prejudice. Antisemitism has no place in our country. And that is why we’re here today. Dan.

PRINCIPAL OF MOUNT SCOPUS MEMORIAL COLLEGE, DAN SZTRAJT: Thank you, everyone. As Principal of Mount Scopus, I can say that this community is really hurting. It’s not only for what has happened over the weekend but this is a community- a Jewish community who have really been impacted by an incredible rise in antisemitism. It’s important to note that what happened outside on our front gate did not happen in isolation. It did not occur in a vacuum. What happened outside the front gate is a product of unchecked racism, unchecked antisemitism directed towards this community, without people standing up and saying this is unacceptable. Absolutely whether it be on university campuses, whether it be in public, whether it be on the media, people are entitled to have their rights about world affairs- absolutely. But the minute that that becomes hate speech, the minute that we have communities who are scared to send their children to school, enough is enough. This cannot be the way that an democracy we operate, to have so many people fearful of basic elements of coming to school of feeling safe of making sure that they have a place in Australian society. There are a lot of schools here who are feeling as though the community out there does not want them. And that is absolutely not the case. And we need to make sure that there is a very clear message that is sent. This did not happen in isolation. When institutions, when government, when schools, when all of us stand up and say we will not accept racism in any form, and we will address those who choose to take part in it aggressively, we will see a clear decline in these sorts of things happening. And right now, the Jewish community, my students are experiencing something that they should not have to. They’re experiencing something that is almost reminiscent of what their grandparents and great grandparents tell them about what happens when antisemitism is left unchecked.

JOURNALIST: What is the latest on the investigation into what occurred over the weekend? Have you figured out exactly when it occurred? And was it one two, who may be responsible?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: Yep. So we do have footage of what did occur. We know that around about 630 in the morning, on Saturday morning, during our Sabbath, someone did approach the way in which they attempted to approach the building looked as though they were aware of the fact that there were cameras there- they covered their face, they were wearing a COVID mask when they were doing it. I assume in full knowledge of being able to see security cameras and knowing that they would have been picked up. We’re working with police at the moment, passing on video footage from here and other residents and also other institutions nearby that might be able to provide information.

JOURNALIST: Will you release that footage, at least attempt for people to try and identify who it is?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: That’s something we’d work together with police. We’d work under their direction to find out the way they think it’s best to proceed.

JOURNALIST: How are your students feeling? You did a walk around this morning with Deputy PM and the local member? What are what are students telling you?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: I think there are mixed feelings among students. I think, first of all, it’s worth noting that there are a number of families who chose not to send their children to school today. This is off the back of the community already feeling quite unsafe, given the anti-Israel protests that have been going on and the fear that our families have- that they might find their ways to high schools, not just- or to Jewish schools and not just university campuses. So certainly there’s that strong sense. I think a lot of the students were very pleased to see that government standing up and saying, you know, this wasn’t just a regular act of vandalism that could have happened anywhere. The fact that you can see so many people from government supporting the school, supporting the community, I think, is a statement in and of itself. But I also do feel that there are some students who are wanting to see further action by institutions, by government to say, we need we need to be doing more that, you know, feeling sorry for the community, standing by the community is absolutely one thing. There are certainly students- and this is the sense we got today from some of the questions- that they’re wanting to see some guidance for universities, they want to feel safe. We’ve got you 12 students here, who are making decisions about which university they’re going to go to, and I can tell you right now, their families are not choosing what universities are best for their interests or best for their learning style, they are selecting their universities in year 12 right now, based on which campuses are safe for Jews to be on.

JOURNALIST: And what more should be done. I mean, there’s talk federally about strengthened hate laws. Does that need to be expedited this week in federal parliament?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: Look, it’s difficult for me to state what should be happening right now in federal parliament. I can give you my opinion about what our school feels needs to happen. We definitely would like to see support from the government in terms of what’s happening around hate laws. As I said before, if we stand up immediately when there are acts of antisemitism, and there are consequences for the people that participate in that, we will see a reduction, it’s that simple. I think the reality is that we are a school- I am quite confident in being able to say; I do not believe there’s another school in Australia that spends more resources on security than we do. The fact that such a huge proportion of our yearly budget has to go towards having guards is a huge shame. We’re educators, we want to be spending our time and resources educating students. And right now we’re spending a lot of effort on protecting students. We’d love help with that.

JOURNALIST: Can you explain that to people who aren’t aware of the security measures that I guess this school and other Jewish schools around the country- Why is that?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: Absolutely. Every Jewish school in Australia has a significant amount of their resources directed towards security. For the vast majority of schools that includes armed guards. The reason for that is both in Australia and around the world what we’ve seen occur at Jewish schools across the world, when tensions are raised, it only takes the actions of one person who really wants to cause harm to be able to do so. So, for many, many years now the idea of armed guards to Jewish schools are very normal. Our students find it quite odd when they go and play sports at other schools to find schools with, with open gates and, and a totally different environment where anyone can just come in and come out- that doesn’t exist at Jewish institutions- it certainly doesn’t exist in Jewish schools. But it is a huge proportion of the overall communal funding and what our parents are expected to pay on top of funds for education.

JOURNALIST: You sort of mentioned this at the start, you acknowledge that people can have their view of the world and world issues, but where- can you sort of explain where that line is for people within the Jewish community?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: Absolutely. I think it’s important for us to understand that a part of being in a democracy is that absolutely people have freedom of speech, and people are allowed to air their thoughts on what Australia should or should not be doing around global affairs. That’s absolutely everyone’s given right. Where it is a problem is when it crosses a line into hate speech. And what I think a lot of people might be unaware of is the vast majority, I’m talking close to 90 per cent of the Melbourne Jewish community, the Australian Jewish community, their Zionism, their belief in a state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people is an integral part of their Jewish identity. It existed long before the State of Israel did. So to suggest that there is this separation between being Jewish and being Zionist really doesn’t exist in a big way. It’s not to say there aren’t some Jews out there who wouldn’t define themselves as being Zionistic. But those same Jews would be linking many of their Jewish religious practices to a connection to the land of Israel. So when comments are made, like Zionists are not welcome here on university campuses, the only way that Jewish people- and I think anyone should read that- is Jews are not welcome here. Because there isn’t really a Jewish religion without a connection to the land of Israel. You look at any Jewish prayer, you look at any Jewish practice, it includes references to Israel- it’s been a part of who we are for a 4,000 year history. And I think our students are struggling with the idea that there are people that are suggesting that there are places in Australia, they’re not welcome, because of their faith.

JOURNALIST: Do you feel like the decisions made by the federal government recently at the UN and otherwise have emboldened some of the people who may be saying those things here in Melbourne and across Australia?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: I think we need to acknowledge that there has been a shift. Australia has always enjoyed certainly incredible bipartisan support for the Jewish community, bipartisan support of Australia’s incredible relationship with Israel. And I think that’s been very, that’s been fantastic for the Jewish community in terms of feeling secure for their own safety. I think there has been a shift given what’s going on in the Middle East right now. And I think it’s made it very, very difficult for the Jewish community to manage the fact that so many have very strong views, and when the government does make a decision, it does have a direct impact on the Melbourne Jewish community, and how others choose to relate to it.

JOURNALIST: What has that impact been recently?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: So, we’ve seen a huge spike in incidents of antisemitism, while as a school certainly having graffiti on the front of the school, calling for the death of Jews is, is certainly problematic. But we’ve seen it in other ways; we’ve seen it on sporting fields with our teams that we send off to inter-school sport, our students have certainly seen it online. The amount of even just our own social media feeds of our school- the number of horrendously racist, bigoted messages that we receive on a daily basis online- it’s astronomical compared to any other time. Certainly we feel that people who want to hate on Jews, and want to hate on Israel, certainly we’ve seen an uptick in what they’ve been doing. And we believe it’s a product of being allowed to do it with zero consequences.

JOURNALIST: And some of the pro-Palestinian supporters are saying, well, yes, there’s been an increase in Islamophobia alongside the antisemitism. So what do you- how do you view that? Is that just the byproduct of a war that a lot of people are, like, quite deeply emotional about?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: I think the reality is, any hatred against any minority is something that is not a part of what Australia should be. We’re a thriving democracy. Hatred should not be a part of our dialogue. We should be mature enough to be able to have conversations about a conflict overseas, without it impacting who should be here and who shouldn’t, and people being able to make disgusting racist claims. We’re a mature country that should be able to have this sort of dialogue. I think it’s sad. I think what we have seen is a lot of misinformation. We’ve seen a lot of people intentionally using information about what’s been going on overseas, warping it in a big way and feeding that to students on campus, feeding that to people online. And what it means is the facts of the matter are not being discussed what is being discussed. It’s a lot of hatred.

JOURNALIST: The Deputy Prime Minister- what responsibilities to federal government take for this rise in behavior? I guess there have been some difficult decisions the government’s made at the UN and also in its response to the ICC. What responsibilities does it take?

MARLES: Well, firstly, there is no place for antisemitism in this country. And it’s important that the Jewish community but non-Jews stand up and make that plain. It’s why we’re here this morning, after the appalling graffiti that we saw over the course of the weekend, here at Mount Scopus, and we have made absolutely plain that in our country, there is no place for antisemitism. I think Dan’s right, we need to be as a country mature enough to be able to have a debate about what’s going on overseas, to allow people to have their completely legitimate right to express their views about what’s happening overseas. But to do that in a way which does not challenge our own social cohesion. Doesn’t challenge what’s fundamentally wonderful about this country. And we really do need to be focusing on our social cohesion right now. Because we have seen antisemitism rise, but the question was asked in relation to Islamophobia; there is there is no place for Islamophobia either. And there is no place for prejudice against communities in this country, and communities which where the symbols of their culture, as they go about their lives. That ought to be something which is completely able to be done here free from intimidation or abuse and free from prejudice.

JOURNALIST: With that slogan that was written here be an example of something that could be convicted for hate speech?

MARLES: Yeah, look, again that was raised earlier. I think the legislation that is being progressed at the moment is an important step in this regard. It’s currently out for consultation. And it is important that we get this right, like there are nuances in all of this, which really does matter. And communities, I can tell you are going to want to be consulted about this. So, we will be working through that process, and we want to be thorough in the way in which we do it. But we do want to do this with a sense of pace. We need to have these laws in place as quickly as we can have them in place without obviously compromising the thorough consultation which needs to be undertaken. And we do need to strengthen our anti hate laws.

JOURNALIST: And what about the ‘from the river to the sea’, is that- ?

MARLES: Well, again, I mean, I feel deeply uncomfortable, obviously with that phrase- it goes a bit to what Dan said before. I mean, that is a phrase which calls for only one state. And it has been the consistent position of this government, but governments of both persuasions in our country over many decades in support of a two state solution. And that’s where the government stands now, as you would expect us to. And we absolutely understand the sense of connection that the Jewish faith has with the Jewish homeland.

JOURNALIST: Would you like to see that process fast tracked?

MARLES: Look, I want to see it done in a way which is thorough. I mean, it really matters that we get it right. We do need to act with pace.

JOURNALIST: What do we do on it the moment?

MARLES: Well, it’s proceeding through the processes now, and it’s in the Parliament- we’re going through the process of the parliamentary processes now, but it is out for consultation at the moment. You want to get that consultation process right. We do need to be moving with pace. But we also don’t want to shortchange the process of consultation, because I can tell you that communities want to be heard on this.

JOURNALIST: And not on hate speech. But what about Ukraine’s plea for extra coal?

MARLES: So just- happy to do other questions. But whilst Dan is still here, are there are other questions on this?

JOURNALIST: Can I just clarify something Dan, with when the graffiti was spotted?

When was it? Was it a student that spotted an alert at the school? How did that all come about?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: So our understanding is that a student was driving past and was filming the front of the school just to in the video that I saw, saying hi to the school as a bit of a joke, and then spotted the graffiti. And then there are some comments that the student made about being quite shocked at that. That was then sent around internally, I guess, through chats in the school. And then that came to pretty much the entire community’s attention very quickly. And certainly after Shabbat went out, when the rest of the community would have found out about that it was-

JOURNALIST: And that was Saturday morning.

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: That was Saturday morning.

JOURNALIST: And how quickly was it removed? And obviously we’ve got an Israeli flag there now. I mean, can you explain the significance of that decision to put that there?

PRINCIPAL SZTRAJT: Yep. So outside the front of our school, we immediately took steps to cover up, it was quite difficult being the Sabbath, we immediately took steps to have the graffiti covered up. Later in the day it was actually fully removed and has since been repainted. A decision was made this morning that when our students were coming back onto campus, we wanted them to feel safe and feel secure, but also have a sense of pride in who they are. So right now there is an Australian flag and an Israeli flag outside the front, not right over the spot where the graffiti was, we wanted the students to see that it had been cleared off. But we wanted students to be welcomed into the school today, feeling proud of who they are not being taken down by this sort of racism.

JOURNALIST: Can I just ask Josh some questions. Josh, do you still feel conflicted by Australia’s vote at the UN? And also, would you like to have seen Prime Minister Anthony Albanese be stronger on the ICC and what they’ve done?

BURNS: Let’s say a couple of things. First of all, I made a statement at the time about the UN vote and I stand by that statement. But I also think that there is an important differentiation that needs to happen between, as Dan and Richard said, a mature discussion on difficult foreign policy matters, and the targeting of Jewish institutions, Jewish people and a Jewish school in Australia. And it is absolutely okay to have a conversation about foreign policy, about the Middle East. It’s one of the most difficult conflicts that we’ve all witnessed in our lifetime. And I think having those discussions and not firing tweets, or firing off some abuse on social media, or graffting a school is going to solve that. What needs to solve that is understanding, a deeper understanding and a deeper conversation. And that’s what I continue to do with my colleagues. And in regards to the Prime Minister’s statement, I think it was entirely appropriate. I think he mentioned that he doesn’t comment on core processes in Australia and nor would he oversees. But there is no, there can be no comparison between a terrorist organization and the legitimate government of a democratic country.

JOURNALIST: Can I ask, Mr. Marles, Bruce Hill from the Jewish news here, the feedback we’re getting from the members of our community, as we hear a lot of words from politicians, antisemitism has no place in this country. When are we going to see some actual action?

MARLES: Well, we’re here right now. We are supporting the community in terms of measures around security. As we’ve just been discussing, we are progressing through the parliament laws which will strengthen anti-hate speech legislation. So action is being taken. But I think what is really important is that in this moment, the people across the political spectrum are standing up in opposition to antisemitism. It is absolutely essential that we’re making it clear that this has no place in Australian society today. And that’s what we’re doing here this morning.

JOURNALIST: Some other Fed policy matters?

MARLES: So we might thank Dan for coming on.

JOURNALIST: What did you make the direction from Immigration Minister, Andrew Giles which allowed a New Zealand-born, child rapist to stay in Australia because his family links to the country?

MARLES: Well, two points to make obviously, this was overturning a decision of the government. And secondly, the decision that was taken was one that was taken by an independent tribunal.

JOURNALIST: But he’d made a ministerial direction?

MARLES: As I say, this was a decision of an independent tribunal, which overturned the decision of the government.

JOURNALIST: Do your proposed cuts to foreign students risky, potentially damaging attempts to rebuild relations with China?

MARLES: No, I mean, firstly, that what we’re doing in relation to foreign students is across the board. Foreign students are really important for our education system, it is actually a great export for our country, but it’s so much bigger than that, because, you know, people from around the world who gain their education in Australia have become longtime friends of our nation. And we are greatly benefited from the fact that there are so many people around the world, and particularly within our region, who have received their education in Australia. But as we manage international education, we need to do so in a way which has an eye to what is going on in relation to housing. So all we’re saying is that above certain limits, institutions that want to bring international students above those numbers need to have a housing solution associated with it. Now, that’s all we’re doing. And it’s not particular to any country. We will no doubt have these conversations with China, and when the Chinese Premier is here, over the course of the next few weeks, but this is a policy which has been taken across the board.

JOURNALIST: What assistance will Australia provide to PNG following the landslide last week?

MARLES: Our heart goes out to the people of Papua New Guinea and those in Enga province in the highlands, who have just experienced the most appalling disaster. And you know, we are very anxious about the numbers around the death toll which continue to rise. From the moment this occurred on Friday, we’ve reached out to the Papua New Guinean government, offering our assistance in whatever we can do, but also specifically talking about what kind of assistance we might be able to provide, we have actually provided assistance in getting officials from their disaster response centre to the place of the incident over the course of the weekend. And we’ll continue to work very closely with the Papua New Guinean government about how best we can provide assistance over the coming days.

JOURNALIST: Has there been funding made available? I mean, what’s feasible? What sort of support is feasible?

MARLES: I mean, we have a significant Defence Cooperation program with PNG which means that, you know, we have people on the ground at any given moment. But obviously, we are able to bring to bear the kinds of support that we would in respect of any natural disaster which occurs within our own country. PNG is a close neighbour, is a country with whom we have the closest of relationships, and we have offered whatever support we can provide in terms of dealing with this disaster, and will continue to work with the Papua New Guinean officials as to how best that can be done. The mudslides happened in a pretty remote part of PNG, in Enga province, up in the highlands, so there’s obviously an assessment of exactly what has happened and what best can be done to provide a response in this moment. And as I say, we’ll work closely with the PNG government around that.

JOURNALIST: Will Ukraine be receiving coal from Australia soon?

MARLES: Look, I see the reports about that in the news. Let me make this clear; we have been standing with Ukraine from the moment of the illegal Russian invasion in respect of Ukraine, and we will stand with Ukraine, until this conflict is resolved on Ukraine’s terms. And we have made that clear. I was in Ukraine just a few weeks ago, announcing another package- $100 million in support of Ukraine. And we will continue to provide more support as we go forward. The support that we provide Ukraine clearly has to be sustainable in an Australian context, but it also needs to be practical for Ukraine. And so we are working really closely with the Ukrainian government, about what kind of support we can provide and how best we can provide it. And that will continue to be the case going forward. But let me make this clear; the Ukrainian government could not be more grateful for the support that Australia has provided. It’s more than $1 billion dollars- closing in on $1 billion dollars of military support, is what we have provided up until this till this moment in time. And that we, as a non-NATO country, literally on the other side of the world, having provided this support is something which really, the Ukrainian government is deeply grateful for. But we’ll continue to work with Ukraine about how best we can support them going forward.

JOURNALIST: So Ukraine says it hasn’t received a formal yes or no, about this coal shipment. So six months on, why is that the case?

MARLES: Well, again, we work really closely with the Ukrainian government about how best we can provide support and provide it in a practical way. And there’s an absolute understanding and the conversations that we have with Ukraine about the support we’re providing and, and how best we can do it – and that includes both military and non-military support.

JOURNALIST: Will they get the coal?

MARLES: The support that we’re providing now is very much focused on military support around allowing Ukraine to prosecute this conflict with Russia. And that is where our focus is. And that is where Ukraine wants our focus to be.

JOURNALIST: So they won’t get the coal?

MARLES: As I say, we’re continuing to work with Ukraine. But people get focused on a particular item, which is out there at any time-

JOURNALIST: Ukraine is asking, for a yes or a no?

MARLES: We have a very clear dialogue with Ukraine about how best we can provide support. And we are meeting the requests in the most practical way possible. Right now, the focus is in respect of military support in relation to this conflict. And it’s why I was there literally a few weeks ago, where the focus was all about the military support that we are providing.

JOURNALIST: Can I just asked you about Defence? How concerned should Australians be revelations the country had no submarines available to defend itself from 2009 and 2012. And can you assure the country that’s not the case now?

MARLES: Well, again, I’ve seen these reports in the papers today, and this is actually something that has been well ventilated over the years. The Coles Review, which was undertaken by the former Labor government and Prime Ministers Rudd and Gilad, addressed exactly the issue of the readiness and availability of our Collins class submarines. And in the aftermath of the Coles Review, we actually saw a significant increase in the availability of our Collins class submarines, which have been operating at an availability rate consistent with what you would see around the rest of the world, since then. And so, Australian should feel confident about that. This is an issue which is a fair way in the past, it was dealt with by the Coles Review back then. And the outcome of the Coles Review has seen a much greater readiness and availability of our submarine fleet since, and that remains the case today.

JOURNALIST: There’s modeling out today showing how much revenue could be collected if vapes are regulated and taxed, it’s quite a significant amount of money. Would the government ever consider this? And how does it compare to tobacco revenue?

MARLES: Well, the government is moving down the path of what vapes weren’t meant to be- which what vapes were meant to be were a means by which people remove themselves from nicotine addiction. In fact, they’ve turned out to be a pathway to having nicotine addiction. And so we’re moving down the pathway of requiring prescriptions for vapes and that’s being dealt with by the Health Minister. But if you want to look at this through an economic prism, this is really simple; I mean, the cost to our country and the cost to states of dealing with the health consequences of nicotine addiction far outweigh the kind of revenue which has been described and reported in today’s media.



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