Calls for social cohesion in Australia amid fears over Israel-Hamas conflict

Australian MPs have called for social cohesion rather than division in the wake of the Gaza conflict, saying both Jewish and Middle Eastern communities must be supported amid fears of a “tipping point” in multiculturalism.

Senior federal minister Tony Burke claimed harmony in Australian society had “gone backwards in a big way” since the conflict in Israel and Palestine erupted, joining a stirring debate in parliament to say politicians had a responsibility to publicly stand against hate speech and for respect.

Burke, the leader of the house and workplace minister, said Australia could not allow “freedom of speech” to include “hate speech”.

“It feels in so many ways like we’ve gone backwards, for people’s ordinary experiences of what it is to live in Australia,” he said.

The independent MP Zoe Daniel, who proposed the debate, said she was concerned about antisemitism and rising anxiety of Jewish people, as well as feeling “heartsick” at thousands of civilian deaths in Gaza.

“The two feelings can coexist; indeed, they must,” Daniel said.

Daniel acknowledged Australia had limited ability to influence events in Gaza, but said leaders had a responsibility to encourage “multi-partisan calm”. She said that she, and many other MPs, had faced threats, anger and hate in recent weeks.

“Australia, I believe, is facing its greatest test since multiculturalism was instituted by Malcolm Fraser and Petro Georgiou in the 1970s. It has stood the test of time until now. Let it not fail … we must pull back from this tipping point,” she said.