Q&A: Was the PM using special forces soldiers as a political prop?

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Updated

July 18, 2017 00:31:44

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been criticised on Q&A for having masked soldiers in the background while making an announcement on Monday about increased defence powers during domestic terrorist attacks.

Labor MP Terri Butler said Mr Turnbull had broken a longstanding agreement not to use the military “as a backdrop while campaigning”, while British Al Jazeera host Mehdi Hasan said he found the display “uncomfortable”.

Ms Butler and Hasan were joined by Minister for Resources and Northern Australia Matt Canavan, Christian scholar and historian John Stackhouse and writer and presenter Rachel Corbett on a panel which fielded questions about the Adani coalmine, the Turnbull-Abbott feud, terrorism and Islamophobia.

‘If that’s not politicising the military, I don’t know what is’

During a discussion on the use of military forces to assist police with terrorist incidents, Hasan said he was struck by the method of the Prime Minister’s delivery.

“Watching the Prime Minister today at those barracks, standing surrounded, flanked, by six special forces soldiers with masks on their faces — if that’s not using the military for political reasons, if that’s not politicising the military, I don’t know what is,” he said.

“I found that uncomfortable.”

Ms Butler agreed with the Al Jazeera presenter, saying it showed a lack of respect for Australia’s military forces.

“There’s been a longstanding agreement to not use people in the military for those purposes,” she said.

“People in the military put their lives on the line every day, and they deserve our respect and gratitude — not to be part of a backdrop of campaigning.

“I know that there’s a bit of discomfort being expressed in the community about the way that that appeared.”

The Coalition’s representative on the panel said Ms Butler’s comments were somewhat of an overreaction.

“That seems a little bit over the top,” Mr Canavan said.

“This wasn’t a campaign announcement or anything like that. It’s quite often when the military are involved in activities or what have you, we involve them because they’re an important part of our community.

“I think the Prime Minister was … thanking our special armed forces, our armed forces, for what they do, what they sacrifice to protect us all.

Two questioners, two very different views on the integration of Muslims into Australian society

While one audience member expressed concern Australia may be heading towards a future filled with Islamic sectarian violence, another, a Muslim himself, spoke of his sense of everyday alienation.

The first questioner Roger French asked: “In view of the fact that, in Australia, Muslim couples have a much higher birth rate than the rest of us, is it not possible that, in a couple of generations, Australia could have a Muslim majority who vote in Sharia law?

“Is it not possible that Sunni and Shia sects could develop who begin bombing and shooting each other and turn currently the best country in the world into another war-torn Middle Eastern country?”

Hasan called for some perspective.

“I’m no mathematician — there’s no way the Muslims are going to form a majority in Australia in the next generation or two,” he said.

“Terrorism is a deadly threat to our society, no doubt about it.

“But it’s not an existential threat to our society, and not something we should spend our entire focus, our energy, our resources obsessing over, worrying over.

“I don’t think we should live in perpetual fear of the next terrorist attack, partly because terrorist attacks are, thankfully, extremely rare. But also, because that’s what the terrorists want. The whole purpose of terrorism is to terrorise.”

“The media have acted deeply irresponsibly over the last decade especially in terms of promoting people plastering their faces … A lot of these guys want their moment of infamy and notoriety. Let’s not give it to them. Let’s not play their game.”

Mr Canavan said the bulking up of police resources and involvement of military forces was the best way to make Australians safer.

“The best thing we could do in my view to stop that from happening is to stop the attacks from happening,” he said.

“That’s why all these law changes and extra resources given to police are so important.”

Canadian scholar Mr Stackhouse said the small-scale attacks in the name of Islamic terrorism were distorting our overall perspective.

“What I’m worried about is that the common element between some of these acts of terrorism that we’re worried about that are really small-scale, that really do occupy too much of our imagination and too many of our resources go there when they should go to other clear and present dangers domestically,” he said.

“I’m not worried about Islam. I’m worried about certain people who fly black flags in the name of Islam and who disgrace Islam, and who press certain political agendas in the name of their religion. That concerns me.”

Islamophobia an ‘everyday’ occurrence

Another audience member, Fahad Akhand, said he experiences Islamophobia “pretty much every day”.

“As a Muslim living in Australia, nothing is more alienating and makes me feel more un-Australian than being continuously judged for what I’m not,” he said.

“You’re made to feel like you have to explain yourself. You have to explain to your colleagues, you have to explain to your family, you have to explain to your non-Muslim mates things that are not relevant to you.”

Mr Stackhouse said improving education about religion in Australia would help prevent many misunderstandings.

“Where there is no knowledge, something else will rush in to take its place,” he said.

“Stereotypes, cartoons, terrible movies — those kinds of things will rush in.

“As long as Australia, like Canada, has such an absence of serious education about Islam in the public school system … we properly have taken religious rituals out of the public school system, but now we’ve evacuated any serious teaching about the world’s religions.

“If trained teachers don’t teach us about Islam, Hollywood will — and that’s a real problem.”

Mr Canavan spoke of defending the ideals of our liberal democratic society.

“We’re not going to be able to defend our society and our community unless we stand up for our values,” he said.

“And our values are a liberal democratic society that believes in freedom of religion, freedom of the press, equality between the sexes, equality before the law — that’s what we’ve got to defend.”

Topics:

religion-and-beliefs,

community-and-society,

defence-forces,

defence-and-national-security,

turnbull-malcolm,

terrorism,

islam,

australia

First posted

July 18, 2017 00:13:19



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