Interview - ABC Radio National Breakfast








SUBJECT: Antisemitism, Human Rights Committee 


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Police are investigating the leak of the personal details of hundreds of Jewish people working in creative industries in Australia. Those targeted have had their names, addresses, contact details, social media accounts and in some cases photos published online. Part of an ongoing intimidation campaign by people campaigning in the Palestinian movement, some people campaigning in that movement. The campaign has resulted in attacks on businesses and death threats against Jewish people and their children.


Josh Burns is the Federal Member for Macnamara and joins us this morning. Welcome.




PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Just like to hear your reflections on this. This was a WhatsApp group that was for Jewish creatives. Clearly a range of different views among those people. What do you make of the leaking of their details?


JOSH BURNS MP, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: It's very distressing and it's a trend where we've seen people using large social media platforms to try and target Jewish people in Australia. And I think there's a couple of really important points to make. The first of all is that I understand that people are upset about the Middle East. It's an upsetting situation. But if you are focusing your efforts and your attention on a Jewish community group or Jewish people in Australia, then you are not targeting the Israeli government. You are targeting your fellow Australian citizens. And you cannot do that because all Australians should be able to live their lives respectfully and free from intimidation and free from the sort of really ugly vilification that we've seen against Jewish community members. The other point to make is that this is beyond the sort of trivial social media posts that some people are putting up. This has resulted in, as you mentioned, really serious consequences where people have received death threats. I've been in contact with a family that has had to go into hiding.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Sorry, I just need to stop you on that because that is quite a claim. I'm not suggesting it's untrue, but I'm saying, wow, what's happened? Why would they need to go into hiding?


JOSH BURNS MP, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: Their details were published online. They were receiving an avalanche of threats. They basically had to switch off their devices and not go into their places of work and go into a place that wasn't their usual home. They were completely shattered by this whole experience where a sort of lynch mob of people were attacking them. We're not talking about people who are in any way connected to the conflict in the Middle East. We're talking about ordinary Australian citizens who happen to be Jewish. The other point, and this is a really important one, Patricia, is that Jewish businesses have been targeted. These are businesses where people whose owners are, again, just ordinary Australian citizens. Because of these large social media platforms marking them out as some sort of conspiratorial contributor to the Middle East, there have been businesses where they have been marked by some of the most haunting images. We do remember what it's like when businesses were marked because they had Jewish ownership. That's what some of these campaigns have resulted in.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: A few people are texting in, and I want to put this to you, that the reason they've been leaked, we are not being truthful about. Now, we want to be incredibly truthful about all elements here. They say there was a systematic coordinated attempt to quash pro-Palestinian voices. And that some people in these WhatsApp groups, as we saw in the ones leaked about the ABC to the Nine papers, were people trying to get Palestinians or pro-Palestinian voices sacked or reprimanded. Do you see that point of view?


JOSH BURNS MP, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: Let me be clear. If you hold pro-Palestinian views, you are absolutely entitled to your view. And you can express it in a respectful and democratic way, just as anyone else can in Australia. And I will absolutely defend anyone's ability to make those calls. Because I too feel great sympathy towards the Palestinian people. It's devastating. This is a conflict where, for generations, my family have borne witness. And I desperately want to see peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. On the specifics of some of these groups, I think it varies. There’s been a number of groups where some have been really focused on defending the Jewish community against attacks. And I don't think it's true to say that they have been focused on shutting down Palestinian voices. I think that's an incorrect summation of them.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: But the campaign, for instance, saying, let's write letters and try and get this person off air at the ABC. Do you think that's appropriate?


JOSH BURNS MP, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: Well, I think we have to be very careful about attributing some sort of sinister motivation with democratic activity. So if someone is saying to another person, we should write letters because we don't agree with this person, I don't think there's a problem with that. If people are putting up people's private information on a public arena insinuating that everyone needs to go and take action against a private citizen, and that is a different circumstance. And that is a circumstance where there is a direct threat against an individual. And I think that that is a dangerous precedent. So we do need to be careful here about what's actually going on in some of these groups. But I don't have any issue with people in any organisation and any who are involved in any part of this conversation or any other conversation to associate with one another. I mean, that's one of the fundamental rights of being an Australian is to be able to freely associate with your fellow citizen and to come together and express your view where it gets dangerous.

And this is the clear line that we need to be careful on is where we are targeting individuals and trying to intimidate and in some cases threaten them and attack their livelihoods, attack their personal family situation, attack their businesses.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: And how widespread do you think that currently is in Australia?


JOSH BURNS MP, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: Patricia, if you ask any member of the Jewish community about this doxing issue, every single member of the Jewish community would respond with how frightening it is that they have never experienced anything like this, that this social media phenomena of putting up people's individual profiles is one of the most frightening and unprecedented experiences of Jewish people in Australia. It shakes them to their core and it needs to stop.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: So Victoria Police are reportedly investigating the death threats against a Jewish couple's five year old child. What steps need to be taken to lower the risk of violence in Australia? That is so alarming. I'm sure many listeners hearing that will be so alarmed to hear that that's happened.


JOSH BURNS MP, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: Well, the first thing is that words matter. I mean, Mike Burgess, the head of ASIO, who is an extremely considered and quality public servant, said that our leaders' words matter. And that in all of these conversations, the way in which we talk to each other and the way in which we either decide to uphold social cohesion or try and inflame tensions in community really matter. If you have a large social media following of hundreds of thousands of people and you are putting up photos of your fellow citizen and calling on your followers to go after them, then that is a very dangerous precedent and people need to take responsibility for their own actions. And whether it's political leaders, whether it's what we saw this week, even the Greens member in New South Wales was giving old anti-Semitic tropes. Our words matter and the way in which we talk to each other and the way in which we interact with each other really matters. We cannot be shouting at each other on social media and aggressively threatening one another. I think we've lost a big ability to have a respectful conversation about difficult issues. And it's something that I think we need leadership from all levels to try and ensure that we don't have our citizens threatening one another.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Josh Burns, before I let you go, I must ask you, because you are the chair of a committee that has reported on new preventative detention laws, which were rushed through parliament before Christmas, branding them unacceptable. What are your issues with the laws?


JOSH BURNS MP, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: Well, I think let's just make a couple of points. First of all, I'm the chair of the Human Rights Committee, which I'm very privileged to be. And as part of that committee's role, we receive legal advice.

It's part of our statutory requirements to review the human rights implications of every single piece of legislation. And we made a bipartisan committee report which made a couple of points. The first one is to reflect the legal advice that we received around. Obviously, this was a piece of legislation that responded to a high court decision. So there was a number of pieces of legal advice going around.But the other thing to mention was that we in human rights, we have to assess what is the objective with a piece of policy and is it proportionate. And we absolutely recognise the objective that the government wanted to keep the community safe by putting conditions on people's visas here to ensure that people couldn't cause damage to the community. So that was clearly stated by the community. But obviously, when you do put certain conditions on people, it does engage people's rights. And that was something that as the Human Rights Committee and as the chair, we made a bipartisan committee view that that engaged human rights and that's obviously concerning


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: So you think that this place is an unacceptably high limit on human rights?


JOSH BURNS MP, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: No, I think that it engages human rights and that that is something that needs to be considered when...


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: So do laws need to be changed or adjusted?



JOSH BURNS MP, MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA: Well, the committee view was that as the laws have passed, we're not going to be making further comments on this.

And again, it's one of those difficult things where we need to highlight that there are human rights engaged with this and that this needs to be monitored and it needs to be proportionate. And that's the principles in which government is looking at.

We are doing a broader examination of our human rights framework where what we're going to be looking at is how laws are made and what are the human rights frames and mindfulness that government's going to be put on when drafting laws.

And this is a big piece of work that we're going to be completing in March. And as chair of the Human Rights Committee, I'll have a lot more to say on it in the coming months.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Look forward to it. Thank you so much for joining us.

09 February 2024