Josh Frydenberg has warned antisemitism is on the rise in Australia and the treasurer says there is an obligation on all good people to “take on hate wherever we see it”.
The treasurer told Melbourne radio station 3AW on Holocaust Memorial Day that given the age of survivors, memories were fading about “the darkest chapter in human history”.
Frydenberg said antisemitism was on the rise locally, and Holocaust denial was in evidence globally. He said these trends needed to be called out “and Holocaust education is part of the response”.
“We’ve seen antisemitic acts on the rise against kids in Victorian schools including, tragically, kids as young as five,” Frydenberg said on Wednesday.
“We’ve seen swastikas … daubed across businesses that happen to be owned by Jews or Jewish sites – or indeed on material for a theatre production of Anne Frank, of all things.
“Let’s not forget what US general Dwight Eisenhower said when he confronted those horrific images at the [concentration] camps in 1945 as part of the allied forces – he said there would come a day when people would deny the Holocaust ever happened.
“I’m afraid there is a rise in historical revisionism – we saw Iran, for example, holding a conference denying the Holocaust ever took place, and therefore it is incumbent on all good people, Jewish and non-Jewish across the world, to place an emphasis on Holocaust remembrance but also Holocaust education and genocides more broadly whether it is in Darfur, or Rwanda or Cambodia – we need to promote tolerance and diversity and take on hate wherever we see it.”
Frydenberg congratulated the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, for requiring high school students to study the Holocaust, but suggested more needed to be done across the country. He attributed rising antisemitism to “a lack of education and understanding”.
The Morrison government intends to work with the ACT government to establish a Holocaust museum in the national capital.
The treasurer’s comments on Wednesday come amid rising concern both in Australia and internationally about rightwing extremism.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation revealed last year that far-right violent extremism constituted up to 40% of its counter-terrorism caseload – a significant increase.
Asio’s deputy director general of intelligence service delivery, Heather Cook, told a parliamentary committee last year the coronavirus pandemic had contributed to an increase in radicalisation, “in particular because of the amount of time individuals are spending in isolation, working from home, or not in school”.
She said with more people working remotely and spending increased time online it is “much easier to find like-minded individuals” with exposure to “a much wider variety of chat groups and areas where these views can coalesce”.
A federal inquiry will investigate the rise of extremism in Australia. The parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security will run an inquiry examining the nature, extent and threat of extremist movements in Australia.
The Labor MP Anne Aly, an expert in counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation, had attempted to force the issue by pursuing a motion in the House of Representatives last year that would have referred the issue to the intelligence and security committee.
But the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, ultimately agreed to launch the inquiry.