Mr Merlino (Monbulk—Minister for Education, Minister for Mental Health) (12:04): (By leave) In recent weeks we have watched with devastation as violence has rained upon the Middle East, a region that has already known too much terror, and its people, who, like all of us, deserve peace and prosperity. Any loss of civilian life—a child, a parent, a partner; anyone—is heartbreaking and utterly intolerable. And yet children, families, communities—entire generations—have become victims to this ongoing and deeply destructive violence.
At the same time and in recent days we have witnessed a rapid and disturbing increase in anti-Semitic attacks against our Jewish communities both in our own nation and around the world. Here in our proudly multicultural and multifaith Victoria we know this to be completely unacceptable and something our government condemns and will always condemn in the strongest of terms. We know all too well the horrific, heartbreaking and lasting impacts of this kind of bigotry and hatred. It has no place here. It will never have a place here, and as a government and a society we believe that every Victorian deserves to feel safe in every corner of this state and every Victorian, no matter their religion, culture, identity or background, deserves to be respected and valued.
I want to express my sincere gratitude to the organisations and community leaders—too many to name, Speaker—who have worked so hard to maintain safety and stability during this difficult time. Their contributions are not only contemporary but fundamental to the foundations of our state. Because of their ongoing contribution our state is a multicultural success renowned for its deep and enduring commitment to diversity, to understanding and to learning, to not just tolerating our differences but celebrating them and to a deep and abiding respect for each other’s beliefs and backgrounds. It should be a point of pride to all Victorians and an example to all that our home has been so fundamentally shaped by so many. It is a shining example of what opportunities exist when we come together in peace and understanding.
I have been lucky enough to have visited Israel and to have learned so much about its proud people, culture, heritage and history. In a complex Middle East, Israel has been and will always be a safe haven to the Jewish people, and, as every nation does, Israel has a right to defend itself and keep its citizens safe. The sounds of sirens simply should not punctuate the daily life of the only democracy in the Middle East. Equally, the Palestinian people—men, women and children—should be able to live with stability and certainty, opportunity and prosperity.
These things should be able to occur together, alongside each other, which only makes what we saw over the past few weeks so incredibly distressing. Without equivocation our government condemns the actions of Hamas and those who support this evil organisation. Terrorist activities that indiscriminately threaten the lives of millions of innocent people across the entire region are despicable and without justification. Its commitment to the destruction of the state of Israel is plainly, deeply wrong and causes untold pain amongst people who deserve so much more.
This Labor government is a true friend of Israel—and always will be—and I know I join with communities in Melbourne, in Victoria and across the world when I say we are so deeply relieved a ceasefire has been reached. After almost two unbearable weeks of violence and unspeakable fear, we hope that this ceasefire is enduring. Here in Victoria the values of mutual understanding and respect—values felt keenly by all Victorians—will always win the struggle against intolerance, violence and destruction, and collectively and as a community we hope that every effort is directed towards rebuilding homes, livelihoods and, however difficult the road ahead, rebuilding efforts towards a lasting and meaningful peace.