Thursday, 27 June 2019

Address to the Digi Engage 2019, Sydney


Thank you Julie and I'm sure it will be a really valuable and stimulating couple of days for all of the participants who are here with us today. I'd also like to encourage everyone to make use of the many resources on the eSafety Commissioner's website. There's a lot of great resources their about online safety and related issues, so please as your thinking about these issues and how you can make a positive and constructive contribution to countering extremism and countering divisive rhetoric, please have look at the eSafety Commissioner's material as well.

This event of course has been going since 2016 and is an initiative of DIGI and of the Australian Government. We've backed this event over a number of years because we think it's a really important tool for helping that broader goal of countering extremism, principally online in the context of this event, but of course, unfortunately extremism isn't confined to the online environment, and as a Government we've worked to ensure that events like this occur because it's really important that young audiences have the opportunity at these sorts of forums to discuss these issues and collaborate on issues of social cohesion.

And as with the previous two events, this event will provide participants with the skills, tools and confidence to counter extremism both online and offline. And it's good also for the first time to welcome some participants from New Zealand to this year's event, which is very appropriate and it's good that's been done.

The theme of the event as you know is bringing people together across divides, and you're all here today for various reasons, and chatting with a few of you this morning – all from different backgrounds, different walks of life but all coming together to seek to contribute to this really important goal of countering divisive extremism, and so I want to thank you and congratulate you for being here, and I do want to particularly thank our New Zealand participants. Obviously a devastating time in New Zealand history following the atrocity committed in Christchurch and Australia will always stand with New Zealand in its times of need and we very much welcome our New Zealand participants today.

The Government plays a very important role in countering extremism - the Government can't do that alone. There are so many digital environments that you're all involved in, and the strategies that you can employ to help counter divisive extremism are incredibly important and that's why this event is here.

You have grown up with the online environment, I didn't quiet – I'm a little bit too old, I was at uni when it all started, but you have lived with the online environment your whole lives and so it's entirely natural that you would seek to understand more about how to use the digital environment to counter the extremism [inaudible] working against, you've grown up in that digital environment so it's important that you're here today to learn from this event, because of course – and you don't need me to tell you this – our online activities today integrate completely with pretty much every aspect of day-to-day life. That division between the digital world and the physical world is getting narrower all the time. But what you also know, sadly, is that online spaces can sometimes be used to seek to divide people into different groups based on their social, political or religious views.

As Julie mentioned, part of my role as the Minster for Multicultural Affairs and something that I'm very proud of as the Minister – that we have such a multicultural society, our multicultural success is the envy of the world, we should be very proud of that and we should always seek to ensure that we defend and celebrate that diversity and we ensure that all Australian's regardless of their background feel fully comfortable in participating in Australian life. As a nation we recognise the benefits of that diversity – their cultural, their language, their religious diversity and also the responsibilities that come with our shared citizenship. That diversity helps define who's Australians. It's just who we are.

So when extremists try to divide us along cultural, religious or social lines, they challenge not just our social cohesion but also the very essence of our national identity. We're all different, which is great, and that's why we need to ensure that online environments in particular allow us to share different views in a safe and respectful way, and that's not always easy. Sadly we've seen, we've all seen online exchanges on divisive issues where disagreements end up in insults. Earlier in the year you might have heard the PM note that we need to change the tone of that debate. He said it's not that we shouldn't disagree, indeed disagreements are a fundamental part of democracy. It's not that we shouldn't disagree, but we should disagree better, and I think DIGI engage can help to facilitate that really important goal and I hope that through participating in this event you'll find new and constructive ways to deal with those contentious issues.

Extremism goes well beyond political discussion. Abhorrent, appalling views can rightly arouse passion and anger, but one of the questions for you to contemplate is how can you channel those emotions, those powerful emotions, against those abhorrent views into positive outcomes that help to counter extremism?

So I hope you all get as much as you can from this event and encourage you to fully participate so that you in turn as leaders across our community can help to encourage others to be more inclusive, to disagree better in the words of the Prime Minister, and to speak out and counter extremism.

I'm confident you'll leave the event with new creative skills, new networks, hopefully new friends and share that knowledge and the skills that you gain from this event back in your own communities to help counter extremism which is an extremely important goal, a very important rationale for this event. Best wishes for the next two days, I hope you all have a great conference. Thanks very much.