To a crowd of more than 60 people, mostly comprised of Jewish university students about to participate in their first federal election, Greens candidate for Melbourne Ports’ Steph Hodgins-May, Liberal candidate for Goldstein Tim Wilson and Gellibrand’s Australian Labor Party candidate Tim Watts discussed each party’s policies and their individual vision for Australia.
Hosted by the Victorian division of the Australasian Union for Jewish Students (AUJS) at the Local Taphouse in St Kilda last night, RMIT University student and mediator for the evening Ariel Zohar prompted Hodgins-May to address “the elephant in the room” and discuss her withdrawal from last week’s Melbourne Ports debate hosted by <I>The AJN<P> and Zionism Victoria.
She explained, “At the outset, I was invited to an independently hosted forum, at that stage it was the only forum that was going to take place throughout this election cycle… A couple of weeks after the initial invitation I was advised that it was being co-hosted by Zionism Victoria and as many of you may know, I decided to withdraw on that basis.
“As you indicated, I have participated and worked for the United Nations (UN) and there was what, I found, comments that were quite damaging to what I see as a really important international institution.”
Apologising, Hodgins-May added, “I certainly did not expect, I’ll be quite frank, the response that ensued. I will say that I’ve certainly never been accused of being a bigot or anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist and I understand that that is how a lot of people felt and were quite hurt and for that, I do sincerely apologise. I really do. I did not mean to cause that hurt and offense to your community.”
Despite her account, she failed to adequately address that Zionism Victoria never actually made the comments about the UN she attributed to them.
Nor did she address the other excuses she initially gave, about not wanting to take part in forums that were co-hosted by organisations that weren’t independent newspapers or that were politically active.
Steph also conveniently omitted to mention that she’d actually been notified that Zionism Victoria was co-hosting the debate, eight days before she claimed she’d been advised about their participation.
As the discussions between the candidates continued, Wilson, who was Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner until last year, confronted Hodgins-May, suggesting that he himself is critical of the UN, particularly its disproportionate emphasis on Israel.
Suggesting that she leave the event for his views against the international institution, Wilson said, “I object to the comment if you criticise the UN you aren’t going to attend an event.”
Wilson, debating the purpose of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), said it was something he vehemently opposes and hopes to axe, favouring a robust political debate with freedom of speech upheld.
The ALP and Greens’ candidates both outlined the importance of the Section, with Hodgins-May outlining “the right to not be discriminated against trumps the right for freedom of speech”.
Discussing each parties’ relationship with Israel, both the ALP and Liberal Party candidates outlined their unwavering support for the country, both using the opportunity to tarnish the Greens’ stance on its policies and its failure to address Israel’s right to defend itself.
While addressing unfavourable “party motions” towards Israel from the Labor Convention last year, Watts emphasised that this does not reflect party policy.
He said the Greens are more concerned with establishing a Palestinian state immediately while the ALP is dedicated to “continued discussions and negotiations”.
Wilson, who has visited Israel twice, reaffirmed the Liberal Party’s support for the country, stating they “concretely stand with Israel” and “Michael Danby talks big but in practice can’t deliver on these issues.”
On the plebiscite for marriage reform, Wilson, who is openly gay, said while it isn’t his first choice to address marriage equality, “done properly” it has the chance to bring the country together, believing this is the most democratic method for successful reform.
Watts highlighted the risks involved, highlighting that the LGBTI members of his community are “very scared” and he doesn’t believe “the voices of good will drown out the voices of bad.”
Hodgins-May reflected her party’s policy that it is a waste of money and a “platform for bigotry and hate.”