Peter Dutton has condemned a planned Victorian school strike to protest Israel’s attacks in Gaza as he declined to support a ceasefire in the conflict with Hamas.
The Opposition Leader said he “completely and utterly” disagreed with students who planned to walk out at lunchtime on Thursday to join a protest in Melbourne’s CBD.
“If your numeracy and literacy rates were through the roof … then it’d be a different story,” he told 3AW.
“But I think this is an indulgence. It’s a political statement. I think the teachers have a greater responsibility to our kids than to allow them out to march.”
The Victorian Department of Education has made it clear that students are expected to attend school.
Independent MP Allegra Spender, whose electorate of Wentworth is home to the largest Jewish community in Australia, said the protests risked isolating Jewish students.
“Australians are distressed by civilian deaths in Israel and Gaza. It is heartbreaking. But we can’t let the conflict overseas create conflict here amongst us, and our children,” she said in a series of posts to X.
“I urge all students to give some thought to the impact their actions may have on the mental health of their classmates, and look for ways to unify. We should all be doing all we can to maintain the social harmony that’s at the heart of this great multicultural country.”
School protests for Palestine risk isolating Jewish children who are already so frightened by rising antisemitism that many are choosing to hide their identity. 2/3
— Allegra Spender (@spenderallegra) November 21, 2023
Mr Dutton made the comments ahead of an appearance alongside Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at the launch of the Melbourne Holocaust Museum in Elsternwick.
He said the bipartisan display of support would send a unified message that Australia was a “tolerant society” that didn’t accept hatred on any basis.
“It’s just unacceptable that people feel the fear that they do now,” Mr Dutton said, referring to reports Jewish Australians were feeling unsafe in their communities.
Mr Dutton was accused last week in parliament by Mr Albanese of weaponising anti-Semitism during a heated debate in which the Liberal leader sought to link the Middle East conflict and the release of detainees from immigration detention.
Mr Dutton told 3AW he believed Mr Albanese’s remarks were just “his emotions speaking”.
“I think that some of the comments that Penny Wong and others have made have been regrettable, but I think today is a day of coming together and making sure that we talk with one voice and that is that we have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism,” Mr Dutton said.
On whether he would support a ceasefire in Gaza, the Liberal leader said he believed “Israel has to deal with the threat of Hamas”.
“This is the extermination of a race. This is the hatred that knows no bounds,” Mr Dutton said.
“Israel wasn’t shelling Gaza on the 6th of October. They responded to the Hamas attacks. We should always remind ourselves of that.”
In his speech at the museum’s opening, Mr Dutton called for “moral courage and clarity” in unequivocally condemning anti-Semitism.
Mr Albanese said Australians should not allow anti-Semitism to gain a foothold here as the conflict continued.
“Australia will always denounce it and reject it utterly, just as we do all forms of racism and prejudice,” he said.