Tuesday, 16 October 2018
I seek leave to move the following motion:
That the House rejects the resolution put to the Senate yesterday which included a white supremacist slogan that is also used by hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Leave not granted.
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Manager of Opposition Business from moving the following motion immediately:
That the House rejects the resolution put to the Senate yesterday which included a white supremacist slogan that is also used by hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
This resolution is one that they should have given leave for. We have put no political argument into this. We have put no attack on the government in this. We have simply said what the Minister for Finance claimed a few minutes ago was now the government's position. We've simply given the House the opportunity to resolve that we are opposed to a white supremacist slogan that the Senate debated yesterday. And, instead of the government having the good sense to take that opportunity and say, 'Okay, we'll give you leave and we will all vote for it,' they've decided not to give leave, completely undermining everything the finance minister said only about an hour ago.
This resolution does not condemn the government, but what they just did does, because they were given an opportunity just then to vote on a motion that says nothing more than that we reject what Pauline Hanson put to the Senate yesterday, nothing more than that we reject a white supremacist slogan that has also been adopted by the Ku Klux Klan. We gave them the opportunity to simply vote for a resolution that says that. Bear in mind we were sorely tempted to put in a resolution that carried a whole lot of argument in it, but instead we have provided a resolution for every member of the coalition such that, if you oppose what Pauline Hanson put to the Senate yesterday, that will be the only question before you—nothing else. There will be no other question before the House. If that's something the government wants to vote against then what has the Liberal Party become? What have you become?
The Attorney-General's excuses on this have been completely pathetic. We're talking about a motion that was put on the Senate Notice Paper in September, that the Attorney-General had had since September and had issued instructions to support. The debate occurred, and the Liberal and National Party senators sat there, hearing the debate and knowing what they were about to vote on, and none of them questioned it. None of them thought, 'Maybe we should be opposed to this white supremacist stuff that's coming from Senator Hanson.' And then, after the vote had occurred, the Attorney-General tweeted in support of the government's position. The Leader of the Government in the Senate did the same. And then, once the community backlash said, 'We will not accept this white supremacist rubbish from the Liberal Party', they started to back-pedal and try to change their position. I suppose they also think it's a coincidence that One Nation announced their candidate on the weekend in the Attorney-General's own seat—a candidate he'll be trying to get preferences from. And a hint to those opposite: when a motion is moved by Pauline Hanson about race, it's probably not going to be an antiracism motion! It will probably not be the case. Note to self: think about that one.
We had nearly a whole day of debate here when Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister and it was a good debate, because those in the other chamber, in the other place, the same senators who voted with Pauline Hanson yesterday, after Fraser Anning delivered his speech, all went up and congratulated him. They all went up and hugged him, embraced him, shook his hand. Not one of them had a problem with it. And yet, when everybody realised what happened, the government decided to back-pedal. When Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister, we were able to get bipartisanship on a resolution that said that shouldn't have happened. But now that we're in the days of the Morrison government, that doesn't happen anymore. Now that we're in the days of the Morrison government, when we have a resolution which says 'we reject what happened in the Senate yesterday', those opposite want to line up with it. The claims that were made by the finance minister about an hour ago amount to absolutely nothing. Don't pretend that you're suddenly opposed to what you voted for yesterday, if today you want to back-in yesterday's position, because that's what's in front of the chamber: that the House rejects the resolution put to the Senate yesterday which included a white supremacist slogan that is also used by hate groups like the Ku Klux Klan. That is what has happened to debate in this country.
I've got to say, when we on this side discussed amongst ourselves me moving this, we deliberately wanted to give the parliament the opportunity for a moment of unity like we were able to achieve under the Turnbull government. We deliberately took a whole lot of comments I've used in my speeches out of the resolution so that we had a resolution that will give those opposite, in good conscience—and there are some of them who can act in good conscience opposite; there are some of them who don't want to line up with what the senators did yesterday—an opportunity to vote that way in the parliament now. I let the government know that I was going to move a resolution about yesterday. I made sure the Leader of the House was listening as I sought leave so he could hear every word of it. The answer to, 'Will we have that moment of unity again now that we're in the Morrison government?' is no. The answer is no.
We're back to the pattern that has changed ever since One Nation returned to this parliament. The last time the Australian people voted, they were told that support for multiculturalism, support for modern Australia, was bipartisan and they were told that by both sides of politics. But after the election, when One Nation turned up back in the parliament, all of a sudden those opposite are saying, 'We need to have more hate speech again. We need to change 18C'. That was back on the agenda. Fraser Anning gave his first speech, and they were up congratulating him after he'd spoken about the final solution. Even John Howard refused to give preferences to One Nation, and we've seen what they've done in the by-elections that have been held this term. All those principles that people opposite like Philip Ruddock were once willing to cross the floor over have shifted this term.
This is a debate about whether the modern Liberal Party are willing to support modern Australia, because last night they didn't. Last night that was a vote. At the point when you start using the same language that the KKK is happy with, you've really got to ask a question. Your defence is that the Attorney-General hadn't read it. Of all the jobs, of all the ministers to not read the detail, the Attorney-General of Australia is the one who didn't check the language. That's what this has come to?
It is very rare that we have a moment in the parliament where there is a resolution that both sides have claimed they support and yet we are about to divide over it. Only about an hour ago, the Leader of the Government in the Senate claimed he supported exactly what we are about to put to the House. It's really simple. This doesn't happen in a vacuum. There was a great speech given some time ago by one of the members opposite, the member for McMillan. He made a comment about appealing to the lowest common denominator—has never given anyone a job, has never given anyone a fresh start, has never improved anyone's education. What we should be doing together is standing against that rubbish. Instead, on a resolution that says nothing more than 'We reject what happened in the Senate yesterday,' those opposite are lining up now to dig in, to keep those tweets going and to keep backing in the offensive position of yesterday. Every decent member of this House should support this motion.
The motion is seconded. This is extraordinary in this House. The Liberal government, the government members, want to deny this House the opportunity to reject, in no uncertain terms, the extraordinary racism that was on display in the Senate of Australia last night. The Attorney-General of Australia must explain to this House why he supported a white supremacist battle cry being endorsed by the Senate last night. No-one should be in any doubt about the motion that was passed in the Senate with the support of 27 coalition senators and 10 ministers. Think about that: 10 ministers in the government supported that white supremacist battle cry, which, as the Manager of Opposition Business has pointed out, is supported by the KKK in the United States. That's what happened in the Senate last night. The motion was on the Notice Paper for 25 days. The government had 25 days to think about it. The minister who's got responsibility for matters to do with racism in the government, the Attorney-General of Australia, who's responsible for administering the Racial Discrimination Act, had 25 days on which to reflect and work out that this was, in fact, a battle cry of the white supremacist grubs in our country—that this was a battle cry, a slogan, a catchcry that they like to use. If he is the Attorney-General responsible for anti-discrimination, for fighting discrimination in our country, then it's his job to work it out.
There might have been a little bit of warning to him, because this was a motion about racism coming from, of all people, Pauline Hanson. Now he's asking the people of Australia to believe that this was some kind of administrative error. How pathetic. He's pointing to administrative error. Think about what happened in the Senate last night. Government senator after government senator filed in to cast their votes for a racist motion moved by Pauline Hanson, and the Attorney-General and Senator Cormann are now asking the people of Australia to believe that those 27 government senators are just dumb automatons, doing what they were told by the Attorney-General. Maybe they are dumb automatons, as that's what he's saying, but, in fact, this is meant to be the party—the Liberal Party—that boasts all the time about conscience votes and boasts all the time about how they think about the way they vote in this place and how they wouldn't dream of voting against their conscience. Well, they didn't think very much last night.
I think what's actually happened is that the true values of the Liberal Party of Australia have been put on display. I hope that the voters of Wentworth take a close look at what the Liberal Party of Australia did last night in voting for white supremacist slogans. This is a motion from Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. That should have been a little bit of an alert to the government to think a little bit.
Now they want to deny this House the opportunity to vote—the opportunity to vote to reject the Senate's motion passed last night. This, in fact, is the current Attorney-General's 'people have a right to be bigots' moment. The last Attorney-General said that ridiculous thing. This Attorney-General tweeted support. Last night at a quarter to eight, hours after the vote in the Senate, this Attorney-General tweeted support for the motion that he had instructed the dumb automaton senators to vote for in the Senate, because apparently that's what he's expecting the people of Australia to believe—that, because of an administrative error, the wrong instruction went out to 27 coalition senators, and they filed in one after the other to vote in favour of this white supremacist motion.
What happened, we're entitled to ask, to support for multiculturalism in this country? What happened to the rejection of racism? Not so long ago, under Prime Minister Turnbull, this House was prepared to unite to reject the disgraceful things said by Senator Anning in his first speech. What happened to that? What, indeed, has happened to the Liberal Party of Australia, which used to turn its face on racism, which used to say, 'We are a party that supports multiculturalism'? We've had silence from the government. The government have twice attempted to repeal section 18C. They should be ashamed of themselves for that, and they should be ashamed of themselves for their performance in the Senate last night. (Time expired)
The government will not be agreeing with this motion to suspend standing orders. So far we have seen a pathetic case of overacting from the shadow Attorney-General and the Manager of Opposition Business. If there were an Academy Award for overacting, the Manager of Opposition Business would have won it today. This is one of the most embarrassing cases of over-egging the pudding that I've seen in a very long time.
The idea that the government would have done anything other than make an administrative error on this matter is quite clearly ridiculous. The Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Cormann, had a press conference this morning at 9.13 Australian Eastern Standard Time, and everybody on the Labor side knows it. The idea that the government has not come out today and disassociated itself from this motion is clearly untrue. Senator Mathias Cormann, I think, ate humble pie. He recognised that it was a mistake, and he took full responsibility for it in his press conference this morning, and everyone in the Labor Party knows it.
This is clearly just an attempt at another stunt from the opposition, ahead of the Wentworth by-election, to try to muddy the waters, to try to make sure that their candidate, Kerryn Phelps, gets elected on Saturday. We all know that's what this is about. This motion is about supporting Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth against Dave Sharma, the Liberal candidate for Wentworth replacing Malcolm Turnbull, hopefully, in the by-election on Saturday.
Mathias Cormann said this morning, and I quote from Senator Cormann:
"There was a vote in the Senate yesterday in relation to a motion put forward by senator Hanson which the government should have opposed …
"When the motion was first put forward in September, and we considered our position on the motion, we made a decision to oppose that motion and to make a statement in our words that as a government we deplore racism of any kind, but not to actually support the motion.
"Yesterday, as the result of an administrative process failure the government senators in the chamber ended up, on advice, voting in support of the motion.
"As the leader of the government in the Senate I take responsibility for the error and I'm sorry that that happened. It is indeed regrettable.
"As I indicated when this motion first came up, we made a very clear decision to oppose that motion. It wasn't voted on in September, it came back up yesterday and it slipped through. It shouldn't have and I take responsibility for that."
There could not be a more clear statement from Mathias Cormann that there was no support from the government for this motion yesterday in the Senate and that it was because of an administrative failure—which happens in this place just like it happens in every place of work around Australia, in schools and hospitals and all sorts of institutions; errors are made and they are fixed. The Leader of the Government in the Senate said he was asked whether he was embarrassed and he said: 'Yes, I am. Yes, I am embarrassed.' He went on to say: 'I do not support the form of words that is in that motion and, indeed, the government made a decision not to support that motion. We deplore racism of any kind. There is no question in my mind that the decision that we made in September to oppose this motion is the decision that should have been implemented yesterday. As a result of an administrative process failure, that did not happen and I regret that.' So it could not be clearer from the Leader of the Government in the Senate that this was an error made yesterday in the Senate that has been corrected by the statements of the Leader of the Government.
Nobody on this side of the House, or, I'm sure, on the crossbench or on the Labor side of the House, supports racism of any kind. Nobody in the parliament supports racism of any kind, in the Liberal and National Party party rooms.
But we are not going to fall for Labor stunts designed to distract people from the real agenda that people are concerned about in this country. They're concerned about their jobs, and that's why we're creating jobs in the Australian economy. They're concerned about growing the economy, and we are growing the economy so well, we're doing better than any other G7 country. They're concerned about housing prices and they're concerned about the cost of living. They're concerned about putting their parents or family members into aged-care facilities, and so we have the royal commission into aged care. They're concerned about the tax rates, and that's why we should be debating in this House today—and we will be, hopefully, before too long—the bringing forward of the small business tax cuts that the Treasurer is about to introduce, which I'm sure has the support of the Labor Party, so we can bring about tax relief for small businesses and medium-sized enterprises in this country so that they can invest in their own businesses, creating the jobs in our economy. So we're not going to be distracted.
The reason we're not supporting this motion being brought forward is that we're not going to be distracted by a Labor Party that will do anything to distract people from the real issues that people care about. In the bubble that is Canberra, there may well be members of the opposition and of the press gallery who think that the most important issue facing Australia today is an administrative failure in the Senate yesterday which led us to vote, incorrectly, for a motion that we didn't support, which we'd decided, in September, we would oppose, and that slipped through because of an administrative failure. There may be some people in the opposition and in the press gallery who think that that is the most important issue facing the parliament today. Well, I can tell you: it isn't.
The most important issue facing the Australian parliament today is reducing taxes on small businesses and medium enterprises, and that's the issue we want to get on with today. The most important issues facing Australia are economic security and national security—the defence of the nation. We're living in a region in a world that is much more unsettled today than it was at the end of the Cold War, and yet the Labor Party come into this parliament and want to waste our time with point-scoring and stunts. This is not the first time. It's what oppositions do. But we in the government are not going to fall for those pathetic stunts by the Labor Party.
We've apologised. The Leader of the Government has apologised. He has eaten humble pie in a press conference this morning. Everyone knows it. This issue is over. We don't support that motion. We regret the fact that an administrative failure led to voting for that motion. And, honestly—if we really did support that motion, why would Senator Cormann have gone out this morning and made that admission? Why would he have apologised and said that he was embarrassed? If we really supported that motion, we wouldn't be promoting and publicising the fact that we supported it by mistake yesterday. We're apologising for it because it was a mistake.
One of the worst things that could happen in this country would be for the bipartisanship—
We were found out? It's in the Hansard. It was hardly a secret. This is the problem with the Deputy Leader of the Opposition: she doesn't understand anything about the parliament and how it works. When we vote, there's a record.
Opposition members interjecting—
The names are written down in a division so everybody knows who voted for what particular motion. It's not a secret. You don't get found out. There isn't a secret, hidden Hansard record somewhere where the votes are kept. The reality is it's public, and that's why we're talking about it. But the poor old member for Sydney never knows quite how the procedures work in this place. She can't do a matter of personal explanation, and now we discover that the member for Sydney thinks that there's a secret vote in the Senate and we were caught out voting for something, when everyone knows it is on the public record.
So we do reject that motion. We've apologised for it. We regret the fact that an administrative error caused us to vote for it. Before I was rudely interrupted by the member for Sydney, I was saying that one of the most important things we can do in this country is maintain bipartisanship around issues like racism. We've had many of these debates over the years. As the Manager of Opposition Business said, a few weeks ago we had an impromptu debate in this House, after Senator Anning's maiden speech, in which a number of members gave very good speeches deploring the speech of Senator Anning and reaffirming our bipartisan commitment in this chamber to abhorring all forms of racism.
And that is still the case. The Manager of Opposition Business should be very careful not to cast slurs about the current Prime Minister over an issue like racism or it will come back to rebound in this parliament. We are just as committed to opposing racism as any other member of this House. (Time expired)
The time allotted for this debate has concluded. The question is that the motion moved by the Manager of Opposition Business be agreed to. There being more than one voice calling for a division, in accordance with standing order 133 the division is deferred until after the discussion of the matter of public importance.