Thursday, 18 June 2020
Four years ago this week the British Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered. She was murdered doing her job, which is of course our job—representing people in parliament—by an extremist right-wing terrorist. This parliament came together then to remember her. I'm proud of how we did this and of the contributions to this debate across all sides and the shared sense of solidarity of grief and of purpose. We must still remember her and think of those that she left behind. Today I'm remembering her: someone who I never met but who has greatly influenced me and my work, whose work and legacy continues to inspire. Today I still have the great privilege to serve the people of Scullin and the Australian Labor Party in this place and to have the capacity to make a difference. More profoundly, tomorrow I'll get home to Melbourne and spend time with my family, with netball, soccer, shared meals, birthday planning. I'm thinking about what's happened in the last four years in my family, joys so cruelly denied to Jo. This weighs on my mind as I think about how we can do more and do better to honour her values and her example through our action and our conduct.
She said, 'We have more in common than that which divides us.' She was right. The way in which our communities have come together through this pandemic has shown us this. It is something recognised by Brendan Cox, Jo's inspirational husband, as he continues to call for us to think about how we relate to one another. That is not to suggest that we don't have differences or shouldn't disagree with each other—of course we should—it's about trying to recognise that these differences and disagreements shouldn't define us. He's right, too. This is how we must proceed, to democratically find our way through this crisis and to recover as a stronger and more cohesive community; stronger together, and kinder too. Let's recognise the strength of community sentiment calling for a different politics, and let's work on managing our differences differently. We could all listen more and we could all think before we speak, think about the consequences of our words: whether they advance debate, whether they include, or whether they divide.
From this perspective I'd like to touch on three things which were important to Jo Cox and are important to me: refugees, fighting racism, and loneliness. All of these are assuming greater significance through the pandemic. This week it's Refugee Week. We should acknowledge this in this place. Jo Cox was a champion of refugees and sought to work in a bipartisan way in her parliament to advance the cause of helping the world's most vulnerable. Here, the politics of this debate have been too toxic for too long. We can change this. The policy challenges here are complex, diabolically so. But there is no reason why resolving these should be driven by so divisive a politics. Now, as we reconsider—because we're forced to—restarting our immigration program more generally, can we try to turn this around? I'm not asking government members to change their minds—not now, anyway!—but rather to consider changing their tone to focus on our common humanity and what this should mean, not the lowest common denominator; to think about people in our communities now who are destitute, relying on food banks, and terrified people in camps around the world like those in Cox's Bazar.
Jo fought racism, and so should we all. Racism is now on the rise, and so too is right-wing extremism. We must be forthright and consistent in supporting hope, not hate, and unity over fear. Multiculturalism is modern Australia's greatest achievement, but we can't take it for granted. While the crisis has brought people together, there are forces that seek to divide and to diminish. We must confront and defeat these, as this parliament has sought to do in these sittings with bipartisan motions.
A large part of Jo Cox's legacy is the work that's being done in her name to raise awareness of loneliness and respond to that crisis. The experience of lockdown has forced all of us to reconsider the importance of our relationships—of everyone's relationships. A good society is a connected society in which people aren't isolated from those around them and where people look out for each other. We've seen so much of this in recent weeks, but this can't stop when social distancing requirements do. We must commit to ending loneliness.
In concluding, I want to direct some remarks to those who are most important here. To Jo Cox's family: we're thinking of you, as we think of her. Of course, we can't and don't presume to understand your loss. But, on the other side of the world, we remember Jo Cox and seek to follow her example.