Tuesday, 17 October 2017
Regulations and Determinations
Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Instrument 2017, Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Amendment Instrument 2017; Disallowance
I, and also on behalf of Senator Siewert, move:
That the following legislative instruments, made under the Australian Citizenship Act 2007, be disallowed:
(a) the Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Instrument 2017 [F2017L01044]; and
(b) the Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Amendment Instrument 2017 [F2017L01074].
The context of this motion is that in August this year two councils in the Melbourne area, the Yarra City Council and the Darebin City Council, voted to no longer refer to 26 January as Australia Day and to no longer hold citizenship ceremonies on that date. The councils also made comment about the inappropriateness of having 26 January as the day that we celebrate Australia Day because of the hurt that it causes to so many of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In taking these steps, the Darebin and Yarra councils have shown courage and leadership, and they've stood with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the many, many other Australians, including all of the Australian Greens senators in this place, who believe that it's not appropriate to celebrate Australia Day on 26 January. The Australian Greens strongly support the actions that both the Yarra and Darebin city councils took and their decision to no longer hold citizenship ceremonies on that date.
Once they had made those decisions, they were come down on like a tonne of bricks by the government, and, after some completely overblown rhetoric from the relevant junior minister, Mr Hawke, with regard to this matter, we saw an instrument tabled in the Commonwealth parliament that sought to remove the authority of the Yarra City Council and the Darebin City Council from holding any citizenship ceremonies whatsoever. I mean, talk about trying to crack a walnut with a sledgehammer! We oughtn't be surprised that that was the response from Mr Hawke, acting, no doubt, on the instructions of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Mr Dutton. The first thing that we need to say very clearly here—
Senator Seselja interjecting—
Senator Seselja can mutter away all he likes like Bill the Steam Shovel over there, but he can have his say later if he wants to. What's important to acknowledge is that the conversation about changing the date of Australia Day is happening around the country and it's happening at a higher volume every year. I remember when I had the honour to be invited and attended the first walk in Hobart on Invasion Day many years ago. I reckon we would have been lucky to have 50 people there. When I went to the walk this year in Hobart, we had well over a thousand people walking through the streets of Hobart demanding that Australia Day not be celebrated on 26 January. We have a fundamental respect for the original peoples of this country and we don't believe it's appropriate to celebrate our national day on a day that was the start of so much hurt and so much dispossession for those people.
Good local governments reflect their communities, and good local governments want to be as welcoming and as inclusive as possible. So, to what we believe was a sensitive and sensible step taken by the Yarra City Council and Darebin City Council, the Liberals responded, as I said, with a typically heavy-handed approach. Make no mistake: the government's response to the decisions made by these two councils, decisions that were based on goodwill and bringing our community together, has been vindictive and mendacious. Firstly its response has been aimed deliberately at denying those two councils the capacity to act in the interests of their communities. Secondly, the response is trying to send a shot across the bows of every other local government in this country to make sure they don't go down the same road that Yarra City Council and Darebin City Council did.
This is a conversation that my home state of Tasmania is having right now, in Hobart City Council. Put simply, the government's response to this, this vindictive mendacious response, is nothing other than a denial of free speech. The aldermen who made these decisions have been democratically elected, and the aldermen and councillors are being robbed of their right to participate in a public conversation about the date on which we should celebrate our national day. This sort of overreach, this sort of vindictive and mendacious behaviour, is all too typical of this government. They will spend months fighting for their right to say the 'N' word by gutting the Racial Discrimination Act, then they come down with a furious and purportedly righteous anger against councils who are simply trying to be respectful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That tells you everything you need to know about the kind of speech that this government prefers.
All Australians ought to be able to participate in the celebration of our country, and the Liberals, quite frankly, should get out of the way of councils who are progressive and who are demonstrating the courage of their convictions. Councils should not be able to be bullied, and that's what the government is trying to do. Make no mistake; the government is trying to bully councils out of an important conversation, and councils ought not be bullied by a vindictive minister acting like a school prefect on a power trip. That's what we are here to deal with today. That is exactly the way that the assistant minister for immigration, Mr Hawke, is acting—like a schoolyard bully. When you look at the legislative instrument, it reads like it was written by a year 2 student telling everyone else who did not get an invitation to their birthday party. When it lists who in Victoria can conduct a citizenship ceremony, it says:
(iii) Mayor of a local government council, except the Mayor of the City of Yarra Council and Mayor of the Darebin City Council;
(iv) Deputy Mayor of a local government council, except the Deputy Mayor of the City of Yarra Council and the Deputy Mayor of the Darebin City Council;
(v) Chief Executive Officer of a local government council, except the Chief Executive Officer of the City of Yarra Council and the Chief Executive Officer of the Darebin City Council;
(vi) General Manager of a local government council, except the General Manager of the City of Yarra Council and the General Manager of the Darebin City Council;
Fair dinkum, I haven't run into this level of petty vindictiveness since I didn't get an invitation to a birthday party when I was in grade 3. That is the level of vindictiveness we are dealing with here today.
Government senators interjecting—
And I have some news for Senator Bernardi, Senator Seselja and anyone else who wants to have a crack back. The Australian people don't like bullies.
Government senators interjecting—
And do you know what? We are outing this government as bullies today. The Australian people don't like being silenced and they particularly don't like people being silenced through undemocratic means.
It was really instructive for this Senate to have a look at a couple of things that Mr Hawke said at the time. He said this in his media release in response to the decision of Yarra City Council's decision: 'Politicising citizenship ceremonies will not be tolerated.' Well, guess what? Denying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people their historical experience is a political decision. Celebrating a day of invasion in this country is a political decision, particularly when Mr Hawke knows full well—or ought to know—the hurt that it causes so many Australians.
Remember: the senior minister in this shambles, Mr Dutton, infamously boycotted the apology to the stolen generation. That's who we're dealing with here. Make no mistake, it's Minister Dutton who is pulling Mr Hawke's strings in regard to this. How dare Mr Dutton pretend to care a single jot about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people!
Well, I've got news for Mr Hawke, who said that politicising citizenship ceremonies will not be tolerated: we actually live in a democracy, not a dictatorship, and who can conduct citizenship ceremonies is a matter for the parliament, not the minister. That's why he's had to bring in a disallowable instrument, to try to change and remove the authority of people on the two relevant councils.
So what we're doing here today—and I thank in advance those other members of this chamber who've indicated that they'll be supporting this disallowance—is standing up. We're standing up for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who want to be able to celebrate Australia Day on a day that is not Invasion Day, on a day that doesn't remind them of the hurt and the dispossession and the racism that they've faced since Europeans arrived in this country; we're standing up for local governments to be able to make their own decisions for the benefit of their communities and reflect the hopes, aspirations and values of the people who elect them and pay their rates in those local governments; and we're standing up for freedom of speech, which we hear so much about in this place but which in fact, when it comes to the Liberals, the Nationals, Senator Bernardi and some of their fellow travellers, actually is not something that they truly believe in except in the very narrow frame of being able to allow themselves and their fellow travellers to engage in racist hate speech in this country.
So we're very proud today to stand up for all those things and to make sure that this government understands that, in a parliamentary democracy, they can make all the threats that they like and put out all the disparaging media releases that they want to but, at the end of the day, this is a disallowable instrument and the Senate is going to have its say on this. I truly believe, based on the advice that I've received, that this vindictive, pernicious, mendacious instrument that's been tabled in this place by the government is going to be disallowed at the end of this debate, and that'll be a great day. If there's any hope that I have, it is that this is a small step on a journey that one day sees our national celebration, Australia Day, occur on a date that is not so hurtful and harmful to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.