Monday, 13 November 2017
Regulations and Determinations
Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Instrument 2017, Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Amendment Instrument 2017; Disallowance
I note for the record that this is also not my first speech. I speak in support of this disallowance motion by Senator McKim. This is an extraordinary act of political censorship by this government. It likes occasionally to talk about freedom of speech when the speech it wants to be free is its own and that of those who want to racially vilify others, but when others in the community want to speak out and elected representatives want to make decisions on behalf of and having listened to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their community and around the nation, this government tries to gag them. Talk about political correctness; talk about trying to stop legitimately-elected local government councillors from being able to make decisions reflecting the views of their local communities. The way democracy is supposed to work is that, if their local community doesn't like the decision they made, they vote them out the next time around. We don't have Big Brother sitting up in the ministerial wing in Parliament House just saying, 'I'm going to put a gag on this entire community because I don't like what you've decided.' That's the attitude of this government on so many things when it comes to the basic freedoms of people in our community.
We heard from the minister just then that somehow or other this is seen as a political or partisan action by the council. If you're elected representatives, pretty much everything you do can be framed as political. I had cause to reflect on this just today. As senators will be well aware but others listening might not be, I was sworn into the Senate just today. I spent nearly 11 years in the Senate last decade—stretching back into last century, if I want to remind myself how old I am. When we started out today, in the formal part of proceedings we had prayers, as we have always had, and we had an acknowledgement of country. That is just sitting there on the order of business for the start of proceedings every day. When I left this place in 2008 there was no acknowledgement of country. It was only just at the opening of that final parliament I was involved in when the Rudd government was first elected that we had a formal welcome to country for the new parliament conducted by elders of the local Aboriginal community here in Canberra. That was a very moving ceremony, and I think everybody there from all parts of the political spectrum felt what a positive and valuable act of reconciliation that was. It was recognition that the traditional owners, the first people of the land that Parliament House is built on, still have an ongoing living culture that deserves respect and acknowledgement, as does the graciousness of their providing that welcome to us as a new parliament at that time.
These procedures were proposed by the second Aboriginal person elected to this parliament some time back, Senator Aden Ridgeway, following on from Queensland's Neville Bonner. I think we might have had a Senate inquiry into them, and they were opposed as being political—having an acknowledgement of country or a welcome to country was seen as political: 'You can't politicise the parliament; how terrible!' Now, thankfully, not all that much later, we have that welcome to country at the start of every new parliament after an election and we have the acknowledgement of country as part of proceedings every single day in this chamber. That is a welcome development but one that would have been attacked as being partisan, as being political, as politicising the supposedly non-political operations of this chamber and this parliament. It just shows how reactionary and how blinkered and how bullying the approach of the Turnbull government is on this, as it is on so many other issues.
In my home city of Brisbane the Brisbane City Council similarly have an acknowledgement of the traditional owners before council meetings start in that local government authority—the largest local government authority in this country, as people may be aware. At the last election, in 2016, Jonathan Sri became the first Green to be elected to that local government authority. He put forward that proposal and, to the credit of the LNP, which currently has the numbers on that council, they agreed to it. Just one person putting forward that proposal shows the difference it makes when you get even one Green representative into a chamber, whether it is local council or let's hope in the state parliament in Queensland in the next couple of weeks.
What we're seeing here is a government that is resisting the tide of history, as the Liberal Party and the National Party tend to do more and more, digging in with that worn-out reactionary, destructive, divisive political agenda, defending their own power, even against what would often be seen as symbolic shifts to recognise others in the community and particularly when we're talking about recognising the original inhabitants of this land. How miserly and how pathetic that they can't just let a democratically elected local council make such a simple decision, and there is debate and discussion that goes around it.
I accept it's fine for the government at the federal level to say, 'We don't support changing the date.' Fine, they can argue that case and others can argue an alternative case, as the Greens are doing. The Greens and others on the local councils in the places in question—Yarra City Council, Darebin City Council and Fremantle City Council, which I'm sure my colleague Senator Steele-John will talk about shortly—have been part of movements in the community and supported movements in the community, including the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to promote the cause of changing the date. The Liberal Party and the National Party don't have to support that position, but they should not be crushing the views and decisions of the people who have an alternative view, particularly the democratically elected representatives.
I am confident to predict that the change-the-date movement will succeed, that this date will change. There will come a time. It may be 10 years down the track, as it was from when Senator Ridgeway first proposed having a welcome to country at the start of parliament to when it was first implemented. Perhaps it will take 10 years. Who knows? The Greens and others in the community will continue to push for that change, promote that change and support the views of many people in the community, particularly, essentially and necessarily those of first nations people in this country. I said a number of times in this chamber some years back that the one area this institution of federal parliament has failed more than any other is in regard to the first nations people of this country. It has been on so many levels but even on the most basic level of just listening to their views and seeing even just simple things we can do.
We saw this again recently—and I know Senator Dodson has already had a lot to say on this issue—after so much energy by so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country, partly on the urging of this government, to come together and say: 'This is what we want. Not 100 per cent of us agree, but we've come as close as we can get with the Uluru Statement from the Heart.' They couldn't have put it more simply. This isn't a hard-bitten ideological position; this is a statement from the heart. They put that statement from the heart. They put a lot of heart into and had difficult conversations in providing that statement, and this government couldn't even be bothered to tell them their decision on it. They just dismissed it and they dismissed something as fundamental as that by misrepresenting it atrociously. That's on the big scale.
On the small scale at a local community and a local council level, again people were acting from the heart. You might not agree with their decisions—I certainly do, but others may not—but you cannot dispute that they're acting out of goodwill, acting from the heart and acting from having listened. They are trying to do something to acknowledge and to take some steps to move this nation towards listening to and acting in response to the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country.
It is so disappointing to have such a reaction. It was such a sledgehammer, bullying and speech-crushing approach from this government. That shows me, frankly, that, apart from being bullies, they are scared of the community movement on this and so many other issues. That is why it is so important for the Senate to support this disallowance motion to say that we won't stand for this sort of rubbish—this sort of appalling, pathetic, petty, Nazi nonsense that we're getting now.
It is worth noting in the context of the change-the-date movement, which the government, through the minister, have expressed their opposition to, that three or four days ago in the SA Music Awards the song 'Change the Date' by AB Original and Dan Sultan won best song. It is a song that has captured the imagination of young people and not so young people, like me, around the country because they see what it taps into. Again, it taps into the heart, and maybe that's why this government doesn't get it—because it has no heart. The heart is long gone; whatever was there has been bought off by its corporate donors. But Australians get it. So many Australians get that we need to change the date, and we need to change our approach, as a parliament and as a wider community, to one that just listens—listens to what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want.
This parliament—through this government and previous governments—is a signatory to, and has given its commitment on the international stage to, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its simple components. It's not a particularly long document and it's not full of complex legalese; it's about some very basic and important principles. Australia, among many other nations around the world, unfortunately, has some of the worst records when it comes to the treatment of its indigenous peoples—and I won't catalogue all of them here now. Within that declaration, which this parliament and its government has said on the international stage that it supports, is a simple fact about ensuring that there is free, prior and informed consent with regard to indigenous peoples on issues that concern them.
It should be pretty obvious to everybody what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people think about Australia Day and the debate around it. I does concern Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—and it concerns many of them deeply. Of course, there is not a 100 per cent universal view across every single Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person in the country; there never is with any group in the community. But there is clearly very widespread and, in many cases, very deep concern and a lot of hurt about Australia Day as it operates today and some of the jingoism and other symbolism, statements and actions that attach to it.
If we as a parliament, in particular, and at the local level can't listen to our own communities, particularly those communities who have been most harmed by past actions and often by current actions, what hope do we have for the future if we cannot listen to something as simple as this? Local government is often dismissed, particularly at the federal level, as being a small matter, and it's a matter of great disappointment to me and the Greens that what seemed like a window of opportunity under the Gillard government to finally get constitutional recognition of local government—to recognise its importance; something that was agreed to as a commitment by the Gillard government—never came about and the question was never put to a referendum. So local government once again was left dismissed as not significant enough. But it is of course the area of government that is closest to the community.
The councils that I mentioned previously—the Yarra City Council and the Darebin City Council—are closest to the community and, at the local level, are listening to the people about something as basic as a citizenship ceremony. I'm sure all of us here have been to citizenship ceremonies and recognise what beautiful, lovely ceremonies they are. As I and many others have said many times, alongside the clearest failure of Australia as a nation, which has been the failure to properly work with, engage with and listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the first nations people, one of the great successes and positives, one of the things that has built the real positives of this nation, has been the migrant communities and their willingness to engage with and build on the nation as it continues to evolve.
In my experience, it's often those recent arrivals and new citizens who are the ones that are most open to listening to the views of the nation's original inhabitants. Their hearts are still open when they come to this new land and sign on and commit as citizens in an explicit act that those of us that were born here haven't had to do. For those of us that are born here, it's just an accident of history that we're citizens. We're talking about people who've come here and have made a positive decision to become a citizen of this country. In my experience, in so many cases, those people are the ones who are most open to wanting to hear more about not just the history but also the living cultures of the original inhabitants of the entire continent of Australia and their local communities.
It's wonderful how citizenship ceremonies have started to build in more and more involvement of representatives from the original inhabitants of the areas where the ceremonies are held. That is another thing that has evolved over time. If councils had tried to do that in the past, they probably would have been attacked for trying to be political by involving Aboriginal representatives and traditional owners in citizenship ceremonies. Now it's seen as not only acceptable; I think it would be seen as inappropriate if there was no involvement of traditional owners or Aboriginal representatives in citizenship ceremonies. So why not allow individual councils to explore progressing further in this regard? Why not try it out? Why not see how it works? Why not give a local council that basic freedom to decide how they want to welcome people into their community? It frankly baffles me.
The only reason I can see that we would have such nasty pettiness is that that is what the Liberal and National parties are now reduced to. All they are now capable of is instantly reacting in such a mean, nasty, bullying, heartless, cruel, pathetic way. I really hope that everyone else in this chamber is not signing themselves up to that agenda and that they will ensure that Australia continues to be a welcoming, open-hearted, open-minded country that looks to continually progress and evolve—one that, if we ever hope to move beyond the colonial era, which we still haven't really done, properly listens to and works with as well as supports and acts in response to the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.