Senate debates

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Statements by Senators


1:05 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

It was pleasing to see this morning such a strong, unified voice from senators across most of the party spectrums in this place reaffirming total opposition to not just the White Australia policy but also any immigration policy that has factors, explicitly or implicitly, that discriminate on the basis of race, faith or ethnic origin. There were a lot of fine words spoken. The key challenge now is for the community to ensure that all of us are held to those words and to the terms of the motion that was passed this morning. It's one thing to pass a nice motion—while there were some valuable and strong contributions from all sides of the chamber, speeches only go so far unless they are matched by action.

It does need to be said that already our immigration system discriminates on the basis of where you come from. It is harder to get visas to come here from certain countries, compared to other countries. For many years our system has discriminated explicitly against people of certain marital status, against people of certain gender, against people with disabilities on the grounds of their health conditions and against people on the grounds of their sexuality, so we still have a way to go just to come to the terms of the motion that we unanimously supported today.

I also wanted to reflect on the debate specifically from the context of Queensland and as a Queensland senator, because Senator Anning comes from Queensland. The only other voice we heard in the Senate debate this morning from Queensland was Senator Hanson's. What we are seeing is clearly a premeditated contest, along with other voices—and not just in Queensland. This is an issue around the country, but it's going to have its epicentre in Queensland with people trying to outcompete each other to see who can be the most divisive, who can be the most outrageous, who can be the most racist, who can attack which minority, and who they can single out to try to unite other people behind a banner of hatred. It is crucial in that context that we recognise the importance of standing up to that.

The Greens in Queensland have a central role in standing up strongly as the opposite to that. The Greens will have a contest in the Senate in Queensland, at the next election, with Larissa Waters seeking to get re-elected. If that Greens voice is not re-elected, it will almost certainly mean an extra voice for the forces of hatred and divisiveness, who are promoting this agenda before us and who are now clearly seeking to outcompete each other. It's no coincidence that, in his first speech yesterday. Senator Anning finally got some attention for his bigotry. While it was called his first speech, we know he's made many other speeches in this place already. A number of these have had in them hateful comments about Muslims, and he's already shown his contempt for First Australians with some of his comments. So what he said yesterday was, frankly, no surprise, which is why I didn't bother turning up. It saved me the trouble of having to walk out. It's also no surprise that it happened on the same day Senator Hanson had a bill on the Notice Paper to introduce a bill for a plebiscite on the future migration level. We're going to see this race to the bottom play out particularly, in an electoral sense, in Queensland. The issues of racism and discrimination that were covered so eloquently in the motion this morning affect all Australians, wherever they might live, equally, and I'm not in any way suggesting otherwise. But I'm saying it's most crucial in the context of the Queensland Senate contest that people stand up strongly to reject divisiveness and racism.

What Senator Anning said in the parliament was, of course, revolting. But almost as nauseating is hypocritical grandstanding from a coalition that are happy to deploy the same deadly racist rhetoric when they think they have something to gain from it, and we all know plenty of examples from all different parts of the country where that's been happening in recent times. The minister responsible for our migration system made comments about reintroducing some of the notorious aspects of the White Australia policy. We also cannot forget that Labor and the coalition both continue to support an offshore detention regime that is torturing and killing people. People are setting themselves on fire and children are dying. They are people just like us who are just seeking safety.

It is of course something that politicians of many persuasions in many countries over many eras have deployed time and time again as a deliberate tactic to seek to divide a community, to target, to single out particular groups for hatred and misrepresentation and discrimination and build community fear around that division, not just to build political support but to divert community attention from the fact that it is usually those governments and those leaders themselves who are repressing the people. It is those governments and those leaders who are failing to deliver a good living for all of their community, who are instead perpetuating a rigged system that works for them. That's the real problem here, I think, and it's especially relevant for Queensland.

The neo-liberal economic agenda from both Labor and Liberal has been in place across many governments for many decades. It has delivered us a housing crisis, deliberately underfunded public services, completely shredded the social housing system and provided inadequate infrastructure, so we no longer even expect governments to provide them. We've had sell-offs of public assets and infrastructure to for-profit corporations. Many areas of our lives are now subject to unchecked profiteering, so we have wage stagnation at the same time as corporate profits are soaring. It's no coincidence that those corporations are the same ones that are donating hundreds of millions of dollars to the large political parties, and that to me is the bigger issue.

Frankly, we know that Senator Anning is extremely unlikely to get re-elected at the next election. He is a bit of a political footnote, although he's doing all he can to draw as much attention to himself in a re-election effort. The real problem is those who have the actual power and how they use that power. They are not delivering for the community in so many ways and that is why we have so many people disillusioned and feeling ignored by the political system—and they're right to feel ignored, because it does ignore them. It is no coincidence some of the areas where the One Nation vote is the highest is where unemployment and wealth inequality are the highest, where health services are badly underfunded, where people are literally dying at a higher rate.

I am keen to make absolutely clear that we will see this contest play out between Senator Anning and his Katter Australia Party—who, apparently, are 1,000 per cent supportive of his comments—and Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party. As anyone who saw the Senate ballot papers around the nation last time knows, there are plenty of other fringe extremist racist parties out there seeking to compete with each other as to who can be the most racist, the most anti-Muslim, the most anti-Semitic, the most anti-gay, the most anti-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. They will fight out that contest. It's a crucial goal of the Greens—who, I should emphasise, are outpolling One Nation and the Katter Party in Queensland—for us to ensure that parliamentary representation for those voices of hate does not continue.

But the people of Queensland are not backwards and are not racist. They're ignored by a political system that is rigged. I wanted to explicitly emphasise that point because I fear that what we'll see play out in this sideshow spat between Senator Anning and Senator Hanson and their various fellow travellers will reinforce this false stereotype of Queensland being a backward redneck state. It is not. Queensland has a strong history of progressive movements and they have delivered much good for many people over a long period of time. It certainly also has a strong history of authoritarian government seeking to suppress the community and divide the community. It's no coincidence that Senator Anning explicitly identifies himself with some of the worst examples of that.

But Queenslanders are not racist. They are hurting, because they are sick of a rigged system and a broken system. They want solutions and a future for all of us. Whilst I won't be in this chamber for very much longer, I and all of the Greens in Queensland and many people across the community in Queensland will be doing all we can to ensure that there is no more division in our community and that we unite behind a future for all of us. The real enemy is a broken political system that is rigged in favour of the political elite.


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