Senate debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019


Anning, Senator Fraser; Censure

10:32 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of this censure motion and join with Senator Cormann and Senator Wong in those heartfelt words. It doesn't go unnoticed that the leader of the Liberals in the Senate is a man of Belgian origin. Senator Wong, as she described herself, is an Asian Australian. And, of course, I'm very proud of my Italian heritage. We're a really wonderful reflection of multicultural Australia and we are united together in standing against the hateful words that were used in the response to the horrific terrorist act—an act where men, women and children were gunned down at a moment of deep contemplation. While their blood was still warm, we had a senator in this place effectively saying that they were responsible for their own murder.

I'm not going spend too much time dwelling on that individual—indeed, he has shown himself to be a pathetic man, lacking any empathy. What's much more important here is how we respond to hate speech in our society. What is it that we do collectively to respond to the rise in hate speech in our society? Hate speech has real consequences, not just the consequences that we saw play out in the most horrific way in Christchurch but consequences for people here, going about their daily business in Australia. It has consequences for the young woman wearing a headscarf walking down the street, when someone drives past, winds their window down and yells the most horrific abuse. It has real consequences when Jews go to the synagogue, and they are forced to undergo increased security screening because they don't feel safe in their own places of worship. Hate speech has very real consequences, and it's not just about the pathetic comments made by an individual who really we shouldn't spend much more time addressing.

I think it's fair to say in conversations with senior people in this place that we're all wrestling with how we deal with hate speech. I think there's a view among some people that to engage in a conversation around this and to make a very clear statement risks giving these people a platform. It risks giving them the attention that they so desperately crave. I accept that there is a risk there. But we must also appreciate that they have a platform, that they have a voice that very few other people in our society have the privilege of having. Indeed, when I look at some of the commentary around the contribution made by that individual, it was quoted right around the world. It was quoted in The Washington Post and The New York Times, and it was quoted by the BBC. It was quoted right through Europe. These people have a platform. What we need to do is to come together and do everything we can to deny them that platform, to deny them the opportunity for their voices to be amplified. What we need to do is recognise that ensuring a harmonious multicultural society takes work.

I'm sorry, but I don't accept that it's enough simply to censure one person and accept that we have fulfilled our responsibilities in standing against hate speech. This is an important step—yes, it is—but it's not enough. We had the opportunity to censure that individual when he invoked the final solution in his first speech. I put it to both the major parties that he deserved to be censured for those comments. That view was rejected at the time. That was a mistake. Indeed, worse than that, we saw some members of the government offering hugs and handshakes on the back of that speech. It shows how desensitised we have become to the words that have been used not just in this chamber but in both houses of parliament—indeed, right through the media—over a number of years.

We have become desensitised, so that when a politician talks about settling Lebanese Muslims being a mistake, we don't respond in the way that we should. When another contribution is made that says that people can't go out at night for fear of being beaten up by African migrants, we don't respond in the way that we should. When we have politicians floating strategies to target Muslim people in an effort to shore up a few short-term votes, we don't respond in the way that we should. Multiculturalism, protecting the very fabric of this nation, takes work. I agree absolutely with Senator Wong's comments about hate speech. When you say that someone has a right to be a bigot, the next step is that they have a right to act on that bigotry, and we know where that leads. We give permission; indeed, we nurture the voices of hate right across our community. So yes, of course we support this censure, but we have to do more.

We need to again embrace that notion of multiculturalism. We should have a multicultural act that says that we come together as a society and embrace the principles of multiculturalism because it's what makes this country a great country; and that we come together and say, 'Hate speech will have no place in a civilised society, and we will now have hate speech laws that protect people against the sort of conversation that we have heard for far too long in our parliament and in our media.' We should have a code of conduct in our Senate that ensures we all adhere to a set of standards and norms that are the norms that people right across society expect of us as leaders in our community. We need to call out that hate speech at every opportunity. And Senator Wong is absolutely right: there are voices on all sides of politics that have shown the leadership that's so desperately required.

So we welcome this censure. We hope the parliament will support it. But we must recommit our efforts to do more to stamp out the rise of fascism, this Neo-Nazi movement that's growing right across the world—to no longer turn our heads but to tackle it head on; to use every single ounce of power that we have to deny these people a platform; and to make sure that those views are once again marginalised and not brought to the centre of Australian public life. That's the pledge that we make in this chamber: to work together to do everything that we can to ensure that, whenever we have the privilege of the platform that we are given, we use it in a way that brings this community together and calls out the horrific language that has taken primacy in our national debate for far too long.


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