Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021



10:04 am

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I seek leave to move a motion relating to the consideration of general business notice of motion No. 1269 as circulated in the chamber.

Leave not granted.

Pursuant to contingent notice standing in the name of Senator Wong, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter—namely, a motion to provide that general business notice of motion No. 1269 be called upon immediately, take precedence over all other government business and if not considered finally by midday the question shall be put and determined without amendment.

In seeking to debate this motion today, I am calling for true leadership from the Prime Minister and the government he supposedly leads. I call for everyone in this parliament, both in this place and in the other chamber, to urgently and without qualification condemn the violence that we are seeing in Australia. What we have seen at protests over the last few weeks has been shocking. It has been utterly appalling. It has been without precedent in modern times in this country. A swift rebuke of these violent threats should be easy.

That's not what we have seen from Mr Morrison. What we've seen is a bet each way—a Prime Minister talking out of both sides of his mouth, because the Prime Minister is, at heart, just an ad man who wants nothing more than to sell a product, and that product is himself. There are few limits that Mr Morrison will place on his own ambition to keep his own job. He's pandered to violent extremists because he sees value in their vote and he relies on the support of their proxies in this parliament to hold up his government. It's not enough to clinically cloak your words in the democratic language of debate, protest, choice and truth, while those around you are playing and braying with violent threats, parading gallows through the streets, threatening murder and violence.

Peaceful protest, considered and informed debate, and a free and fair media are all, of course, important and cherished pillars of our democracy. These are core tenets of our society and they must be protected. But, instead, they're being sold up the river by a small group in this parliament who seek to undermine them in the violence being described, encouraged and threatened that I encourage us all to condemn today, and the frenzied abuse that has been hurled at health workers and experts, reporters, elected representatives, their staff and their families.

I move that we condemn the graphic threats of violence encouraged by the comments on social media posts by government MPs who do nothing to remove or dissuade these threats. Two days in a row, I have asked the leader of the government in this chamber what the government is doing about specific threats that are being made in response to Mr Christensen's social media posts, and, two days in a row, I have had no answer.

This is more than negligence. This is more than irresponsible. It is actually dangerous. Anger is virulent, in person and online. And we in Australia, as a democracy, are learning in real time that disinformation, fear and anger can create a potent rage. There are those here, sadly, unfortunately, in this parliament, elected MPs, who have stoked anger and rage because they know it yields them attention and relevance and profit at the ballot box. But at what cost to our democracy? Fear and rage mixed together creates something toxic in a democracy.

Let us remember all that is at stake here. In January, in the United States, we saw that protest can spontaneously combust and become deadly. Our parliamentary colleagues in the United Kingdom know only too well that they are made vulnerable by their public accessibility, two of their members having been murdered by extremists. Our Senate colleague Senator Lambie said that we all have freedom to make choices but not freedom for choices to be without consequences. And so what are the consequences of creating fear and fury and your followers deploying tactics of fear and intimidation?

In our service to the people of Australia, we have a responsibility as elected representatives, and that is to make clear the boundaries of responsible debate and discourse. It is to refuse to associate with extremists who peddle falsehoods and intimidation. It is to draw back from this moment, to urge calm and to restore respect before it is too late. We need, in this moment, true leadership, not political spin. The Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, has shown none of that. He has only condemned with qualification, where he seeks to wink and nod and show sympathy to the violent protesters.

Let us be clear: in this place of democracy we must give an unequivocal condemnation and we must unite this country in order to protect it.


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