Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 November 2021



10:14 am

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to make a contribution on behalf of government senators to Senator Keneally's motion and I do so wearing a couple of different relevant hats. The first is as the chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, currently leading an inquiry into extremism and radicalism. It is an issue which I and I know all members of the PJCIS take very seriously. We have worked very closely with our intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies on what is unfortunately a growing and serious threat to the safety, freedom and security of all Australians. I look forward to—hopefully, in a bipartisan way—handing down a report that makes constructive suggestions as to how we can all tackle this threat together. But I don't think it's fair to besmirch the government's intentions or the seriousness with which it takes these issues, as Senator Keneally and others have done in this debate. The government earlier this year for the first time listed a far-right organisation, the Sonnenkrieg Division, as a terrorist organisation under our Criminal Code, as it should. When handing down that report in this chamber I called upon the government to carefully consider whether any other far-right organisations met the threshold for terrorist listing, and I look forward to further developments in that space very soon.

The second relevant hat that I wear for this debate is as deputy chair of the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19. As we know, much of the protest, much of the anxiety, much of the heat around this debate has been related to the pandemic and the public health restrictions that have been brought in to combat the pandemic and vaccinations. In that role I have consistently supported the vaccine rollout and encouraged Australians to come forward as soon as possible to be vaccinated with the vaccine that they are eligible for. Unlike some other people in this place, who have sought to disparage certain brands of vaccines to undermine the vaccine rollout, I have consistently supported it.

But the third and most important hat that I wear in contributing to this debate is as a senator for Victoria. As a senator for Victoria I represent Australia's and the world's most locked down city. The 250 days of hard lockdown in Melbourne have had an enormous impact on the people of Victoria and the people of Melbourne, and we should not lightly dismiss the impact that that has had on people's wellbeing, on their mental health, on the more than 200 days of schooling that young people have missed, on the employment opportunities people have missed out on, on the small businesses that have closed. In the context of that lockdown it is not surprising that there are many Victorians from all walks of life who are anxious about the Victorian state government's pandemic bill and the powers that it grants that state government. It's not surprising that more than 60 leading QCs, the law institute and other eminent bodies in Victoria have raised profound and serious concerns with that law and the impact that it would have on civil liberties. It's not surprising that many Victorians, in response to that law and the way in which the Andrews government is trying to ram it through the parliament, have taken to the streets in protest to put forward their concerns.

Let me be very clear: it is totally and utterly unacceptable to ever threaten political violence. It is never an acceptable tactic, and I wish Senator Keneally was right when she said that it is without precedent. But, unfortunately, it is not without precedent in this country. There have been other threats of violence in the pursuit of political goals in the not too distant past. I wish that it was only in the context of the COVID pandemic and mandatory vaccination and other issues that members of parliament, senators, their staff and their families had been threatened, had been harassed, had been bullied, had been stalked. But we know that it isn't the only context in which these threats have happened.

You only have to ask Nicolle Flint, the member for Boothby, about her experience at the last election. A man was charged with stalking her in that election, her office was vandalised, her staff were threatened and they were made to feel unsafe doing their work for a member parliament. Unfortunately, this is not without precedent. Unfortunately, when those incidents have happened in the past, they have not been condemned in an unqualified way by people in this chamber. Perhaps the most galling contribution made so far is that of Senator Faruqi, given the association of the Greens political party with Extinction Rebellion, who not only vandalised this building, set a pram on fire at the front of it and vandalised the Lodge but regularly make threats against members of parliament and their staff and make them feel unsafe.


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