Senate debates

Thursday, 9 March 2023


Northern Territory Safe Measures Bill 2023; Second Reading

9:43 am

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I'm very pleased to rise to speak in favour of the Northern Territory Safe Measures Bill 2023, which has been introduced by my colleague and my friend Senator Nampijinpa Price. I want to make some preliminary points. The first is that I think Senator Nampijinpa Price has been subjected to some of the most vile personal abuse that I've seen in politics—and I've been involved in politics since the age of 17. Senator Nampijinpa Price should really be congratulated for the courage she has demonstrated throughout her time in this place. Some people have attacked her on a personal basis as opposed to raising legitimate issues, in the context of a civil debate about policy issues, where genuine people acting in good faith can have differences of opinion. Senator Nampijinpa Price has been attacked on a very, very personal basis. That is unacceptable in our Australian democracy.

As we progress with a number of debates, including in relation to the Voice, I say to those who are engaging in vile, vitriolic, personal attacks: you are doing your own arguments great harm. It is the refuge of the scoundrel to resort to ad hominem attacks. You are simply demonstrating the weakness of your arguments when you engage in personal, vile attacks. I have been profoundly disappointed in relation to some of the comments made by a number of individuals in that regard, which I think are just beyond the pale.

So, in that context, I pay tribute to Senator Nampijinpa Price. I think she is a gift to this place, an ornament to this place. More power to Senator Nampijinpa Price as she stands up, with great courage, to voice her views and articulate her concerns regardless of the disgraceful, vile comments that are directed her way. So I compliment Senator Nampijinpa Price.

On that theme: as I was considering what I wanted to say in this debate, I had cause to reflect on one of my great heroes, Senator Neville Bonner, who represented my state of Queensland in this place. He was the first Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander to serve in the Australian parliament and one of my boyhood heroes. In fact, as I've said in this place before, I was one of those who orchestrated a campaign with the Australian Electoral Commission to have a federal seat named after the great Senator Neville Bonner. And we have that seat in Queensland: the seat of Bonner. That is a true reflection of the greatness of Senator Neville Bonner, who I had the honour of meeting a number of times. I wanted to read a quote from Senator Neville Bonner's speech at the Constitutional Convention in 1998, which I think should be seen as an exhortation to all of us, in terms of how we conduct these debates, and any debates, in this respect. He said:

From the bottom of my heart, I pray you: stop this senseless division. Let us work together on the real issues. Let us solve those problems which haunt my people—the problems of land, of health, of unemployment, of the despair and hopelessness which leads even to suicide. Let us unite this country, not divide it ever …

Those are the words of the great Senator the Hon. Neville Bonner, AO.

Just reflect for a moment on a man who was subjected to the most horrendous discrimination as he was growing up, but who, near the end of his life, when he spoke those words and made those comments, was able to be so full of grace and so full of forgiveness, and so passionate about uniting this country and focusing on the real issues of substance as opposed to dividing us. Just reflect on his background. When he was a small boy, growing up in the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, he and his sister had an opportunity to go to school for the first time, and he was so excited. He was a young boy, so excited about the opportunity to go to school for the first time. When he and his sister turned up at that school, by lunchtime of that day every other parent had pulled their children out of that school because an Aboriginal child had turned up at that school. Just imagine the impact that would have on someone. When this man was a boy, his mother bought some oats at the local shop, and they were full of weevils, but they were given these oats and she was determined that her son Neville would have porridge.

He went to the farmer who lived near where they lived and asked for some milk. That farmer said: 'Neville, I've got pigs I need to feed. Why would I give milk to a little Aboriginal boy?' That's what he was told. Notwithstanding that, when he was presented with an honorary doctorate at Griffith University he recounted that episode, more than 50 years later. It had stayed within him. He said without an ounce of aggression or anger that, in a way, the farmer was doing it tough. Even after being subjected to that horrendous incident—I can't imagine what it would have been like—he was still being empathetic and trying to put himself in the position of standing in other people's shoes. In that context I'll repeat the words he said at the constitutional convention, near the end of his life. He said:

From the bottom of my heart, I pray you: stop this senseless division. Let us work together on the real issues. Let us solve those problems which haunt my people—the problems of land, of health, of unemployment, of the despair and hopelessness which leads even to suicide. Let us unite this country, not divide it ever …

A speech that Senator Nampijinpa Price gave in this place on 8 February 2023 has resonances with that speech the great Neville Bonner gave. I could see the connection between the two. In a way, Senator Nampijinpa Price is such a worth successor to Senator Neville Bonner. Senator Nampijinpa Price said:

Senators, I plead with you to help me save the lives of those I love and those I'm democratically elected to represent and whose lives we are all responsible for. I seek your bipartisan support to make my hometown community and vulnerable communities throughout the Northern Territory safer. If we can save one woman from becoming the next domestic violence or homicide statistic, we are winning. If we can prevent one child from being sexually abused and left with a venereal disease or internal physical and psychological scarring for life, that is one child. But I know we can do better than this.

We should listen very, very carefully to that exhortation from Senator Nampijinpa Price, who has clearly articulated why we should be supporting this bill. Senator Nampijinpa Price said in her speech on the bill's second reading debate:

When dealing with addiction, the first step to management and recovery is acknowledging there is a problem. And those that are subject to the effects of addiction in the Northern Territory—the whole community—have been crying out that we have a problem since the cessation of the measures and the lifting of alcohol restrictions in the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory Act.

I associate myself with the remarks of Senator Canavan. There were so many warnings given by Aboriginal people living in these communities before the cashless welfare debit card was abolished, before the alcohol restrictions that were in place came to an end. Many of my colleagues in this chamber, from different parties, got up and said, 'We are going to cause a profoundly negative impact on the people in these communities if we lift these restrictions.' Those calls were ignored. Those practical calls were ignored on the basis of ideology. We should all have such a profound disappointment, because we were warned. The Australian government was warned. The Northern Territory government was warned but did not listen to the communities on the ground. There's a profound lesson in that.

I note that Senator Nampijinpa Price's bill provides for consultation in relation to alcohol protection measures. It calls for a committee of experts to consider and support the development of each alcohol management plan. It also provides the basis upon which this bill is introduced.

These figures are just astonishing. Again, we were warned. This government was warned that this was going to happen. Here are the figures: alcohol related assaults in Alice Springs alone rose by 54.6 per cent from December 2021 to December 2022. That's a statistic, but in that statistic are women and children who had been assaulted but who would not have been assaulted but for the fact that the alcohol restrictions were removed. Those communities warned this government and this government just proceeded to remove those restrictions, despite those warnings from the local community. It is those communities that have to suffer the impact of the removal of these restrictions.

I've made this point repeatedly in this place in relation to the removal of the cashless welfare debit card—and we're seeing increased crime and violence in the communities in Western Australia, in Ceduna in South Australia and in the Northern Territory—that the government said it had a mandate to remove the cashless welfare debit card, but those communities are in seats that are not held by the government. In each and every one of those places where the cashless welfare debit card was in place the people did not vote for the election of the Albanese government. So the communities most impacted by the removal of the cashless welfare debit card did not vote for its removal. None of them, not a single one of them—not the communities in Western Australia, South Australia or in my home state of Queensland—voted for its removal. So the government does not have a mandate from the communities most impacted by the removal of the cashless welfare debit card.

There may be people in Sydney and Melbourne who voted for the removal of the cashless welfare debit card, but they don't live in the communities that are most impacted. The people in the communities most impacted by the removal of the cashless welfare debit card voted for its retention, voted for it to continue. There is absolutely no mandate with respect to—


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