Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


Suspension of Standing Orders

2:36 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations) Share this | | Hansard source

Pursuant to contingent notice of motion, 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 give precedence to a motion condemning the Australian Greens and their leader for failing to condemn the vile boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, campaign against Israel.

Australia rightly celebrates a robust and diverse democracy. That is healthy. What is not healthy and is indeed destructive for our democracy is when leaders failed to condemn that which is vile and detestable, when they fail to call that which is vile and detestable what it is—namely, vile and detestable. There is no description other than 'vile and detestable' for the BDS campaign against Israel, a campaign shamefully aided and abetted by the Australian Greens. That is why this Senate needs to bring the Australian Greens to account.

It is heart-warming to note that at least one Green in New South Wales has reservations about this vile and detestable campaign—and, if you were to believe Senator Bob Brown's public utterances, you would believe that he does too. Indeed, Senator Brown is on record as saying he and his party do not support BDS. When asked by Ali Moore on Lateline:

Do you support the policy that New South Wales Greens have for a boycott—

referring to the BDS—Senator Brown replied:

No, I don't, and I've said this before publicly, Ali, that it was rejected by the Australian Greens Council last year.

A great answer but for one fact: alas, it was false on both counts. Today's motion was as clear cut as any. It was a clear-cut invitation for Senator Brown and the Greens to be as good as his word in that interview—that you condemn the BDS. You see, Senator Brown has in his party senators willing to address rallies where the flag of Israel is disfigured; the Star of David is taken out and replaced by a swastika. He has senators that support the boycotting of Jewish businesses in Australia. When someone like Paul Kelly asked one of these senators, 'You are prepared to target and boycott individual businesses?' the senator responded:

… I see the value of that tactic as a way to promoting Palestinian human rights.

Further, the senator was asked:

Don't you think that is very divisive, to actually do something like that given the history, don't you think that's an exceptionally divisive step?

The senator—no prizes for guessing Senator Rhiannon—said:

Not at all.

That was the shameful response. There you have it.

What is worse, the Greens leader himself sneaks onto the Notice Paper question No. 1095—yet this time without the fanfare of a media release. And what is the question asked of the Minister for Trade? Amongst other things, it is asking for a list of products imported into Australia from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, so-called, and the list goes on. It is clear that Senator Bob Brown simply says one thing under the pressure of an interview and votes in the exact opposite manner on each and every occasion he is given the opportunity to put his vote where his mouth is. He puts his vote where his questions on the Notice Paper are and where his heart actually lies in this matter. Today, in one of the most benign BDS motions, there is the opportunity for the Greens to actually support one of their own in condemning this vile, destructive, divisive campaign. But, no, the Greens could not bring themselves to do so.

This is a matter of urgency. This is a matter on which the Senate should move a motion to condemn the Australian Greens and their leader. Sure, Australia has a robust, vibrant democracy, but it should not tolerate the boycotting of businesses because their ownership is Jewish. I think we know enough about world history to never go down that track as a country. I commend the motion to the Senate.

4:05 pm

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

What we have just heard—

Opposition senators: Is the truth.

is hectoring, an untoward diatribe from the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate utilising a great concern around the world about its inability to settle the Middle East question, the travail of the Palestinian people and the security of the people of Israel.

Opposition senators interjecting

You will note, Mr Deputy President, that we listened to the bombast—

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Just a moment, Senator Brown. Senators on my left: Senator Abetz was heard in silence and I think Senator Brown deserves the same courtesy.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

We listened to that bombast and disgraceful delivery to this Senate from Senator Abetz, who, of all people, should not be hectoring the Greens about their associations. I say to Senator Abetz: he is associated in this chamber with people whose behaviour means he himself needs to be put under scrutiny. Let me name, for one, Senator Boswell, who in this chamber yesterday, while you were not in the chair, Deputy President, said this—

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. The Greens political party leader has been here long enough to know that this is a debate not on the substantive issue but on whether standing orders should be set aside, and how—

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Oh, come on! What do you think Eric Abetz just did?

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Northern and Remote Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

Well why didn't you take a point of order? I cannot see how, in any way, attacking Senator Boswell personally can contribute to the debate on whether standing orders should or should not be set aside.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is no point of order. It is traditional that debate on these types of motions be wide ranging.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Boswell said that 'the Greens do not want to do the right thing'; 'the Greens want to intimidate Jewish business'; 'this is 1939 revisited'. Senator Milne took a point of order, which was not acted upon by the chair. I ask you, Mr Deputy President, to seek the judgement of the President on those three sentences and whether they ought to be allowed in this place. What we are seeing here is a totally disgraceful debasement of the way in which this house works—by innuendo, hatred, use of the word 'vile', inference across the chamber against honourable senators—and the diversion of a debate that is about the healing of wounds in the Middle East and about what we can do in this chamber to help see the Palestinians have statehood in their own right and the Israelis, with their statehood, being able to live together with the Palestinians, instead of seeing, in Senator Abetz's own words, the vilest effort to introduce into this chamber a denigration of honourable members of the Senate.

The Greens take second place to none in moving in this chamber to have the issue of Palestine and Israel maturely debated. Time and time again these attempts are voted down by both the major parties. It is our job as senators to debate the issue of the Middle East, because it concerns the peace of the world. What we are getting in the motion that has just gone through the Senate and this motion from Senator Abetz is a tawdry descent into disgraceful calumny—unwarranted, unjustified and totally undignified—against fellow senators. They will not debate the substantive issue but they want to come in here with this sort of reprehensible bombast.

That is up to senators, but I want to ask, in the time available: what about Senator Boswell's reference to the ACCC yesterday, which answered a request from this chamber? Senator Boswell says that the ACCC should have taken action because the majority of this chamber put a reference to it. What Senator Boswell is saying is that politics should rule the outcome of the ACCC, not the ACCC's ability to divine what it should do itself. Then Senator Boswell went on to refer to the Chairman of the ACCC, Mr Sims, as wanting to act like Pontius Pilate. That is disgraceful and reprehensible calumny of somebody who is not even in the chamber, in the pursuit of a political point of view. It was reprehensible, disgusting and untoward behaviour in this chamber. (Time expired)

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Brown, the President will be made aware of the matters you raise and if he wishes to report back to the chamber he will.

4:11 pm

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The motion I moved was actually congratulating one of Senator Brown's members of parliament. How anyone can construe that as an unmitigated attack on the Greens is beyond comprehension. Senator Brown is floundering, and he is as guilty as sin on this. I have in my possession photographs taken with a swastika superimposed on a Jewish flag. I have here a Star of David superimposed over a pig on a placard. That is shameful from anyone's perspective. I know Senator Milne is terrified about this and worried about it. She is a decent woman and does not want to be associated with this. I do not blame her for one minute.

This matter has to be debated. We have to find out one way or the other whether Senator Brown and his party believe in a BDS—a sanction over all Israeli businesses and all trade with Israel and all sporting connections. Senator Brown says he does not but every time he is put to the test he goes down. Every time he is requested to make a decision in the Senate he votes against it. He voted against it again today. It is no good going out there and every time you meet the press saying you have pulled Senator Rhiannon into line and you have spoken harshly with her and you have had vigorous debates. She thumbs her nose at you continually. She has said there has never, ever been a decision on the BDS in the Greens—it has never been voted on. If you do not have the guts to put a proposition to your own party, if you cannot go to your own party and put up a motion without fear of it being defeated, then you are not a leader's bootlace. You are a chameleon—you do not know whether you are for something or you are against something. You are being exposed as a great fraud.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Boswell, please address your remarks through the chair, not directly across the chamber.

Photo of Ron BoswellRon Boswell (Queensland, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sorry, Mr Deputy President. This has been an ongoing problem for this parliament and this chamber. Senator Brown attracts eight or nine per cent of the vote. What the people who support the Greens want to know is whether the Greens are an environment party, a green party, or whether they are an anti-Semitic, extreme Labor party—more than Labor; more than Dougie Cameron; he is to the left but the Greens are to the left of the left of the left of the Left. We have to know, and this is why this motion of censure has to be put to the Senate. It is going to be interesting to see where the Labor Party goes on this. I know they are going to be stuck between a rock and hard place. I hope they have the courage of their convictions and vote the same way as they voted in the last motion. I have warned the Labor Party time and time again. In fact the last time I warned them I said: 'Your vote is going down like a lift. You're on 34 per cent. It's time you stood up to the Greens. It's time you threw out the anchor. It's time to reclaim your own territory.' There was no acceptance of me warning them. Now their vote is down to 25 per cent or, if you take the Greens two per cent that has been transferred, it is 27 per cent. You are going down like a brick. You have been warned to disassociate yourselves from the Greens and you are paying the price now because you will not take any notice of the warning.

We need this motion to be determined by this parliament of whether the Greens should be censured for the racist, anti-Semitic carryings-on over the last six months when their members of parliament have addressed anti-Israel rallies. We want to know what the parliament wants and whether the parliament condemns them. I certainly condemn them. I believe the parliament should condemn them in the strongest possible terms.

4:16 pm

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I inject some sense into this debate? The Australian government has repeatedly condemned the boycotts, divestments and sanctions, all of which are referred to as the BDS campaign. We supported Senator Boswell's motion, as we have supported similar motions in this place previously. I think it is important to put that on record. We do, however, share some concerns that Senator Brown has raised regarding Senator Boswell's speech to this place yesterday afternoon. For the record it is worth saying that the government respects the role and the work of the Chairman of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the government acknowledges that the Victorian Police have acted in a professional matter in handling these inappropriate protests and the government believes that Senator Boswell's characterisation, yesterday, of the Greens could be viewed as offensive by many.

In opposing the BDS campaign the government does not want our language or conduct, particularly in this place, to be lowered to that used in the BDS campaigns. From some of the language that is being used I am concerned that we are now entertaining a similar type of campaign in language that the BDS uses. I raise that as a caution.

The opposition are seeking to act without notice. It is the usual thing in this place to give people notice of their intention to suspend the business of parliament so that they can have a debate. That was not done in this instance. Of course, others who have not had an opportunity of being present to listen to the issue being raised may want to contribute to the debate. But that is not the germane point.

We also have a situation where this government does have a legislative program to proceed with. It does want to continue with the bills on the program. The opposition have repeatedly frustrated the government in dealing with its legislative program. They have filibustered through a range of bills. They are now, without notice, seeking to claim that this matter should be dealt with today. The opposition do have an ability to bring this on for debate.

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Joe LudwigJoe Ludwig (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Manager of Government Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

You can bring it on. You can give notice of this matter. You can then have it debated on Thursday, which is general business, which is the time available for you to have that debate. You could do it at that point. You know from the opposition's perspective that that is the opportunity you have to debate. But you have not taken that course. You have come into this chamber and without notice sought to disrupt the program with your own issue. That is why we will not support the motion.

What we are supposed to hear from the opposition, if they do want to suspend, is a cogent argument on the suspension rather than the substantive matter. All we got was the substantive and not a cogent reason. Senator Abetz used the term 'urgent'. This is not a requirement for an urgent motion. It is simply a suspension to have this motion dealt with. There is no requirement of urgency in respect of that. There is an opportunity to give notice and have the debate on Thursday with a general business notice.

The government will not be supporting a position to up-end this parliament when there are processes available for you to debate this matter. You have been throwing out the anchor yourselves, you do not want to debate the carbon price, you do not want to debate legislation in this chamber. You want to simply throw up any matter to debate other than the legislative program that this government has put in place. You have done it in such a way, today, which also denies other senators the ability to participate in the debate. If you are fair dinkum about this, why don't you put a notice of motion in and have it debated in general business on Thursday as you could do?

Opposition senators interjecting

We have not heard the argument. Why don't you test the water? Because you do not want to test the water. (Time expired)

4:21 pm

Photo of Mitch FifieldMitch Fifield (Victoria, Liberal Party, Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Let us be absolutely clear: the BDS campaign is part of an orchestrated campaign to delegitimise the state of Israel. Senators, including Senator Brown, who refuse to condemn the BDS movement are well deserving of a motion that decries their incapacity to condemn the BDS movement. That is why a suspension of standing orders should be granted.

There is no human rights element to BDS. There is no high purpose or motivation behind the movement. It dresses itself up in the clothes of the anti-apartheid movement, that great and successful movement that sought to fight the abomination of separate racial development in South Africa. But in dressing itself up in the mantle of the anti-apartheid movement, it debases and devalues that noble campaign that was successful in ending apartheid in South Africa. There is no comparison and there can be no comparison between the state of Israel and apartheid era South Africa. Israel is a free and democratic state. The rule of law prevails. There is freedom of speech. There is freedom of association. There is freedom of assembly. South Africa was a nation where citizens were not all equal before the law. The Middle East, in contrast, is a land where two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians, ultimately seek a two-state solution; they seek two states to live side by side in peace and security. Sanctions, boycotts and divestments will not help the creation of a two-state solution, a two-state solution which I support, a two-state solution which everyone on this side of the chamber supports. Neither will denying the legitimacy of the state of Israel help achieve the goal of a Palestinian state. The real goal of those who support BDS is not a two-state solution. The movement is not pro-peace, the movement is not pro-Palestinian, the movement is unequivocally and unashamedly anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish.

Although I think boycotts are misguided, people should feel free to buy or not buy whatever product they want. What must be condemned are secondary boycotts. What must be condemned is intimidation. What must be condemned is denigration of a people. What must be condemned are lies about a nation. What must be condemned are the shadows of anti-Semitism, which we see in the placards outside Max Brenner coffee shops around the world. What must be condemned is that shadow of anti-Semitism, which we hear in the chants and the cries of those who are protesting outside legitimate businesses that are simply trying to earn an income, make a living and employ people. In Australia we must stand against those who seek to prevent freedom of association. That is what they seek to do by these secondary boycotts. They seek to prevent people going into a shop of their choice. That is opposing freedom of association.

What astounds me about the response of the Australian Greens today is that the motion that Senator Boswell moved actually seeks to praise a member of the Australian Greens. I could not think of a more benign motion from the point of view of the Australian Greens. This is a motion that Senator Brown should have embraced. Senator Brown has sought to differentiate himself from the New South Wales Greens. He has sought to differentiate himself from Marrickville Council. He has sought to differentiate himself from the Greens candidate for the seat of Marrickville in the New South Wales state election. Today what he has done is line up fairly and squarely with Marrickville Council, with the Greens former candidate and with the BDS movement.

No nation is perfect. The nation of Israel is not perfect. It does not claim to be. But it is free and it is democratic. It deserves the support of the Australian nation. As a friend we can make criticisms, but we should stand by Israel and its right to exist.

4:26 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to note what is one of the lowest points of Senate debate since I took my Senate seat in 2005. I say it is one of the lowest moments because those of us who do have a memory of history, those of us who do know what happened in 1939, those of us who do know what happened with the Nazi atrocities in 1939 and thereafter during the Second World War find it absolutely despicable that people can stand up and barter that as if it were an appropriate way of condemning or commenting on another political party. I have stood in Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and I have seen where the Resistance were shot against a wall. I taught at Devonport High School with an elderly gentleman who lived through the Crystal Night. I have known those people and I have spoken with those people and looked at that over the years. I know precisely about the cruelty of the Nazis to the Jews in the Second World War. I have witnessed and listened to those stories and I find it despicable in the extreme that every last one of you stand over there and try to point fingers about people in this parliament in this day and age, when the issue we should be debating is the question of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution in the Middle East. That is the debate.

I am glad to hear that the coalition supports the two-state solution, because it is not in their policy platform. They have got a chance to prove it, as has the government, because there is a vote coming up in the United Nations next month on Palestinian statehood. If you believe in a two-state solution, you would be standing up saying yes. We have an opportunity as a nation in the United Nations to stand up and support that statehood next month. That is the debate we should be having right now, not the despicable behaviour we have witnessed from the Liberal Party.

The words 'boycott' and 'secondary boycott' have been thrown around here as if it is a matter of fact. I wish to remind the Senate that the letter from the ACCC states the absolute contrary. You might not like what the ACCC has to say, but the ACCC has come out with a very strong judgment saying it is not the boycott—

Senator Boswell interjecting

and that is why Senator Boswell is disappointed and that is why he has spoken so disparagingly of the new Chairman of the ACCC, Rod Sims, because he does not like what the ACC has had to say. But the letter of the ACCC says:

Section 45D of the Act relevantly prohibits a person in concert with a second person from engaging in conduct that hinders or prevents a third person from acquiring goods or services from a fourth person and that is engaged in for the purpose, and would have or be likely to have the effect, of causing substantial loss or damage to the business of the fourth person.

This is the relevant paragraph:

After a careful assessment the ACCC considers that the protest activity, while it may have physically hindered or prevented potential customers from entering a Max Brenner store and acquiring goods during the protest, is unlikely to have had the effect of causing substantial loss or damage to the business of Max Brenner such as to constitute a contravention of section 45D of the Act.

There is no secondary boycott. There is no boycott. There is an opportunity for the coalition to join with the Greens and urge the government to vote for statehood for the Palestinian people in the vote in the United Nations next month.

Senator Abetz interjecting

I urge the coalition to abandon this depth that they have sunk to in trying to suggest that anybody in this parliament—anybody in this parliament, Senator Abetz—has any sympathy with the Nazis, because that is not the case and it is a grossly offensive way to treat the Senate chamber and the Australian people who elected us and who expect us to behave in a responsible manner. This is a very low point in the Senate.(Time expired)

Question put:

That the motion ( Senator Abetz's) be agreed to.

The Senate divided [16:36]

(The President: Senator the Hon. John Hogg)

Senator Carr did not vote, to compensate for the vacancy caused by the Resignation of Senator Coonan.

Question negatived.