Monday, 13 November 2017
Regulations and Determinations
Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Instrument 2017, Citizenship (Authorisation) Revocation and Authorisation Amendment Instrument 2017; Disallowance
I won't hold up the Senate up for long. The government opposes the disallowance motion. The Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code provides:
Citizenship ceremonies are non-commercial, apolitical, bipartisan and secular. They must not be used as forums for political, partisan or religious expression …
In August, the Darebin and Yarra city councils passed motions cancelling their Australia Day citizenship ceremonies to protest the practice of holding Australia Day on 26 January. They also endorsed the #changethedate campaign and defied a warning from the Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection that their motions seriously breached the code. Assistant Minister Hawke responded by revoking the councils' authority to preside over citizenship ceremonies. We believe, in all of the circumstances, this disallowance motion is inappropriate and should not be supported by the Senate.
I note for the record that this is also not my first speech. I speak in support of this disallowance motion by Senator McKim. This is an extraordinary act of political censorship by this government. It likes occasionally to talk about freedom of speech when the speech it wants to be free is its own and that of those who want to racially vilify others, but when others in the community want to speak out and elected representatives want to make decisions on behalf of and having listened to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their community and around the nation, this government tries to gag them. Talk about political correctness; talk about trying to stop legitimately-elected local government councillors from being able to make decisions reflecting the views of their local communities. The way democracy is supposed to work is that, if their local community doesn't like the decision they made, they vote them out the next time around. We don't have Big Brother sitting up in the ministerial wing in Parliament House just saying, 'I'm going to put a gag on this entire community because I don't like what you've decided.' That's the attitude of this government on so many things when it comes to the basic freedoms of people in our community.
We heard from the minister just then that somehow or other this is seen as a political or partisan action by the council. If you're elected representatives, pretty much everything you do can be framed as political. I had cause to reflect on this just today. As senators will be well aware but others listening might not be, I was sworn into the Senate just today. I spent nearly 11 years in the Senate last decade—stretching back into last century, if I want to remind myself how old I am. When we started out today, in the formal part of proceedings we had prayers, as we have always had, and we had an acknowledgement of country. That is just sitting there on the order of business for the start of proceedings every day. When I left this place in 2008 there was no acknowledgement of country. It was only just at the opening of that final parliament I was involved in when the Rudd government was first elected that we had a formal welcome to country for the new parliament conducted by elders of the local Aboriginal community here in Canberra. That was a very moving ceremony, and I think everybody there from all parts of the political spectrum felt what a positive and valuable act of reconciliation that was. It was recognition that the traditional owners, the first people of the land that Parliament House is built on, still have an ongoing living culture that deserves respect and acknowledgement, as does the graciousness of their providing that welcome to us as a new parliament at that time.
These procedures were proposed by the second Aboriginal person elected to this parliament some time back, Senator Aden Ridgeway, following on from Queensland's Neville Bonner. I think we might have had a Senate inquiry into them, and they were opposed as being political—having an acknowledgement of country or a welcome to country was seen as political: 'You can't politicise the parliament; how terrible!' Now, thankfully, not all that much later, we have that welcome to country at the start of every new parliament after an election and we have the acknowledgement of country as part of proceedings every single day in this chamber. That is a welcome development but one that would have been attacked as being partisan, as being political, as politicising the supposedly non-political operations of this chamber and this parliament. It just shows how reactionary and how blinkered and how bullying the approach of the Turnbull government is on this, as it is on so many other issues.
In my home city of Brisbane the Brisbane City Council similarly have an acknowledgement of the traditional owners before council meetings start in that local government authority—the largest local government authority in this country, as people may be aware. At the last election, in 2016, Jonathan Sri became the first Green to be elected to that local government authority. He put forward that proposal and, to the credit of the LNP, which currently has the numbers on that council, they agreed to it. Just one person putting forward that proposal shows the difference it makes when you get even one Green representative into a chamber, whether it is local council or let's hope in the state parliament in Queensland in the next couple of weeks.
What we're seeing here is a government that is resisting the tide of history, as the Liberal Party and the National Party tend to do more and more, digging in with that worn-out reactionary, destructive, divisive political agenda, defending their own power, even against what would often be seen as symbolic shifts to recognise others in the community and particularly when we're talking about recognising the original inhabitants of this land. How miserly and how pathetic that they can't just let a democratically elected local council make such a simple decision, and there is debate and discussion that goes around it.
I accept it's fine for the government at the federal level to say, 'We don't support changing the date.' Fine, they can argue that case and others can argue an alternative case, as the Greens are doing. The Greens and others on the local councils in the places in question—Yarra City Council, Darebin City Council and Fremantle City Council, which I'm sure my colleague Senator Steele-John will talk about shortly—have been part of movements in the community and supported movements in the community, including the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to promote the cause of changing the date. The Liberal Party and the National Party don't have to support that position, but they should not be crushing the views and decisions of the people who have an alternative view, particularly the democratically elected representatives.
I am confident to predict that the change-the-date movement will succeed, that this date will change. There will come a time. It may be 10 years down the track, as it was from when Senator Ridgeway first proposed having a welcome to country at the start of parliament to when it was first implemented. Perhaps it will take 10 years. Who knows? The Greens and others in the community will continue to push for that change, promote that change and support the views of many people in the community, particularly, essentially and necessarily those of first nations people in this country. I said a number of times in this chamber some years back that the one area this institution of federal parliament has failed more than any other is in regard to the first nations people of this country. It has been on so many levels but even on the most basic level of just listening to their views and seeing even just simple things we can do.
We saw this again recently—and I know Senator Dodson has already had a lot to say on this issue—after so much energy by so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country, partly on the urging of this government, to come together and say: 'This is what we want. Not 100 per cent of us agree, but we've come as close as we can get with the Uluru Statement from the Heart.' They couldn't have put it more simply. This isn't a hard-bitten ideological position; this is a statement from the heart. They put that statement from the heart. They put a lot of heart into and had difficult conversations in providing that statement, and this government couldn't even be bothered to tell them their decision on it. They just dismissed it and they dismissed something as fundamental as that by misrepresenting it atrociously. That's on the big scale.
On the small scale at a local community and a local council level, again people were acting from the heart. You might not agree with their decisions—I certainly do, but others may not—but you cannot dispute that they're acting out of goodwill, acting from the heart and acting from having listened. They are trying to do something to acknowledge and to take some steps to move this nation towards listening to and acting in response to the wishes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country.
It is so disappointing to have such a reaction. It was such a sledgehammer, bullying and speech-crushing approach from this government. That shows me, frankly, that, apart from being bullies, they are scared of the community movement on this and so many other issues. That is why it is so important for the Senate to support this disallowance motion to say that we won't stand for this sort of rubbish—this sort of appalling, pathetic, petty, Nazi nonsense that we're getting now.
It is worth noting in the context of the change-the-date movement, which the government, through the minister, have expressed their opposition to, that three or four days ago in the SA Music Awards the song 'Change the Date' by AB Original and Dan Sultan won best song. It is a song that has captured the imagination of young people and not so young people, like me, around the country because they see what it taps into. Again, it taps into the heart, and maybe that's why this government doesn't get it—because it has no heart. The heart is long gone; whatever was there has been bought off by its corporate donors. But Australians get it. So many Australians get that we need to change the date, and we need to change our approach, as a parliament and as a wider community, to one that just listens—listens to what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want.
This parliament—through this government and previous governments—is a signatory to, and has given its commitment on the international stage to, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and its simple components. It's not a particularly long document and it's not full of complex legalese; it's about some very basic and important principles. Australia, among many other nations around the world, unfortunately, has some of the worst records when it comes to the treatment of its indigenous peoples—and I won't catalogue all of them here now. Within that declaration, which this parliament and its government has said on the international stage that it supports, is a simple fact about ensuring that there is free, prior and informed consent with regard to indigenous peoples on issues that concern them.
It should be pretty obvious to everybody what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people think about Australia Day and the debate around it. I does concern Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—and it concerns many of them deeply. Of course, there is not a 100 per cent universal view across every single Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person in the country; there never is with any group in the community. But there is clearly very widespread and, in many cases, very deep concern and a lot of hurt about Australia Day as it operates today and some of the jingoism and other symbolism, statements and actions that attach to it.
If we as a parliament, in particular, and at the local level can't listen to our own communities, particularly those communities who have been most harmed by past actions and often by current actions, what hope do we have for the future if we cannot listen to something as simple as this? Local government is often dismissed, particularly at the federal level, as being a small matter, and it's a matter of great disappointment to me and the Greens that what seemed like a window of opportunity under the Gillard government to finally get constitutional recognition of local government—to recognise its importance; something that was agreed to as a commitment by the Gillard government—never came about and the question was never put to a referendum. So local government once again was left dismissed as not significant enough. But it is of course the area of government that is closest to the community.
The councils that I mentioned previously—the Yarra City Council and the Darebin City Council—are closest to the community and, at the local level, are listening to the people about something as basic as a citizenship ceremony. I'm sure all of us here have been to citizenship ceremonies and recognise what beautiful, lovely ceremonies they are. As I and many others have said many times, alongside the clearest failure of Australia as a nation, which has been the failure to properly work with, engage with and listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the first nations people, one of the great successes and positives, one of the things that has built the real positives of this nation, has been the migrant communities and their willingness to engage with and build on the nation as it continues to evolve.
In my experience, it's often those recent arrivals and new citizens who are the ones that are most open to listening to the views of the nation's original inhabitants. Their hearts are still open when they come to this new land and sign on and commit as citizens in an explicit act that those of us that were born here haven't had to do. For those of us that are born here, it's just an accident of history that we're citizens. We're talking about people who've come here and have made a positive decision to become a citizen of this country. In my experience, in so many cases, those people are the ones who are most open to wanting to hear more about not just the history but also the living cultures of the original inhabitants of the entire continent of Australia and their local communities.
It's wonderful how citizenship ceremonies have started to build in more and more involvement of representatives from the original inhabitants of the areas where the ceremonies are held. That is another thing that has evolved over time. If councils had tried to do that in the past, they probably would have been attacked for trying to be political by involving Aboriginal representatives and traditional owners in citizenship ceremonies. Now it's seen as not only acceptable; I think it would be seen as inappropriate if there was no involvement of traditional owners or Aboriginal representatives in citizenship ceremonies. So why not allow individual councils to explore progressing further in this regard? Why not try it out? Why not see how it works? Why not give a local council that basic freedom to decide how they want to welcome people into their community? It frankly baffles me.
The only reason I can see that we would have such nasty pettiness is that that is what the Liberal and National parties are now reduced to. All they are now capable of is instantly reacting in such a mean, nasty, bullying, heartless, cruel, pathetic way. I really hope that everyone else in this chamber is not signing themselves up to that agenda and that they will ensure that Australia continues to be a welcoming, open-hearted, open-minded country that looks to continually progress and evolve—one that, if we ever hope to move beyond the colonial era, which we still haven't really done, properly listens to and works with as well as supports and acts in response to the views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Before speaking to this disallowance motion, I would first like to acknowledge and pay my respects to the traditional owners of the land on which we meet—the Ngunnawal peoples. It is upon their ancestral lands that this parliament is built, and I believe every occupant of this chamber would do well to remember that in all that they do.
I would also like to acknowledge and recognise that 26 January is a day of mourning for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and that the Greens support them in their call for the date of Australia Day to be changed. We in the Greens recognise this call; however, I am sorry to say that this chamber and the other place do not. It is also the case that our states and territories of Australia also do not at this point recognise that call, so it has been left to local governments to act in this space and to show the leadership which is so sadly lacking in so many of our other democratic institutions.
I am proud to say, as a senator from Western Australia, that it was in fact the City of Fremantle which first put this on the national agenda last year when they, as a community, consulted with the Whadjuk people, who are the traditional owners of that area, and decided that they would take the first national step in bringing attention to the fact that 26 January is not viewed by our traditional owners as a day upon which you can simply kick back and have a beer and that it is in fact a day on which it is remembered that these lands, which we call our own, were and remain the lands of others, that they were forcibly taken and that dispossession and murder were commonplace and formed the foundation of this country.
I am very sad to see that Senator Cormann has decided to suggest that any council which seeks to recognise this reality of our history is in fact playing politics in an area where politics does not belong. I would caution anybody on either side of this chamber from making such an argument. I would ask them to reflect deeply upon the company in which they are placing themselves when they suggest that this is something which should not and cannot be done. It was once—and in this place and in others and at other points in time—suggested that it could not be done in relation to leaving Aboriginal children with their parents. It was once suggested that there could not and should not be reconciliation processes in this country. It is, sadly, still suggested that there is no place for a dedicated voice of our first nations people in this chamber. But, as we have seen, and as history shows with those first two examples, such views prove themselves not to last well in the stark sunlight of history. Movements rose up and said no. They said no to segregation. They said no to a nonexistence in terms of voting rights. They said no to the stealing of children. And they said no to the hiding of that reality.
Today, I take my seat in a chamber which was opened alongside the traditional owners of this place, and Senator Bartlett is right to note that it is only recently that this has become the case. I do not believe it will be too long before we look back upon discussions such as this and think to ourselves: how could we ever have suggested that a day which has only been a national holiday since the year in which I was born, 1994, should be held as such a sacred moment of national unity that it should be continued with at the expense of our first nations people and their profound traumatic experiences.
If no-one else wishes to contribute, then, yes, Senator Cormann, I presume I will be closing the debate and, in doing so, I thank everyone for their contributions. I particularly thank the last two speakers, Senator Bartlett and Senator Steele-John, for outstanding contributions to this debate. I thank the Labor Party for its support for this disallowance motion and I take this opportunity to condemn, with absolutely no surprise at all, the culture warriors in the Liberal Party who, once again, have prevailed in this debate, who, once again, have exercised their muscle internally inside the Liberal and National parties and who, once again, are demonstrating, as Senator Bartlett just went through in fine detail, their pettiness and their refusal to listen to the most important people in this debate: the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia, our first peoples, the people who had this land stolen from them, at the point of a musket, when Europeans arrived just over 200 years ago. They are the people who—at least in my home state in Tasmania—have faced an attempted genocide, and I do use that term advisedly, in the full knowledge and understanding of what it means in law to say that there was an attempted genocide in Tasmania not long after European people arrived.
I remember attending the first Invasion Day—
As I was about to refer to before we suspended, I attended the first Invasion Day march in Hobart a number of years ago. From memory, there were about 50 people at that march. I have attended most, if not all, of the Invasion Day marches in Hobart since that day. I have watched the crowds grow and grow in number. I am proud to say that at the Invasion Day march in Hobart this year, on Invasion Day, there were well over—and I do mean 'well over'—1,000 people. In fact, there were potentially as many as 1,500 people at that rally. They were rallying to say that this is not a day that can be celebrated by them because it is a day that unfortunately symbolises for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country the day that their land was taken from them at the point of a musket.
It is worth pointing out that senators who will vote against this disallowance motion today—the Liberal Party, National Party, One Nation and, sadly, Nick Xenophon Team senators in this place—will find themselves on the wrong side of history, because the day will change. The date of Australia Day will change. It will change so that all Australians can celebrate Australia Day. Tragically, that is not the case at the moment because many, many Australians—including, of course, the first peoples, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of this country, but also many non-Indigenous Australians, me and my Greens colleagues included—find that we can't genuinely celebrate Australia Day on the date on which it is currently marked because of the dark history that is associated with that day. It will be a great day for our country when the date is changed.
I remember when I had the honour to be sworn in as a minister in the Labor-Green government in Tasmania which existed between 2010 and 2014. One of the first portfolios that I held was the Aboriginal Affairs portfolio in Tasmania. One of the first actions I took as the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Tasmania was to write to the then federal Aboriginal affairs minister, Ms Macklin, and ask her to support me as the Tasmanian Aboriginal affairs minister in moving to change the date on which Australia Day is marked. I remember how disappointed I was when Ms Macklin declined my offer and indicated by return letter that, in fact, Labor at that time supported—and they still do, unfortunately—the current date of Australia Day.
This disallowance motion obviously relates to the actions of two councils in Victoria that quite appropriately and after deep consultation with their local communities made a decision not to conduct citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. Now, citizenship ceremonies, and I'm sure all senators would agree, are amongst the most joyous events that we get to attend. They are events at which people take the ultimate step to become Australians. Many people who do that have come to our country fleeing persecution, fleeing war, fleeing trauma and fleeing dispossession, and they go through the lengthy and onerous process that exists to become Australian citizens. They're fantastic events, and I'm sure that I'm not the only person in this place who gets the odd tear in their eye at citizenship ceremonies throughout the year. But these two councils, Yarra and Darebin, made a decision, on the basis of the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that they could not in good conscience continue to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. I would like to congratulate all the councillors in those two councils who supported those decisions.
What was the government's response? Well, the government's response was vindictive. It was petty. It was mean-spirited. It took the biggest sledgehammer it could find to one of the smallest walnuts you would ever like to see. It is as big a storm in as small a teacup as I have seen. This government came into this place and brought in a disallowable instrument that means, if it passes, that the capacity of those councils to conduct any citizenship ceremonies at all will be removed. And that's what we are debating today, whether that instrument should pass through this Senate, and therefore the parliament, or whether it should be disallowed. The Greens, by moving this disallowance motion, have made our position abundantly clear. Again, I want to thank the Labor Party for their support for this motion.
A number of arguments from Liberal and National party senators, both in this place and in the public conversation in our country, have attempted to rationalise their petty and vindictive decision by reference to the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code—in particular, that part of the code in chapter 3 which goes to the holding of citizenship ceremonies themselves. They are relying on the following words to justify their pettiness and vindictiveness. Page 6 in chapter 3 of the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code says:
Citizenship ceremonies are non-commercial, apolitical, bipartisan and secular. They must not be used as forums for political, partisan or religious expression or for the distribution of material which could be perceived to be of a commercial, political or religious nature.
When you look at those words in context, their meaning is clear. Their meaning is abundantly clear. What they mean is that the citizenship ceremonies ought not be conducted in a commercial way, a political way or a partisan way. They, as the words explicitly state, ought not be used as forums for political, partisan or religious expression. When taken in context, these words clearly relate to the conducting of citizenship ceremonies—that is, what happens within citizenship ceremonies that are conducted.
The Greens agree absolutely that citizenship ceremonies should not be political. They should not contain political matter or political material. They should not contain commercial matter or commercial material. They ought not contain religious matter or religious material. Any of those things occurring within a citizenship ceremony would be grossly inappropriate, but on no reasonable construction of those words can they be read to mean that councils cannot make a decision on which date to hold a citizenship ceremony for political reasons. Yet that is what the government is arguing here.
The government is arguing that the Yarra and Darebin councils are in breach of the code. Well, I say piffle and hogwash to that. Those councils are not in breach of the code at all, because the code clearly goes to how citizenship ceremonies should be conducted. It is a heroic interpretation of this code to suggest that the words that I just read out can reasonably be taken to mean that councils cannot make decisions on which date to hold citizenship ceremonies for political reasons. Yet that heroic interpretation of the code is the only foundation that the government is relying on to support its view that two councils in Melbourne ought to have their capacity to hold citizenship ceremonies stripped away from them because they have made an entirely reasonable and entirely justifiable decision not to hold citizenship ceremonies on Invasion Day.
It's a sad reality in this place—and something that I hadn't come across in large part in my time in the state parliament of Tasmania—that so many members of the Liberal and National parties did not come into this place to make a difference to how we manage our environment, to make a difference in terms of creating jobs, to make a difference in terms of infrastructure investment, or to advance human rights; they came here to fight the culture wars. When you distil everything that has been done and said in this debate, when you evaporate away all of the hot air, what you are left with is a small rump inside the Liberal and National parties whose sole reason for coming to this place was to fight the culture wars and who again are flexing their muscle and delivering riding instructions to the Prime Minister and the rest of the LNP party room in this place. It's a sad, sad reality that in fact it is that small rump who are responsible for the motion that this disallowance motion seeks to disallow.
Of course we can't forget, and we ought never forget, who is actually pulling the strings here. Although this motion to strip away the powers of two Melbourne councils to hold citizenship ceremonies is in the name of Mr Hawke, never forget who his boss is—Mr Dutton, the man who boycotted the apology to the stolen generations, an out-and-out racist. He's the one who is pulling the strings here. He's the one who instructed Mr Hawke to bring into the parliament this motion that the Greens are seeking to disallow. He's one member, if not the most powerful member, of that small cabal inside the Liberal and National parties who have come into this place with one aim and one aim alone: to make progressive change in this country more difficult and slow and, where possible, to wind back progressive changes that have been made. We are seeing that today, and never more starkly, in regard to marriage equality. We have a bill that achieved consensus support through a committee process and yet we have got representatives like Senator Paterson, the agent of the IPA in this place, and others who are in that cabal inside the Liberal and National parties coming out with their own piece of legislation which if passed would actually increase discrimination faced by LGBTIQ people.
Just as that is a front in the culture wars, so is the motion that we are seeking to disallow today a front in the culture wars. Well, I have got some news for that cabal, and that is that the Australian Greens are prepared to take on that rump, that cabal, inside the Liberal and National parties at every step. We have taken them on over their desire to water down the protections against race-based hate speech in this country, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. We took them on and we won. We took them on on their divisive and hateful citizenship legislation. We took them on and we beat that, and thanks to a Greens motion that was recently discharged from the Notice Paper. That was legislation designed to make it more difficult for non-English-speaking people to become citizens in this country. Again, they were taken on and they were defeated. We are going to take them on every step of the way because we believe in multiculturalism as a foundation of our country. We believe that people from diverse cultures right around the world have made an epic contribution to our country and have helped us to build this country into what it is today. We want to work with anyone from any party in this place towards more progressive change in this area, towards a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, towards stronger protections against race-based hate speech and racism in our country. We want to see citizenship made available to those who genuinely deserve it without their having to pass tertiary-level English language tests to achieve it. Make no mistake, that citizenship legislation risks taking our country back to the White Australia policy because of course it was language tests that gave effect to the White Australia policy back in the day.
In summary, again I thank the Australian Labor Party for indicating their support for this disallowance motion. I just want to leave senators with one final thought: when the date on which Australia Day falls is moved—and that will come in the future—the date it is moved to will genuinely be a day we can all join together as a country and celebrate Australia Day as it should be celebrated. (Time expired)