Tuesday, 27 November 2018
Matters of Public Importance
I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today, six proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Bernardi:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The increasing attacks on Australia's traditional freedoms.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
I thank the Senate for supporting this matter of importance because our freedoms and our ability to protect and defend our freedoms are critically important to the future wellbeing and welfare of Australia. And they are under threat wherever you go. But, before I get into some of that, I'd like to discuss a matter that has been raised in the Senate which relates to freedom of speech and this cult of victimhood. Earlier—and I was absent from the chamber—Senator Hanson-Young decided that, as a woman, people like me, and she named me amongst others, have been slut-shaming her. I reject that in its entirety. I've never cast any aspersions on Senator Hanson-Young, aside from her behaviour in this chamber.
When I look at Senator Hanson-Young, I don't see a woman; I see a senator. Gender should be blind in this chamber, yet Senator Hanson-Young wants to make it a perpetual grievance—that somehow she's being maligned. She refuses to accept the fact that she yells the most vitriolic and vile abuse at others. I remember the homophobic slurs she would level at previous members of this place who she thought were same-sex attracted and hadn't admitted it. I remember the aberrations and admonishments because people like me didn't want to see asylum seekers drowning at sea. I've seen the cavalier manner in which she uses the truth sparingly in pursuit of her ideological aims. And now she stands up here, because her own leader got tossed out of this place for being unparliamentary—a matter which has been far too long coming because the Greens think the probity, the normality and the requirements of this place do not apply to them. They are sanctimonious and pious and, some would say—
Senator Steele-John interjecting—
When I was addressing my remarks, they were about freedom of speech and the cult of victimhood which is encroaching upon all our freedoms—something that Senator Steele-John doesn't want to acknowledge. In future, Senator Steele-John, just send me a Facebook message; it would be easier!
Honourable senators interjecting—
Now, ladies—Senators—there is something at work in this environment which is infringing upon the freedoms of all Australians. There are far too few people in this place who are prepared to stand up and defend the unalienable rights that we should have. One of those is the freedom of speech. Not all speech is acceptable; we understand that. But government needs to make the case about why some things are not there and why they are going to take these freedoms away from us.
We need to have the freedom of religion. That doesn't mean that all religious beliefs are equal. People are free to believe what they want to believe, as long as they comply with Australian law. And you should be free to be critical of it. But of course you're not, because some environments make that unpalatable. A Christian in this society is suddenly an aberration and someone who can be disregarded. Yet a Muslim is someone whose wise words are sage and are coming down from whatever God they believe in, and they are to be pursued and should be listened to and respected. Aboriginal spirituality can be respected as well. It doesn't mean you can be blind or uncritical. People are free to believe what they like—what they want to believe—and we should be defending that right at every single turn.
Similarly, we should be defending the other unalienable rights that we have, like the freedom of personhood. It was not that long ago, if you remember, Madam Acting Deputy President, that some people in this country weren't regarded as people. Aboriginal people weren't regarded as people not that long ago—back when Sir Robert Menzies was talking about the forgotten people. And we have to defend the rights of all Australians equally.
Every time we make legislation in this place, we talk about human rights, and it goes through the human rights committee, and there is a report on the human rights attached to it. Well, human rights are continually evolving and changing. They are handed down from on high, from the font of all wisdom—the United Nations! And the Hansard should pick up the sarcasm in that, because you get these groups of people who will register these new rights, and of course they compete with existing or traditional rights, the unalienable rights that I think are so important to preserve. So, if we want to adopt these things that infringe upon others, let the case be made for that.
Let us legislate for unalienable rights in this place, and then every piece of legislation, as it comes through this sausage factory, should have to undergo a scrutiny to examine what freedoms are being taken away from ordinary Australians, whether it be their right to privacy, or their freedom to conduct private affairs as they see fit, free of government interference, or freedom of speech, or the ability to pursue the ideas and thoughts that they think want to drive it. But we should not be silencing these things through victimhood, through shaming, however you want to call it—through this perpetual indulgence of identity politics. It is counterproductive, and it is doing us harm.
I know there are many on that side as well who believe in freedoms, and there are many in the Liberal Party who do, and there are others elsewhere who do. But the greatest threat to our freedoms is what we do here, and, when you get people who stand up and complain about an interjection, that is a denying of formality. It happened yesterday—denying of formality—and one of the Labor senators stood up and said, 'As a woman, that's a sexist thing.' Well, how is it sexist that formality is denied, just because someone happens to be female? We're told, on the one hand, that gender doesn't matter, and then gender is used all the time as a means of cowing others into silence and trying to stifle the freedoms that we're meant to have in this chamber. Freedom of speech and parliamentary privilege, which we should be respecting, are even being silenced through this.
We've got to make a determination about what sort of society we want. People will look at me and say,' Yes, he's an archconservative'—I've had all that levelled at me—but, if being a conservative means I want the maximum amount of freedom for all individuals in this country to choose the life that they want within the constraints of a civil society, I will make no apologies for that because I do believe that civil society is absolutely important, and yet we are slowly breaking that down, too. There are elements within this chamber and within the other place, and in politics around the country—extraneous groups—that are lobbying to diminish some of the institutions that protect us and give us this maximum freedom.
If you want to see how things have diminished in the public eye—much of it of their own making, might I add, in their failure to deal with some issues—look at the religious institutions, who make no apologies for that. Then look at the other great institution, the institution of parliament, and things have been diminished again and again and again, so much so—I said this to a friend of mine the other night—that we don't have the leadership that can take a country forward. We don't see it on that side of the chamber or on this side of the chamber. We don't see it; we just see politics being played out every single time for short-term opportunism, and the end result is that we've undermined one of the most important institutions that we have in this place. If we continue to do this, we will erode further the freedoms that Australians have long cherished and really won't notice until they've gone.
We've seen freedom of speech eroded in Australia. We know that there's a subjective clause. If you've got a hurt feeling, you can go to a tribunal and make the case that your feelings have been hurt and the tribunal will investigate it. They will make your life a misery if they want to, and it will cost you a load of money outside of the judicial system for a very long period of time. So, wouldn't it be better for us as legislators to say, 'These are the rights that all Australians have by virtue of their citizenship of this country,' and every single time we want to take away a bit of those rights, every time we want them to be addressed through a channel other than through the common law, if I can put it like that, we have to make the case? If someone wants to take you to a tribunal because of their subjective hurt feelings test, let the first rule be: 'Hang on, what are the unalienable rights of Australians?' Do you know what: one of them is to annoy the heck out of other people! We're all going to do that. If any of you are in a relationship or in a family or in a community group where people don't upset each other along the way, you're subject to groupthink—I can tell you that. Even in my own party, we manage to upset ourselves occasionally, and there's only one of me at the moment! It's a principle of the matter: if we're going to go down this path, we have to be prepared to defend freedom.
I'm happy to have this debate today. I want others to stand with it and rationalise why we can't have freedom and why we can't trust people to have the cut and thrust of positive and negative argument, to debate things and to get things resolved. And, if we want to remove a right for people in this place, then we need to justify why.
In my life prior to coming to the parliament, I operated a consultancy whose affairs were all across the world. In fact, I departed from this country on over 350 occasions to multiple international destinations. Most trips were to three, four or five countries. So I've spent an extraordinary amount of time offshore. I think my late wife calculated that I often spent up to four months a year offshore between 15 and 20 of these trips. They were right throughout Asia and to some exotic places that, I must admit, I have no ambition to return to. I went to the Middle East, Europe, North America and Canada. You can, if you like, think that perhaps I'm a bit parochial about Australia, but one thing I do know is that, particularly around the rights, the freedoms and the democratic environment that we have in this nation, I couldn't find anywhere in the world to compare to it—I simply couldn't.
I couldn't find anywhere in the world to compare to the culture of our nation, our ability to get on with each other. We are a nation that I think is a very fair-minded nation. I think we're a very generous nation in so many ways. I don't talk about the fact that we are a new nation, because we are one of the oldest nations on earth. But I think the balance that has come—including the contribution made to our culture in this nation by the original Australians, their nation, as they've allowed us to share it with them—is such that we have got the balance right between rights and freedoms. It doesn't matter where you go in the world; I'll point out for you where I think there are serious imbalances around the rights and the freedoms of citizens. Obviously, the challenge is that, when you give a right or you take a right away, it affects your freedom.
I'm 61 years of age, and over the last five or six years we've seen a massive acceleration of progressive ideas in this country. There are many reasons for it, and I don't intend to particularise all of them; there is social media and the use of the internet. We've seen complete libertarianism in its purest form: everybody should be able to do anything, whenever they like, without having regard to the fact that they live in a broader community where some of the views might not be shared. That in itself is a challenge for our nation as we continue to develop our culture. But a much bigger challenge are the advocates of some of these extremely left-wing progressive ideas, and I name, in this chamber, the Greens. It is the manner in which they and their followers are executing these minority ideals that they say they represent. They talk about being bullied. I'll tell you what: you need to move down to this end of the chamber if you don't feel bullied. You need to move down this end of the chamber and listen to the Greens in unison as they attack the contributions of many on the crossbench and many of us who stand up on centre-Right and generally more conservative issues. If you want to talk about the loss of freedoms that they talk about today—inhibiting free speech—you need to go back to what started this range war in this chamber. That was me moving a motion—a sensible, balanced motion representing the views of so many in my home state of Queensland, a more conservative state perhaps than anywhere in the country—and being denied formality. That was the first shot, and it's deteriorated from there at a pace that we haven't seen in this place, at least not in the five years that I've been here.
If you open your mouth—I happen to be a Roman Catholic and a proud Roman Catholic. I was educated in the Roman Catholic way, through the catechism, and it remains with me and has done for my entire life. For me to have one of these offensive individuals in the Greens call out, 'You keep your rosaries off my ovaries,' think about how offensive that statement is. That is an attack, firstly, on my Christianity, on my Roman Catholic religious status, and it's an attack on my right—and I get the old, 'You're an old, fat white man; you can't talk on this.' Well, I'm not talking about women's rights; I'm talking about the rights of an infant who is in some instances only minutes or hours off being born, being given life. That's who my voice is for. I said it here very early in my Senate career: I am here to give a voice to those who don't have a strong voice for themselves. You can find my motions offensive, you can find my contributions as I debate your motions to be offensive, but you cannot deny me the right to express myself. As to the methodology and the bullying that comes out against those of us who want to take a steadier hand as we make changes in the culture of this nature, we are entitled to express ourselves, and we do it in a very measured way, a sensible way and a way reflective of our constituents.
You know the episode last week, when I said, 'I'll declare myself to be a woman and then you won't be able to attack me anymore.' I promise you that I found every freak in the Southern Hemisphere, who wrote the vilest of remarks that you could ever imagine—starting, of course, with one of my colleagues from the Greens, who called me about six or seven names that ended in 'ism'. I must admit I didn't recognise three or four of them. I probably need to do some research and might have to fess up to one or two. The fact of the matter is that I exercised my right of free speech.
We have the right in this chamber—in this 'cathedral of democracy', as some references are made—and, in fact, the responsibility to put issues forward, debate them sensibly and then tie ourselves to the result. That's why this attack on freedom of speech occurs. That's why there is this bullying of us. They don't want the world to see how they might vote on something that they find offensive—the fact that we might want to preserve the life of unborn children. They don't want to be called to account. They don't want to see which side of the chamber they end up on. That's how this all started. That's how the first shot was fired here—and the deterioration hasn't ended yet.
I don't speak for anybody else, but you will not silence me; you will not mute me. I will take all of my rights to speak, to present ideas to this place and to put motions to this floor, and I'll do what it takes to try to bring you to put your feet on the sticky paper about whether you are yea or nay in relation to issues that are significantly important to so many people in this nation and most certainly to the constituency that I represent in my home state of Queensland.
The bullying, the intimidation, the calling of names and the interjections that come from some in this chamber won't work. They haven't worked. They didn't work today, they won't work tomorrow, and they won't work next week. I've made a contribution to where we are. I said to my colleagues the other morning, 'We're down in the mudflats now; we're just all tadpoles at the moment.' I've contributed to that and I haven't finished with it yet. I will bring it to its knees until it fails to function in the form that it has been functioning.
Senator Pratt interjecting—
No, Senator; your people started this. You fired the first shot on abortion. You should take to your feet and you could tidy that up.
Sorry; I meant to be pointing to you, Mr Acting Deputy President, but I have a problem with this right arm. I'm going to finish with saying: I will not be silenced; I will not be muted. You can make every attempt you can to silence me, and I promise you that you will have zero effect.
I welcome the opportunity to participate in the debate today on this matter of public importance put forward by Senator Bernardi: 'The increasing attacks on Australia's traditional freedoms.' I have to ask: what does that even mean? It means different things to different people. It perhaps depends which freedom you're talking about and which side of the debate you're on. I for one would see the attacks on workers—their right to strike and their right to negotiate—as very much an agenda coming from this government, where it has attacked traditional freedoms. The way workers captured by the ABCC historically have been targeted is very much an attack on traditional freedoms. I would hope that Senator Bernardi is in fact talking about the great steps forward in social justice in this country, but, sadly, I disagree with how Senator Bernardi characterises those steps forward as an attack on traditional freedom.
Surely we've improved on traditional freedoms in Australia. We have improved and we want to keep doing so. What could be a more traditional institution than marriage, and it's the fact that the LGBTI community embraced it as a traditional institution that has seen 5,000 same-sex marriages take place this year in Australia. Tomorrow, it will be one year since the marriage equality bill passed through this chamber. Five thousand people now have their relationships recognised in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of their families, and they did so for very traditional reasons: the idea and the desire to celebrate their love and commitment as a couple in front of their friends and family and to have that recognised by the laws of this nation—a freedom that was previously denied to gay and lesbian Australians but was accessible to heterosexual peers. I see these as improved freedoms, and, indeed, traditional ones.
What could be more important, in terms of freedom, than enabling children in our schools to go to school safely and to be protected from discrimination? I was listening to Megan Mitchell in the discussions last week that we had on the discrimination in schools referral that I chaired. She spoke to me about one of the exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act, not about LGBTI students, but, in fact, on young pregnant women and the high levels of marginalisation and discrimination that they experience in our community. I find it so, so, so terribly ironic that those who champion an anti-choice agenda on women's reproductive rights—and I do not begrudge them those opinions; they're entitled to those opinions—then stand up for the right of a school to exclude a young woman from an education just because she happens to be pregnant. It is absolutely galling. Young women might get pregnant while at school; it does happen.
There are young LGBTI people, young people who do not fit in a gender box, and it might well be because they have intersex sex characteristics that mean they don't want to be easily attributed to a gender, although I do note that most people who have intersex sex characteristics have a very strong gender identification. But sometimes the issue is that it's not the one that you would have state governments tick a box on at birth. I find it absolutely extraordinary that people in this place would see the fact that state governments don't necessarily see this as the most significant thing in the world—that every child should have every bit of information ticked to say which gender box they belong in. Surely parents and teachers—you meet a child; you know whether it's male or female. What is this hysteria about? Are you the gender police? Is that the traditional freedom of having the state running around inspecting the genitals of children so that you know which gender box they fit in? It's a pretty extraordinary thing, frankly, to ask the state to do on behalf of a society. If the church wants to do that, go ahead and do it—if your religious faith wants to do that. But, really, senators, what is the place of the state in upholding these freedoms?
When it comes to LGBTI discrimination against students, the government have promised to resolve this issue by the end of the year, but, as each day goes by, the government are still sitting on their hands. You've refused to proceed with a simple removal of the relevant exemption that would protect young women like the ones I spoke about and who have been advocated for by the Children's Commissioner, Megan Mitchell. It's extraordinary that in the week before the Wentworth by-election the Prime Minister promised to remove exemptions that relate to LGBTI students, but, sadly, as yet we have failed to achieve that goal. I would really like to see this parliament act on that before the end of this year. We know there has been cross-party support on this issue, and there's no reason it should not be progressed and actioned.
I talked about these issues when I tabled the committee report on legislative exemptions. We saw the evidence from the committee and LGBTI organisations, and from faith based institutions, strongly indicating that religious schools do not use these exemptions and do not want them. In fact, we had very detailed discussions. Well, what is it that enables you to uphold a school's ethos? Do you go away relying on exemptions in an antidiscrimination act? No: you have a strong and lively culture within your school and religious community that promotes certain values. It's not written down in exclusive clauses in the Sex Discrimination Act that exclude people as some kind of exception. That is a ridiculous way of upholding religious freedom in this nation. What I find so strange is that when we talk about religious freedom there is no right in this nation to have your own faith or other political belief protected as an individual freedom. I've heard many of those from the other side talk about this. Rather than the belief that you hold, or not being discriminated against for holding that belief, there are some in these debates who are intent on trying to express their religious freedom by upholding a right to discriminate against others.
Well, I'm sorry to say, that is not, in my view, how freedom in our nation should work. By that very statement, when you discriminate against others and harm them in some way, you are impinging on their freedom. I wouldn't want to see any teacher discriminated against in our schools for holding a particular religious belief, any more than I would want that to happen to them for having a particular sexuality or gender. I note, for example, that if you are a religious school then you might want to uphold a religious belief in your teachers, but it shouldn't be that hard to explain, within the strong school ethos that many schools have—and they don't go out of their way to rely on exceptions in the Sex Discrimination Act to do so.
What does Senator Bernardi mean when he says 'the increasing attacks on Australia's traditional freedoms'? Our duty in this place is indeed to strengthen freedoms in Australia when they are for all. It is a quality of access to various freedoms, no matter your race, religion, gender identity, sexuality, union affiliation, political belief or any other attribute.
This is a debate about traditional freedoms. As my record shows, the Liberal Democrats always defend the full range of freedoms in the Western liberal democratic tradition. Other parties might defend freedoms selectively, but they shirk from the task of defending freedoms that unpopular groups rely on. Other parties say that they defend freedom of religion, as we do. But only the Liberal Democrats believe that a school should be free to refuse enrolment to gay children or to expel them. Why would a parent want their gay child enrolled in a school that thinks their child is an abomination? Expulsion from such an abhorrent school would be a blessing and shouldn't be banned. Freedom of association is a fundamental freedom, but only the Liberal Democrats have supported the rights of motorcyclists to join motorcycle clubs, rejecting the lie of guilt by association. A right to a fair trial is fundamental, too—but only the Liberal Democrats support the rights of accused perpetrators of child abuse or domestic violence to a fair trial. Two bills that undermine justice for these people are due to sail through the Senate this week—opposed, presumably, only by me.
Being innocent until proven guilty is also under attack. I have not heard anyone, other than the Liberal Democrats, consistently rail against regular reversals of the onus of proof and the application of strict and absolute liability. Property rights are fundamental, but only the Liberal Democrats fight against unexplained wealth laws that seize the wealth of people who have not been convicted of a crime. Traditional freedoms have been routinely attacked under the guise of national security. Freedom of movement of those who are not facing any charge is constrained through control orders and, more concerningly, through preventive detention. And our privacy is undermined by government surveillance of our communications as if we are all just criminals in waiting. When I defend our traditional freedoms against attacks under the guise of national security, I cut a very lonely figure because parties that pretend to stand for freedom are missing in action. We also see retrospective laws in tax and migration that pull the rug out from under people. Some parties might defend migrants, and some might defend taxpayers, but only the Liberal Democrats defend both.
Finally, I turn to freedom of speech. Other parties selectively defend freedom of speech but only the Liberal Democrats are consistent and comprehensive, with four weighty bills before this parliament to light the way towards free speech. Free speech is fundamental to our democratic society and a key part of what makes life enjoyable. Importantly, it doesn't mean you are under any obligation to politely listen to what others have to say. 'Traditional freedoms' means all the freedoms I have raised today; it's not just a particular freedom that my political base or any other base might like this week. The Liberal Democrats are the only party to truly stand for freedom in this country.
Mr Acting Deputy President, Senator Bernardi, congratulations on initiating this debate on freedoms generally and on what you say are increasing attacks on Australia's traditional freedoms. I've had the good fortune in my life, as a member of this parliament, to visit many places in the world. I attend, as a regular member, the Inter-Parliamentary Union that meets around the world somewhere every six months. I always come home absolutely amazed that, in Australia, we have a confected outrage of abuse of the human rights of Australians and abuse of our freedoms and a confected victimisation that a few people in this country continue to support. I think about other countries I've been to, and I'm so grateful that I am an Australian living in a country which is as free as any civilised nation can be.
The old freedoms—freedom from want, freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of speech—are things we cherish in Australia. Sometimes we mess up on them—and I'll mention a few of those—but, by and large, we are a country that should cherish and celebrate the freedoms we have as a nation. At the Inter-Parliamentary Union, there are some countries—who claim to be parliaments—who will not allow this international gathering of parliamentarians to even discuss some issues, let alone pass any resolutions on them. There are some fellow parliamentarians who attend this who I know execute people who have committed crimes which, if committed in Australia, perhaps wouldn't even draw a mandatory jail sentence. One of the reasons I like going to the Inter-Parliamentary Union is that I look around and say, 'How lucky am I to be an Australian and living in this country of absolute freedom.' There are some abuses on the way, but they don't overcome the reputation that Australia has, rightly, as a country that cherishes, values and promotes the freedoms we have.
But, on a perhaps more negative note, I was very disappointed today that Senator O'Sullivan was pilloried by other senators in this chamber, accused of doing a number of things, and sought leave to defend himself, but the leave, which is required in this chamber, was denied by the Leader of the Australian Labor Party in the Senate. That is un-Australian, and it is an abuse of freedom, because in Australia, as in all democratic and free countries, the basic tenet is that when you are accused you have the right to a defence, you have the right to explain your action, and you have the right to show that you are not guilty as charged. But that was denied this day in this parliament, in a parliament that is supposed to be protecting our freedom to speak.
Some of our universities—I say with some regret: the university that I always support, James Cook University, and other universities in this country—have denied various people access to their campuses for meetings because they disagreed with what that person might be going to say. I too would perhaps have disagreed with what that person was going to say, but, as the old adage goes, I disagree entirely with what that person says and stands for, but I defend to death the right of that person to express their views. So I'm disappointed that the universities, which are supposed to be the bastions of freedom around the country, are only selective in the freedoms they allow with speakers on topics which those in charge of the universities don't believe are appropriate for discussing on their campuses.
I am delighted, having just returned from being an observer on behalf of Australia at the Fiji elections, to see how freedom in that British colony is continuing to operate. They have had some rocky patches along the way in the last couple of decades, but their election system, which is the basis of all freedoms in a democratic country, was, in my view, absolutely brilliant—without peer, I might also say—and executed excruciatingly honestly and fairly. Considering the freedom of elections and the freedom of democracy in Fiji and the way it was organised, I lamented that unfortunately in Australia these days we don't have quite the same precision in the conduct of our elections. For example, in the electorate of Herbert, which was won by the Labor Party by 37 votes, there were 200 cases of double voting, which could have changed the government of Australia. That could never happen in Fiji because in Fiji, once you've voted, you put your finger in an inkwell of indelible ink, and for the next month everybody knows you have voted. If you turn up at a polling booth to vote again, as often happens in Australia, I'm aware, you won't be allowed in. So there is a lot we could learn from the Fijians about how to conduct an election that does in fact guarantee our freedoms.
Whilst talking about freedom, can I just give a shout-out to those who protect the freedoms we so enjoy in Australia. Our police forces are sometimes under criticism and pressure for not following the rules, but they fight against people who never follow the rules, and they do a wonderful job. I have the greatest admiration for the police forces, our law enforcement agencies around the country and our intelligence services.
I also want to do a shout-out for our Defence Force. I come from a garrison city, the city of Townsville, which is the home of Australia's largest Army base, a significant Air Force base and some naval elements as well. Our troops, our soldiers, our service men and women, are the ones who ultimately defend the freedoms we accept as the norm in our country. Very often they are recognised, but too often they are not. They do a wonderful job in protecting Australia, and that means protecting what Australia is all about—protecting the freedoms that we enjoy. A strong Defence Force that is motivated to defend the country, the culture and the freedoms that Australians have and expect to continue to have is just a wonderful exercise. They do a wonderful job, and, as often as I can, I will offer praise, congratulations and thanks to the serving members of our Army, Navy and Air Force who protect Australia in so many ways and do it so professionally.
Senator Bernardi, in sponsoring this matter of public importance, has concerns about increasing attacks on Australia's traditional freedoms. He mentioned those in his speech, and my colleague Senator O'Sullivan also explicitly raised a number of these issues where there are attacks from within, almost—from people with political ideologies—on the freedoms that we've always enjoyed in this country. In that regard, I support the approach of Senator Bernardi and Senator O'Sullivan in lamenting those attacks by some within Australia—as I say, usually of a political bent—on some of the freedoms which we class as traditional, relevant, important and part of Australia. Mr Acting Deputy President, we are in the lucky country because of the freedoms we enjoy. Long may that continue.
I too would like to thank Senator Bernardi for proposing this matter to be discussed today. Following Senator Macdonald, as I am, can I reflect on a couple of elements of his contributions as well. We are indeed in the lucky country, so I thank him for adding that element of perspective to this discussion about reports of increasing attacks on Australia's traditional freedoms. I think we should take pause as to the sensationalising of these matters in the way in which some people have done. I am not at all suggesting that Senator Macdonald is one of those. I think his points about us being in the lucky country are very important for us all to reflect upon.
Senator Macdonald also raised the matter that occurred here earlier today. As a sidenote more than anything else, to ensure that this is on the record, I should highlight—as indeed did Senator Macdonald, if I recall correctly—that Senator O'Sullivan had the opportunity to seek leave to make a personal explanation. He didn't do so, but he did then cover the matters concerned during the suspension debate. So it's not that Senator O'Sullivan did not have an opportunity to defend his circumstances, but I think we would all do well to reflect on how formal business in the Senate is currently being conducted and, indeed, how it is considered by those outside of the parliament observing our behaviour.
That said, I would like to concentrate my remarks now on the issue of religious freedom, which is one of those things that I think many would regard as traditional freedoms. In Australia, of course, we've had a fairly unique heritage in how we reflect religious freedom, which in recent times has been highlighted as inadequate if you look at international standards and conventions on how we should protect religious liberty. With that background, it's useful to note some of the reporting today that a clear majority of Australians, both Liberal and Labor voters, back new laws to prevent individual schools and companies from being discriminated against because of their religious beliefs and practices. The front page of The Australian today reports a Newspoll that shows 59 per cent of those surveyed were in favour of new laws to protect people with religious beliefs, compared with 26 per cent of those who oppose them. Even Greens voters overwhelmingly support strengthening protections, with 63 per cent saying they favoured change, compared with 50 per cent of One Nation voters—supporters, I should say.
What does this Newspoll tell us in the context of this debate? It shows that the support among all key political parties is running in favour of legislating stronger protections for religious freedoms. While respecting and supporting the importance of people's religious beliefs, Australians do not support discrimination. We are, as Senator Macdonald said, the lucky country. We have this ethos of a fair go. That is why this parliament supports the recommendations of the Senate inquiry into discrimination-free schools and associated matters, in its report tabled yesterday, to remove the exemption in section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act, which currently allows faith based schools to discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Although this has not been used for this purpose by faith based schools, times have changed, and it's appropriate and right that the laws are updated to reflect those changes.
I can understand why some religious organisations are concerned at changes which still occur without the broader issues relating to religious liberty being addressed. One of the reasons for that, I suppose, is that this government kicked down the road the issue of religious freedom when the parliament dealt with same-sex marriage. Senators will recall that former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, when confronted with difficult issues over how that legislation should deal with religious freedom, kicked those issues down the road with the Ruddock review. Those senators, particularly in the coalition, who might have been inclined to act at the time on those matters essentially removed their support, and there was going to be no change. Of course, we're still waiting for the Ruddock review report quite some time later. Now we have other issues because of a leaked report of the Ruddock review's recommendations, without the considerations or the discussion that might have led to those recommendations. So we have a second issue that Australians are being asked to address in relation to discrimination issues in schools but still no Ruddock report to help guide us in how we should adequately cover religious freedom in Australia.
Whilst I think most faith based schools say they think the historical exemptions are not really the way to proceed in dealing with these issues, they are obviously reluctant to have the exemptions removed, and quite fairly so. The Ruddock review has not been disclosed—the government hasn't dealt with those issues—and these schools are being asked to operate without the exemptions and without other arrangements to address that void. This is why I say these Newspoll figures that I highlighted are particularly interesting. The Australian public at large is saying: 'Fix it. Act on it. Do it.'
This is the particular problem that the current government faces just now. The stagnation at a federal level with respect to dealing with policy across a broad range of areas is creating a lot of harm. It's creating harm and uncertainty in our schools at the moment. This is why Labor calls on the government to release the Ruddock report and to respond to the public call for change and reform here. The type of posturing that's occurred from some in the coalition on these issues, I regret to say, was once again reflected in the dissenting report, which was tabled yesterday. The dissenting report, at point 3 on page 57 says:
This committee has not been established to undertake an examination of the substantial issues raised by this question in good faith. It has been hurried in a way that exposes its true purpose: to provide a platform for some Labor and Greens Senators to project their pre-determined views onto a larger stage, for their own political advantage. Those involved should be condemned for doing so.
I sat in the Senate in that last sitting week and watched government senators join the Greens and limit the time frame of this inquiry. I questioned them in the chamber at the time: 'Why are you doing this?' I got no satisfactory answer there, and now I think it deserves to be exposed that those very same senators are saying in their report that this inquiry was rushed. It was rushed because they voted for it to be rushed, and to suggest that this is on Labor's head is simply outrageous. This is once again posturing by some members of the coalition, thinking that they can delude members of the community on something the front page of The Australian tells us, 'They know what they want, and it's time we got our act together to do it.'
Labor's platform has, for many, many years, indicated that we should act to reinforce religious freedom in Australia. That is Labor's platform position, and that is the position that is represented in the majority report of the committee, which was tabled yesterday. Recommendation 5 says:
The committee recommends that consideration be given to inserting in law a positive affirmation and protection of religious freedom in Australia that is appropriately balanced with other rights.
It's about time we did it. Release the Ruddock Report and stop stalling.
I rise to speak on the increasing attacks on Australia's traditional freedoms. I know a lot of people in this place like to deny it, but there are an ever-increasing number of attacks on Australia's traditional freedoms. Whether that is our freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to have a laugh, the right to celebrate the holidays you want to celebrate, equal rights for parents, the right to a fair go—and I could go on—these traditional freedoms are under attack. Many Australians feel like they are experiencing a cultural invasion as our schools, universities, government departments, political parties, media and even major corporations are overrun by a rabid new left-wing ideology often referred to as cultural Marxism.
I have many Australians tell me they no longer recognise the towns where they grew up. They feel like they are losing their country and their way of life. They are worried they won't be able to give their children or their grandchildren the same standard of living they had. Australians are worried about this and they are right to be worried. If we keep going down this path, we will no longer be able to call Australia the Lucky Country or the land of the fair go. That's why One Nation has been such a strong supporter of the traditional Western values that made Australia the greatest country on earth.
Just the other day One Nation's leader in New South Wales, Mark Latham, announced a policy designed to protect Australia's traditional freedoms and address the very issue we are debating here today. Let me read you some extracts from the New South Wales One Nation policy for uniting Australians as one nation. There is a section on defending individual freedom that says:
We hear a lot about 'minorities' in politics, but the smallest minority in any society is the individual. One Nation is committed to defending the rights of the individual. We believe in judging people by their personal character and work ethic, by their contribution to Australia and Australian values. We believe in talking honestly about these issues, free from the suffocating PC-censorship of the identity-Left.
One Nation strongly opposes the Left's attack on personal freedom, its attempt to control society by controlling our language, feelings and behaviour.
The policy also talks about stopping segregation and discrimination, arguing that we are losing one of the best things about our country: the sense of fairness and the great Australian tradition of rewarding those who work hard and seek self-improvement. The Left used to argue that racism and other forms of discrimination were plain wrong. Now they practise them against straight white males. They have created new forms of discrimination, supposedly to overcome old forms of discrimination—a self-defeating strategy. This has inevitably produced bitterness, division and unfairness in our society. It is also entrenching the evil of segregation, separating Australians from each other on the basis of race, gender, sexuality and religion.
There is even a section on reforming human rights law, a subject I know One Nation's New South Wales leader, Mark Latham, is very passionate about. It reads in part as follows:
Reforming human rights law … requires a fundamental rethink of human rights law at State and Federal level. New policies are needed to bring Australians together and restore fairness to our public and civic life.
The job of government is to adhere to the constitution, rule of law and the economic stability of the country. It is not their job to tell people how to run their businesses or their lives.
There is nothing more vital to a liberal democracy such as ours than protecting the freedoms on which it was built. Freedom of speech, one's ability to speak freely and frankly without constraint, is central to all other freedoms. Freedom of speech is likened to other fundamental freedoms such as freedom of religion, thought and conscience. It is a fundamental tenet providing for open and honest political discourse—discourse about things like radical Islam, black African gangs, opportunistic economic migrants and the Aboriginal industry. These are some of the issues under the egregious 18C where mums, dads, university students and news presenters have been hauled before the courts as a result of offence taken from something that someone has said.
I was taught that offence is taken, not given. A lot has changed from when I was young, and not for the better. Without open discussion, free from fear of retribution, as a society we will never address these issues. We will never close the gap. We will never stop the ever spiralling crime sprees by disaffected African youth and we will never stop the rising threat of radical Islamic extremists. In the eternal words of George Orwell, if liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. However, every day we see instances of the Left and radical Greens shutting down debate and stifling political discourse. People in this chamber continually deny me and other conservatives the right to debate issues that we are passionate about. This is a sad indictment of our democracy. If we cannot have freedom of discourse to discuss important issues in this place, then where on earth can we?