Tuesday, 23 July 2019
Matters of Public Importance
I inform the Senate that at 8.30 today three 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 Siewert:
Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:
The actions of the Queensland police force in arresting a journalist covering Adani protesters, which undermine freedom of the press and the right to protest in Australia
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I stand today to speak in favour of this MPI put forward by my colleagues. What we saw yesterday in Queensland was a disgrace—an attack on the freedom of press in this country. It was an attack on the freedom of everyday Australians to have their voices and their concerns heard about what goes on—the decisions that their government makes. Australia is a wonderful democracy; we are a free and open democracy. Transparency should be at the heart of all of this. The idea that protesters are being intimidated from being able to peacefully show their discontent with government decisions or company actions—let alone the police crackdown on journalists who are simply doing their job and reporting on these protests! What is the government afraid of? What is the government afraid of that they don't want the rest of the country or, indeed, the world to see?
Rather than shutting this down, what we've seen is that Australians are very, very wary. The moment a government comes in and tries to silence people, you know something's actually going on. The moment a government comes in and says, 'We are going to send in the police force to shut down the protests and to shut up the journalists,' you know there is actually a real problem. This is in a long line, of course, of erosions of press freedom in this country over the last number of years. Thankfully, just moments ago here in the Senate, we've seen this chamber establish an inquiry into press freedom in this country. Thank goodness, because we need to get to the bottom of what's really going on and what laws need to be in place to ensure journalists can do their job without fear or favour. But of course this is much bigger than this, because what we saw yesterday in Queensland is a demonstration of the heavy handedness of not just this government but the Queensland government and what is to come if decent Australians don't stand up and demand their rights to have their voices heard and to protest peacefully.
This is happening at a time when our television screens at the moment are full of footage of what's going on in the streets of Hong Kong, where everyday citizens are putting their positions on the line, their lives on the line, for democracy. They are fighting for democracy, and they are fighting for the right for a free and open press and the right to dissent peacefully without the fear of retribution.
Here, in Australia, I hear my colleague, Senator Canavan arguing that there was an election. Well, yes, there was an election and yet many, many people—millions of Australians—did not vote for the policies of this government. Many, many Australians are very concerned about the policies of this government, particularly when it comes to the issues of climate change and approving one of the world's largest coalmines—which is, of course, Adani. This is what's wrong with this government. As I stand here defending the rights of everyday Australians, whatever view they hold, to protest without the fear of arrest and intimidation, as I stand here today in support of journalists being able to just do their job, I can hear the screeching from members of the government who think that because they won an election it should be a free-for-all. Because they won an election, they are so arrogant that they think nobody else's view should matter. That is how these people rule. They are a group of self-entitled grubs. They think no-one else should be able to have their own opinion, protest peacefully or report on these protests, because they hold the keys to the Lodge.
That is the arrogance of this government, the hubris of this government. We can see it all over the place. Even the Prime Minister has had to tell his own colleagues in the party room today to pull their heads in because the arrogance is getting out of hand. You've now got members of the government arguing that we should have nuclear power in Australia; that we should change the government's policies on super; and that we shouldn't have members like Senator Dean Smith, who stood up yesterday in this place with his own voice and his own conscience and argued that Newstart should be lifted. But what's happened? No, the Prime Minister wants to rule with an iron fist. The result is that it trickles down to individuals right around this country, everyday citizens and Australians who should have the right to stand up for what they believe in and to stop dangerous projects that they see are going to impact on the future of their kids.
The Adani coalmine is an issue that affects every Australian. It's not just for people like Senator Canavan over here to say, because he's now on the front bench, that it should be his way or the highway. It shouldn't just be that this government can intimidate individual citizens to stop them voicing their opinions and send chills through media agencies across this country and indeed overseas, because they shouldn't report on protests, they shouldn't report the facts of what's going on and they shouldn't ask questions of the government without fear of being charged, locked up and arrested.
We don't live in a police state. I know Senator Canavan might want us to, but we don't. We don't live in a police state; we live in a free and open democracy, and our citizens have the right to stand up, to have their voices heard and to protest peacefully. I call on them to continue to do that, because, at a time when we are facing such a crisis when it comes to our climate; our environment; and, as we're seeing the erosion of freedom of the press, the freedom of everyday Australians to have their own opinions and voices heard, this is a moment to stand up and stare down the government, who think it should be their way or the highway. Well, no, we're not going to stand here and let the government run roughshod over everything. We're not going to stand here and allow the government to intimidate everyday people to stop them from having their own opinions and standing up for their own land. Of course, this government doesn't even think that farmers should have the right to say that they don't want mining operations in their own backyard. This government doesn't believe that everyday Australians should be able to stand up and protest against spending billions of dollars to prop up the coal industry. This government doesn't think that journalists should be able to report the facts without fear or favour. That is what is going on here today.
You can hear the hubris from the other side. Senator Canavan thinks it should be his way or the highway. That is the arrogance of this government. That is the arrogance of the Morrison government. They think it should be their way and nobody else's. What they're doing is putting at risk not just our environment and climate but also our democracy.
Earlier today during question time, I asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Payne, what she is going to do to help relieve anxiety around the erosion of press freedom in this country. We've had four French journalists held for several hours, arrested and charged all because they were simply reporting on a peaceful protest—a peaceful protest that happened to be against a project that this government is in love with. This government—members in this place—has taken donations from the company that wants to set this project up. No wonder they don't want anyone either in Australia or overseas knowing about what's going on. This is a danger not just to our environment; this is a danger to our democracy. Unless we protect the rights of people to protest, to dissent, to ask question and to report the facts whether or not the government like them or not, then we are on a slippery slope towards the type of arrogance and iron-fist rule that this government think they already have the capacity to do. Well, you don't. We're all watching and we're going to call it out.
Well, that was 10 minutes of wind and straw. There was nothing of any substance there. There were certainly no accurate representations of positions that anyone is putting in this debate. No-one that I've heard from in the government—indeed no-one really anywhere in society—is saying that people shouldn't have the right to protest or have their voices heard, or that journalists shouldn't have the right to report. No-one has that position whatsoever; no-one at all.
Indeed, I think I was more welcoming of the Bob Brown convoy to Queensland than anybody else around. I embraced the Bob Brown convoy. I am happy to go on the record that I welcome law-abiding protests in Queensland and I hope we have many more of them in Central Queensland soon. Since the election I have invited Bob Brown back to Central Queensland many times. Alas, he hasn't taken up my invitations yet; but hope springs eternal, and I do hope that Mr Brown—and maybe Senator Waters will join him this time up in Central Queensland—will come, and they can all express their democratic right to put their position to the people of Central Queensland, as they were welcome to do during the election.
What we are against is people who break the law. What we are against is people who trespass on private property. What we are against is people who interrupt law-abiding citizens going about their average day and life. We are against people who potentially put lives at risk by unnecessarily and insensitively holding up traffic in a major city without knowing who might be in these cars or what they've got to get to. There might be people with a doctor's appointment or people who need to pick up children. They don't care. They are showing gross disregard for all Australians through the illegal activities that are occurring in Queensland right now. That's what we stand against.
How absurd is it for the Australian Greens to come into this place and compare those that are supergluing themselves to street corners, that are swarming traffic lights in the CBD, that are putting other people's lives at risk by trespassing in dangerous environments in ports and rail lines—how absurd it is that they would compare themselves—to those around the world campaigning for greater democratic rights? As I pointed out in interjections, how absurd is it that the Australian Greens are complaining that these people represent a pro-democracy movement when we have just had an election in this country that resoundingly supported the policies of the government which were to support the development of the Adani Carmichael mine? I do think the Australian Greens need a dictionary, because that is the definition of democracy. We've had an election. We had a vote. There was a majority in favour of one set of policies and a minority against them. That was decided.
Now, no-one is saying that that minority—clearly they were in the minority—who were opposed to the Adani Carmichael mine are not entitled to their views. No-one is saying they shouldn't be listened to. No-one has suggested that they should now stop putting their views in the public domain in any way, shape or form. But it is a contentious issue. It has been a contentious issue. We have a way in our society to resolve contentious issues peacefully and respectfully. That most important way is through the ballot box in this country. That is what we have done. We have done it. You couldn't have had more resounding support for the Adani Carmichael mine from the people of Queensland and the people of Australia.
Indeed someone sent me the other day some analysis that shows there is a statistically significant relationship between the swing to the government and the distance of a polling booth from the Adani Carmichael mine site. It was very clearly supported. There were swings to the LNP of 10 per cent and more in Central Queensland. I know the Labor Party are reflecting on that now—what went wrong for them. Clearly, one of the things that went wrong is that people in Central Queensland didn't think the Labor Party was supporting their jobs, their futures, their children's futures as much as we were this time.
I hope that a result as emphatic as this will see the Labor Party reflect on that—there have been some good signs already that they may have done that—and we can marginalise the Australian Greens here. They are welcome to their views, but sometimes in this place they like to speak as if they represent a vast majority of the Australian people, when their vote, when you look into it, is around 10 per cent. They are lucky to crack double digits. All those people are welcome to their views and they are welcome to their votes, but they are nowhere near a majority of this country. The majority of this country want to work and have a future for their children where they can actually provide for themselves. The majority of this country have no problem with making sure we supply essential resources to the rest of the world through our coal, iron ore, gas and other resource industries. We are very proud of that. It's a fantastic industry, which we should be proud of, and most Australians have no problems in doing that.
As I indicated, I am a little torn on this motion, because in some ways I do want to promote these protests. I haven't seen better advocates for the mining sector in this country than those supergluing themselves to the streets of Brisbane. I try my best as the resources minister. I have been trying to fight to get this Adani Carmichael mine going for years, and Bob Brown turns up in Queensland and has it going within weeks. It is a bit frustrating for me how hard I'd worked for years to deliver this result, and Bob Brown came in and swept away and took all my thunder and within weeks this thing was going.
Since then, unfortunately, Bob Brown has not been back to the sunshine state, but those that are applying superglue liberally to themselves at the moment are continuing his good work. There is no doubt about that. They are demonstrating exactly why mainstream Australians reject the narrow, dismissive, negative policies of the Australian Greens, who do not seem to want to build anything anywhere. These guys wouldn't support a footpath being built at the moment. They do not want to support any kind of development in our nation.
The hypocrisy of these protesters is clear as well. That was clear in the convoy that came up to Queensland, who were powered by diesel and petrol. They were happy to come all the way from Tasmania to lecture the good people of Central Queensland about how evil, immoral and evil they were, but of course they were allowed to fill up at every petrol station along the way to make sure their convoy could continue to go. That hypocrisy is continuing, as well, with these new protesters. I noticed one of the first group of people, a group of two people who superglued themselves to Queen Street in the middle of Brisbane the other week. I can understand why supergluing yourself to a hot bitumen road would be uncomfortable in Brisbane. These two protesters had thoughtfully brought along some of those rubbery mats that click together—the jigsaw ones you can get at the hardware store. They had brought along some of them to lay down to superglue themselves to those. That was thoughtful and took a fair amount of planning in their case. However, I don't think they realise that those mats are called EVA foam mats. EVA stands for ethylene-vinyl acetate. The feedstock for that, the way you create that, is from a product called ethane, which is derived from petroleum products. So they were laying themselves on fossil fuels for their own comfort. They couldn't even, in their own protest, not rely on the uses and benefits of fossil fuels in our modern society.
It gets worse for them, though. I was doing a bit more research. The modern superglues themselves are also derived from petroleum products. How hard it is to be pure when you are a Green activist in this world! There are fossil fuels all around us. It is very hard to deny yourself the convenience of these modern products. Unfortunately, it is extremely hard for these protesters. It is just so unfortunate that we could not power our country through hypocrisy, because it would truly be the ultimate renewable power source. We would never have another blackout in this country if we could just harness the extent and significance of hypocrisy that comes from the Australian Greens and their like in our society and community.
It just continues on and on. Unfortunately they can't seem in any way to have a level of self-reflection about these matters. You would think that someone who faithfully—I give to the Australian Greens that they faithfully took a particular position on the Adani Carmichael mine—you would think that, having had that position so resoundingly rejected by the Australian people at an election just two months ago, they might want to reflect. They've asked us in this debate to listen to their protesters. I say I do. I've got no problem with their views, but I would like to Australian Greens to pay us the same courtesy and try to respect and listen to the people of Central and North Queensland and maybe understand what they are trying to say to the Australian Greens—what people who may not be on social media, who may not be on their Facebook feeds or their Twitter feeds might think and like for their own future. There has been no self-reflection from the Australian Greens since the election. There's been no understanding of the views of the Australian people and, unfortunately, that's unlikely to change any time soon.
I think what we've witnessed here over the last 20 minutes and in fact are still continuing to see as Senator Canavan leaves the chamber is that this whole debate about the future of coal and about the Adani mine in Queensland has really just become a culture war between the Greens on the one hand and the National Party on the other, designed purely to raise their vote in elections. It's actually not about the people of Queensland. It's actually not about people's jobs. It's not about the environment. It's actually just something that's being used as a tool by both of the extremes in politics—the Greens on the far left and the National Party on the far right—to whip up their vote at the expense of most Queenslanders. Frankly, I'm getting a bit tired of this just being used as a culture war
I will come to you in a moment, Senator Waters; don't worry. I'm getting a bit tired and I think most Queenslanders are getting tired of being the tools, the pawns of the Greens on the one hand and the National Party on the other—coming down here constantly and coming into elections using coal and communities as a tool to get their own votes up rather than actually thinking about the real future of Queenslanders. We've seen it here again. I'm not going to waste too much time dealing with this culture war that is going on between the Greens and the National Party other than to say I do think that it is important that the Greens be held to account for their incredibly self-indulgent behaviour through the most recent federal election campaign.
Now, it's not often that I agree with Senator Canavan, but I will agree with him on one thing today, and that is that the only people who benefited from the Bob Brown convoy during the most recent federal election were the Greens on the one hand and the National Party on the other. It actually wasn't about the environment. It wasn't about the people of Queensland. It wasn't about jobs. It was about getting Senator Waters's bum back on the seat where she is right now. That's what it was about. It was exactly the kind of behaviour you would expect from the Greens. We have all come to understand that what the Greens are about is stunts. Bob Brown convoy stunt? Got a big tick there. They are also about self-indulgent behaviour. That's what we see from them every single day down here. Bob Brown convoy? Self-indulgent. Tick. It is incredibly insulting behaviour towards most people who live in that region.
There are genuine issues about the future of coal and they are issues that deserve reflection, deserve rational debate and deserve facts rather than this kind of overheated rhetoric that we see from both of the extremes in Australian politics as we continue to from the Greens and the National Party. We have seen it here again today with Senator Hanson-Young having a crack at Senator Canavan and Senator Canavan having a crack at the Greens. Senator Waters is up next, and I'm sure she'll be having a crack at Senator Canavan. We don't move the debate forward whatsoever. And of course they will take us out on the way through.
On the matter of the convoy, there were a lot of people—Labor supporters—that I spoke to in both central Queensland and across Queensland after the federal election who said to me: 'Jeez, wasn't that convoy a disaster? Didn't that hurt us?' And it did. It hurt Labor, but, more importantly, it hurt Central Queenslanders. A lot of these Labor supporters who raised this with me said: 'Jeez, the Greens didn't know what they were getting up to, did they? They've ended up delivering another Liberal-National Party government.' You know what? That's exactly what they wanted.
And, as I say, you can see the glee on the Greens' faces at that outcome. They're having a giggle to themselves right now because they actually don't care about progressive reform that takes this country forward, that actually helps poorer people in the community and that delivers real change to the environment. That's why they voted against the CPRS when Kevin Rudd was in government. That's why they're putting up stunts about Newstart in here that have no practical effect whatsoever. They are all about self-indulgent stunts, and the Bob Brown convoy was the best example we could have possibly seen of that. The Greens did not care one iota what impact their actions through the federal campaign in the form of the Bob Brown convoy or anything else had on the election result.
We saw arrogant, self-indulgent behaviour from the Greens before the election—that is, they went around saying they wanted to be a coalition partner and part of the future Shorten Labor government. If you want to talk about people who were measuring up the curtains, it was the Greens. Having lost the election worse than anyone else, they now have the hide to term themselves the official opposition and christen themselves shadow ministers. Well, maybe start by getting a few more members into the House of Representatives let alone the Senate before you start doling out shadow ministries to each other.
I am sick to death of self-indulgent behaviour from the Greens. They have no respect for Queenslanders, for the environment, for jobs, for progressive reform. If they actually cared about those things, they wouldn't have been doing silly stunts through the federal election—and which they continue to do after the election—because all those stunts did was to make sure that that mob over there, the blue team as we call them in my house, stayed where they are. That's why all of us have to stay over here and watch the damage that the blue team—the Liberal and National team—is inflicting on the Australian people and the environment, something you say you care about.
People said to me after the election, 'Oh, gee, the Greens were really upset about that.' They were ecstatic. All they really cared about was getting their primary vote up in the state of Queensland. They managed to secure Senator Waters spot back in here and they managed to hang onto all their other senators in the other states across the country. They were very happy with the result of the election. They didn't care what the consequences of their actions were. They never do. All they care about is stunts. They're not actually serious about getting the job done and about driving progressive reform. Sometimes you have to make some compromises along the way in order to get the job done. The reality of winning an election is that you have to get the majority of people to vote for you, not just one small section of the community.
The sooner the Greens wake up to themselves and stop pulling silly stunts that all but guarantee the Liberal and National Party remain in government the better. If you're actually serious about getting a better environmental position, maybe think about getting this mob out of power and maybe think about directing some of your energies at them rather than always at Labor. If you want to keep running people against Labor candidates, as you continue to do, then don't cry about the fact that the Liberals and Nationals win. We are the ones who are taking on this mob and who are putting real, progressive ideas forward that can actually deliver while you're off running silly stunts just to make sure you can continue to draw your salary. That's all the Greens are about. I think most Australians are awake to you. It would be a really nice change if the Greens got in behind some real policy that could actually work.
Let's talk about Newstart momentarily. If the Greens were serious about that, why didn't they get Adam Bandt, the member for Melbourne, to introduce a bill over there? We all know that's where a change to Newstart can actually happen. If you want to bring in a bill to change the rate of Newstart, it's got to start on the other side of the building, in the House of Representatives. You've got a member of parliament over there. His name is Adam Bandt. I know most of you don't like him, but I can introduce you to him sometime. If you were serious about lifting the rate of Newstart, then you would actually have introduced a bill over there rather than pulling another one of your silly stunt motions, like you do every single day. As you very well know, moving a motion here to increase Newstart has no practical effect whatsoever. You get to go and do your silly 'we did it' stunts and memes that you put around the place, but you know what? You don't actually do anything.
The only thing you've done is guarantee that the crowd over there is going to keep Newstart low, is going to keep pillaging the environment, is going to keep pushing on the coalmines that you say you don't like and is going to keep discriminating against the people you say you stand for. Well done! 'We did it. We did it. We made sure this government got re-elected.' Well done! Great work! How long are you going to keep up these kinds of stunts that ensure they stay in government forever? I didn't come here to remain on the opposition benches. I know that all of you have no prospect whatsoever of being in government and that you're happy being a little rump up there on your own, passing your silly motions, getting your little social media memes out and having a bit of a giggle amongst yourselves, but the rest of us are actually here to do a real job—to move Australia forward and get wages lifted.
I know you don't like unions and you don't know many working people, but there are working people out there who actually need a pay rise. You're not doing anything to help them by keeping the Liberals and the Nationals in power. We on this side of the chamber have come here to drive progressive reform, to win government—that concept is a bit alien to the Greens—and to get a majority of people to vote for us so that we can lift wages, reverse penalty rate cuts and bring in real changes that will impact on climate change, lift Newstart and do all the things you say you want to do but which you're completely inept at getting done. The only thing the Greens have demonstrated any ability to do is to ensure the Liberals and Nationals stay in power and to ensure that all the causes they say they care about get nowhere. I hope that they take this onboard. It's probably the best advice they've had for a while. They should have a good listen to it and wake up to themselves.
I want to start by acknowledging that we've got some schoolkids watching today. I want to say hi to them and let them know there are some folk in here who have read the climate science and are actually excited about looking to a clean energy future which has prosperous regions and workers that have sustainable jobs that are going to last.
Firstly, I'm sorry that the people in here are acting like pork chops. We're on broadcast today, so the whole nation just heard that. It did look like you were enjoying yourself, Senator Watt, and that's nice; we need more joy in all aspects of our lives. But I really don't think people elect us just to stand in here and insult each other. Senator Watt, as a fellow Queenslander, I'm sorry that you used your 10 minutes that way when we could have been talking about the growing police state and the creep of surveillance powers that not only this federal government is pushing through but the opposition in Queensland is also now pushing through.
I was actually really affronted by the fact that the Queensland police arrested a journalist. They didn't even ask him to move on or give him any warning; they arrested him and his three colleagues yesterday and locked them up. That disturbs me as a Queenslander. It disturbs me that the Queensland police appear to have been hired by Adani. I don't think our police force should be for sale. It wouldn't be the first time that this has happened. I've been seeking clarity on whether money has changed hands for this, because I don't think our police force should be able to be hired by private companies, especially not when they were defending a mine site for which the traditional owners—the Wangan and Jagalingou people—have not given unanimous consent. I was disturbed by that, and that's why our party put forward this MPI today.
Instead we've seen a pretty unedifying pile-on. Again, it's great to self-reflect, and we're happy to listen to your criticism. But we had a minister, the resources minister for the Commonwealth of Australia, spend 10 minutes fixating on the Greens. I don't know about anyone else, but I thought it was a little embarrassing that someone who is in charge of the resources sector just wanted to attack the Greens for 10 minutes. That's great that he thinks we're all powerful. Word to him: we've got more connection to the community than he evidently has. I also want to take him to task on a statement he made: 'I've been trying to get this coalmine up for years.' So says the regulator, and that tells us everything we need to know about what is wrong with this government. We have ministers who are meant to be regulating an industry, and instead they are just shills for the industry. It's not the first time Minister Canavan has said such matters; it's perfectly clear that he considers himself a representative, a voice, for the mining industry and not a regulator of it. In fact, he said that himself when he resigned from cabinet because of the section 44 issues. I find that very challenging, as someone who believes in a democracy that's meant to work for people, that's meant to be guided by evidence and science, and that's meant to protect the planet going forward. I find it challenging that the resources minister thinks it's his job to promote private interests—in this instance, a multinational coal company that doesn't pay any tax but does donate to the Nationals and previously donated to the Liberals and One Nation. I find it very challenging that the minister thinks that's his role, so I want to take him to task over that.
Senator Watt then spoke about the future of Queensland. I'm glad he raised that, because I think that is a useful issue to discuss. I'm really proud that, in the election campaign, my party took to the people. I went many, many times throughout regional Queensland and spoke to many people, including coalminers who spoke to me about their concerns for their health and the long-term future of their industry. They know that the transition is happening, they know that their colleagues are getting sick from black lung disease and they are distraught that no-one else is reading the writing on the wall and planning for that. I was really proud to advocate for our 47½ thousand clean energy jobs, including for those existing coalmine workers.
We want those people to have good, prosperous, long-term, sustainable and healthy jobs. We want to take them hand in hand, as the government should in fact be doing, as the transition occurs. We don't want them to be tossed on the scrap heap as the economy changes and those coal companies just sack workers overnight. Let's be honest: they don't really care about the workers. They're a private company set up for private profits—it's their job to generate money for their shareholders. The workers are clearly not their top priority, but they are the top priority for us. It is our job to care for the safety of our climate for us, our kids and all the other species that we share this planet with and the future of those communities.
I do take a bit of umbrage at the assertion that that is not something that the Greens care about, because, patently, our policies and our campaign were focused around that. I also find it a bit disappointing when people choose to blame election results on random factors, rather than reflecting on their own decisions and their own lack of firm decision on what is quite a divisive issue—the Adani coalmine. I think it's really disappointing that the folks on this side of the chamber, the Labor Party, really did try to have a bet each way and then had the audacity to get cross at the Greens when people who want strong climate action voted for the Greens. I don't want to say anything more pointed than that because I think we've had enough poor behaviour over this last little bit, and, again, I think people really expect better from us.
Coming back to the MPI today, it's centred around the fact that we saw some really confronting arrests of members of the French press—not even our own media. We've now created an international diplomatic incident because the police force—as I said, I'm checking whether they were paid by Adani, as previous fossil fuel companies have hired the Queensland Police Service before—have arrested members of the free press for simply covering a peaceful protest.
I want to now come to the purpose of those protests, because they came under quite the criticism from the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia, Senator Canavan, who said he's been trying to get the Adani coalmine up for years. He really demonised people who are actually working for the public interest to protect the climate that we all rely on, and I think that's very disappointing—perhaps it's not surprising, given the $5 million in donations from the coal and oil sector that the Liberal Party, the Labor Party and the Nationals have received over the last four years. It seems that money does, in fact, talk. But scientists talk, and this government doesn't listen. The community talks, and this government laughs at them.
I'm afraid these people participating in the protests are going to outlast you, and history will look favourably on their actions. They are taking action to protect our climate, to protect the future economic prosperity of regional Queenslanders and all of our regional economies around the nation, and to protect all of the other species that we inhabit this planet with. They're not doing it out of some sense of private aggrandisement or because of any private profit motive—they are doing it in the public interest. I think they're very brave and very gutsy, and they're now, effectively, being targeted by Adani and the Queensland Police Service for peaceful protest action. History will judge them kindly, and it will reflect on the absence of strong climate policy.
I'll take that interjection by Senator McGrath. I'll take that interjection because this is the same party who have done nothing to give farmers the right to lock the gate to coal seam gas companies and other coal companies. I say that with great dismay because I thought the Nationals were meant to be the party for farmers, and yet they've voted against the landholder rights bills that I have brought into this place since 2011—I think it's been five times now. They've been voted down every time, including by the coalition government and, sadly, by Labor. I really think that you should reflect on your perhaps new-found concern for the sanctity of property rights when you won't even give these lands managers the right to protect the sustainability of their land from rapacious fossil fuel companies. But, again, the fossil fuel companies do make very generous donations, don't they? Maybe they're paying more into your coffers than the agricultural sector previously has? That must be it, because, unfortunately, those people aren't getting the representation they deserve.
I can't wait to hear what the next speaker's got to say, but I think that we've raised some really important issues here today. We are unapologetically in support of the climate protests that have been underway globally—led by young people and led, often, by young women, which makes me very happy—and that are now coming to our shores by our young people who feel so disenfranchised by this political process and are so aware that so many of the parties in this place have been bought by vested interests and corporate donors. They are taking to the streets, and I think that's incredibly brave of them. History will look upon them as absolute heroes who, at the last minute, tried to do everything they could to make their government aware of what was at stake and to protect their futures. So to the kids who are up there in the gallery, I want to say: please keep your activism up and keep your hope up. We in this place have a duty to represent you, and many of us are trying to do just that.
I rise to speak on the matter of public importance that has been put forward by the Australian Greens party here today. It's their second matter in a row, and it feeds into their propaganda and, as usual, ignores all the facts. But there are bonus points for them today, because not only do they get to stand up and virtue signal on an issue, as they often do, but they have also managed to do a two in one. Today they're going to virtue signal on Adani and on their contrived conception of free speech. They might even get a third one in there if they can manufacture some accusations of police brutality. Shame on the Greens for using this chamber as a vehicle to perpetuate falsehoods.
The latest Adani protest in North Queensland isn't remotely a breach of press freedom, nor is it a return to the days of protests being banned in Queensland. If anything, the Queensland police protected the stopadani.com crowd and ensured that they had a voice and that they could protest safely, despite the fact that they were engaged in dangerous behaviours. These protestors have got a history of doing things which are dangerous. Last month, two of them glued themselves to a crossing on Queen Street in inner-city Brisbane. It is a pretty busy road; police had to stop traffic for hours until the protestors were removed. Who would have thought that inconveniencing pedestrians and commuters was the way to win hearts and minds?
Later last month, another one glued himself—in a canoe, no less—to the Victoria Bridge, a bridge that links inner-city Brisbane to the other business area of South Bank, which gets 11,000 cars a day passing through it. And yesterday the anti-Adani squad showed they're not just reckless but also that they have run out of glue. I couldn't quite believe it when I heard that anti-Adani protesters had locked themselves together and had sat on the rail line leading into the Abbot Point coal terminal. I had to find out if it was true, so I went to the statement put out by the police. It said:
The Queensland Police Service … arrested seven people following protest activity at a port facility near Bowen this morning.
Just after 6am, police responded to reports up to 40 protesters were impeding road and rail access to the Abbot Point Road facility.
Now, I'm reading this and thinking, 'Well, it's just another day in paradise for stopadani.com.' The statement went on:
A 28-year-old Victorian man and four male French nationals aged 29, 30, 32 and 39 were charged with one count of trespassing on a railway.
Two Victorian women, aged 20 and 22, were charged with one count each of trespassing on a railway, obstruct railway and contravene a police direction.
The four French people filming the protest, including a person by the name of Clement, were released on bail on the condition that they didn't go within 20 kilometres of Adani's Carmichael mine.
Of course, none of this would have played out as well if the matter of public importance that had been submitted by the Greens today read a little bit more truthfully, along the lines of 'the actions of the Queensland police, in doing their jobs and arresting people and foreign nationals with a video camera, saved people who were trespassing on a railway and potentially going to die if they were left in the way of the train drivers, who were unlikely to see them in time'. I could go on. Are we really surprised that the Greens are turning a blind eye to the issues at hand? This isn't even remotely about press freedom. As far as I know, Mr Clement didn't even have his footage confiscated. So what is important? Jobs are important. So is upholding the letter of the law, and that means not laying false accusations against Queensland police for doing their job and keeping people safe.
It's also important to let people go about their business. In Brisbane yesterday, just around the corner from the federal member for Brisbane's office, the anti-Adani protesters blocked a concrete plant's gate and prevented that business's concrete trucks and other vehicles from exiting and entering their own private property. Their plan was to stop trucks from entering or leaving the site until they were arrested. So they willingly broke the law, as their brethren up north had done, and yes, they were arrested after a two-hour stand-off with police.
What earned Meales Concrete Pumping this honour? It was because the company had been contracted to work on the Abbot Point coal terminal. Somehow, in the minds of Greens senators, that gives protesters the licence to ignore whatever laws they please, to stop a business from operating, forcing contract workers to lose valuable income and inconveniencing other businesses who are waiting for concrete to pour for slabs for houses and commercial building and so on. It's hard to imagine that you can sink much lower than these protesters, who forced police to have to ask them to let trucks out because they were needed to get to a nursing home to complete urgent work. There is no level to which they won't stoop. The group later put out a statement saying they had been pressuring Meales Concrete Pumping for weeks to drop their contact with Adani. So it wasn't just a few hours of media stunt or inconveniencing them for a day—it was bullying them out of their livelihood for weeks. And if they had succeeded they would have ended the livelihoods of every single one of their workers. What a shameful display of behaviour! And these protesters call on other Australians to target other Adani contractors and disrupt their operations, too.
So shame on the Greens for endorsing these protesters who think they can take the law into their own hands and take away people's jobs and livelihoods. Shame on the Queensland Premier, too, for her silence on the issue. For weeks the CBD and mining towns have been laid siege to by these extreme climate activists. There hasn't been so much as a raised eyebrow from Premier Palaszczuk. Good on Queensland opposition leader Deb Frecklington, though, and all of the LNP team, for pushing a bill that will see the book thrown at these people, who conspire to deliberately sabotage legitimate businesses like Meales Concrete Pumping.
It is a trend from the hard left to believe that their extreme views are more important than the rights of ordinary Australians to run a business or to live in their home safely. Indeed, it is the increasingly militant actions of animal activists, their invasion of private property in the name of animal rights, their theft and damage to property, that has forced the coalition government to draft legislation to stop extreme animal activists from misusing digital technology to incite other activists to invade private property, trespass and cause disruption and distress to the adults and children working on farms. The Criminal Code Amendment (Agricultural Protection) Bill 2019 introduces new offences for the incitement of trespass, property damage or theft on agricultural land, punishable by up to five years imprisonment.
The coalition will continue to support Australian farmers, their businesses and, importantly, their families, just as we will continue to defend the right of Australians to work in industrial and mining jobs if they wish to, whether that's on a mine itself, in manufacturing or, indeed, driving a concrete truck. It's a shame that the legislation is needed at all. You'd think these activists would have as much compassion for people as they do for animals. But it just isn't so.
Luckily, Australians are much too switched on to buy this nonsense. For as long as the Greens stand in the way of people's right to earn a living, the coalition will stand up for their right to get to work, to earn a wage, to start a business, to run their farm, to provide for their families, and to do it free from harassment from this antiprogress mob.
Freedom of press and freedom to protest are fundamental tenets of our democracy. But they are being increasingly trampled on and squeezed by this government. If Senator Stoker is actually interested in facts, these are the facts that you should be really concerned about: that our democratic rights are being trampled on by your government. Yesterday's arrest and charging of a French journalistic team who were filming—that's all they were doing—a protest at the entrance to Adani's Abbot Point facility in North Queensland should be chilling for anyone who supports free and independent press.
The idea that Queensland Police can issue an order forbidding journalists from going near a mining site is deeply, deeply worrying, but I guess we shouldn't really be surprised. This is the direction that this government and state governments around Australia have been heading down for some time. The level and extent of influence that big business and corporations have on this government and the laws that they make are truly frightening. Thank God for these journalists, who are the constant thorn in the side of powerful industries and corporations that are using and abusing the community and the environment. Whether it be mining companies like Adani, the racing and gambling industry or big businesses that commit wage theft, it is most often brave journalists that shine a light and provide transparency on issues that have been hidden away, that these big corporations don't want anyone to see and that the government is working in partnership with them to put a cloak over.
And it should be deeply concerning to all of us that Australia has slipped to 21st position in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index. Reporters Without Borders have noted that migrant detention centres run by government contractors on the islands of Manus and Nauru are in practice inaccessible to journalists and have become news and information black holes. Last year, the government enacted laws that threaten anyone who passes on classified information received from a federal public servant, including publishing it, with jail for up to five years. These are the facts. Recent AFP raids that we have seen on the home of Annika Smethurst and the ABC offices are a blatant, brazen attack on democracy and press freedom. They are an attack on our community and they are an attack on the community's right to know and the community's right to protest. If these unprecedented acts and raids don't ring alarm bells for us then nothing will. And, whether or not they were designed to do so, the result is the intimidation of whistleblowers, of journalists, of news organisations and of the public.
This is a government that wants to do its dirty work without any scrutiny whatsoever. For whistleblowers in particular, these specific raids are a clear and chilling message that, if you dare to speak up, if you dare to speak to a journalist in the public interest, if you dare to reveal information in public that the public have the right to know, the AFP is going to come after you. And it is the government which sets the direction of the agencies. It is the government that has vastly expanded the reach of police and intelligence agencies. More and more federal and state governments are making us a police state where our freedoms, our civil liberties and our human rights are curtailed, where our democracy is being stifled, where our activities are under surveillance, where our police and intelligence agencies have been given more and more and yet more powers and where fear and intimidation are tools and tactics that are regularly used to shut down transparency, to shut down questioning and to shut down protests. This is lamentable, this is appalling and this is unacceptable.
The Greens have always stood for strong freedom of speech, press freedom and the right for the community to protest. We have refused to support laws that expanded the power of intelligence agencies and we have opposed new offences for journalists and whistleblowers for disclosing information. We have warned of the consequences of opening the door to building a surveillance state.
Journalism is not a crime. We will not stand by while journalists are attacked and arrested for doing their job. We cannot allow them or their sources to be silenced by a police state, by undemocratic laws, by threats and by intimidation. We must speak up and we will speak up. We must fight for the protections of journalists, for whistleblowers and for our community.
although I'm sure some in here may not see it the same way! I've been in here for the last hour listening to the debate about the protests that have been occurring in Queensland. Regardless of whether you believe they are breaking the law, or you find them abhorrent or frustrating, if you ignore the underlying causes of those protests then you do so at your own peril.
The bitter frustration that especially younger Australians are feeling towards institutions like this that they feel have completely let them down is manifesting itself in ways that we are seeing—when young Australians feel that they have to glue themselves to a pavement to be heard. It is a sign of desperation, yes. It is a cry for help, yes. But I warn the opposition and Senator Stoker and others who have so easily batted this off as some kind of radical annoyance: this is just the beginning. This is just the beginning of what is coming down the line.
Senator McGrath interjecting—
And for you too, senator. This is just the beginning, because young Australians and young people all around the world are rising up to have their voices heard, whether it's the Extinction Rebellion or a 15-year-old Swedish schoolgirl who has led a revolution, a global revolution, that has got hundreds and thousands, indeed millions, of mostly young people out to protest about their future and to ask us to do our bit for their future. That's what this is. You can argue all you like about whether it's legal or illegal. You can talk all you want about the surface characteristics of these kinds of movements, but you are ignoring the underlying groundswell of frustration that is coming your way. It is just beginning and it is just building.
I remember when I started as a senator in 2012. I was invited to go to the 30th celebration of the Franklin protests. And I remember—
Senator Duniam interjecting—
Yes, that's right, Jonno; I remember. I remember being in the bar with the original protesters and the police and politicians who locked up the protesters and sent them to jail. I saw them all slapping each other on the back, having a beer and just celebrating how bloody good it was that a group of people stood up and fought for that wild river—the area that was then declared World Heritage and voted the world's No.1 whitewater rafting experience. It is a global tourism attraction. And no-one, 30 years later, disagrees that it was the right thing to do. You are on the wrong side of history on that side of the chamber—
Senator McGrath interjecting—
Let me tell you: ignore this groundswell of protest at your own peril.