Senate debates

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Conservative Political Action Conference

3:05 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to questions without notice asked by Senators Wong and Keneally today, relating to extremism.

These questions related to the extraordinary decision by Senator Amanda Stoker and Mr Kelly MP to attend a Conservative Political Action Conference. In the wake of horrifying and tragic events and in the wake of inflammatory and divisive comments by a former senator, we have had in this place in recent time a substantial debate about the importance of all of us uniting to overcome hate, fear and division, and I remember the contributions from the other side. I remember how much discussion we had about the need to be far more careful—you should be listening to this, Senator Stoker—and far more vigilant about the hate speech proliferating in our discourse and the people with whom you choose to break bread and the people with whom you choose to share a stage.

Senator Stoker interjecting

I'll take an interjection, even though you're not in the chair and you're crouching on the floor and you shouldn't be interjecting from there. I'm very happy to take it from over there. The Australian parliament passed laws requiring social media companies to act upon instructions from police and other authorities to remove material inciting violent hatred, and Mr Morrison, our Prime Minister, made much fanfare for doing something that we do acknowledge was an appropriate thing to do, which was a statement at the G20 pressuring social media companies to act immediately when contacted by authorities to remove terrorist content such as a live video of an attack or other violent posts that seek to spread terror or recruit followers.

These are all fine words, but it's time for the Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, to show he's for real. It's time that he showed some leadership, because here in Australia we have a real-life conference which is a veritable academy for those wishing to learn the dark arts of hate speech. Some of the most extremist elements from the US and the UK are here running workshops on how to recruit people into the ideologies of hate. This requires a response from Mr Morrison, because if it's important enough to act decisively on hate speech in the virtual world of social media it's certainly important enough to act decisively on hate speech in real life; otherwise it will be clear that Mr Morrison's concern for maintaining a peaceful, cohesive Australia risks being far more virtual than real.

Now some might dismiss the conference—I heard some such interjections during question time—as being harmless. This one is not. This is the place where movements start. This is the place where networks are built. And this is the place where Senator Amanda Stoker and Mr Craig Kelly, and potentially others who might not be listed, will be sharing the stage with the people who have the views that were quoted in question time today—views that the Leader of the Government in the Senate described as abhorrent.

There is much to love about America, but there are many things we don't want to replicate here. The white supremacist movement is gaining momentum. Conflict over race and religion is increasing. We have seen more and more attacks on Jewish, Islamic and black Baptist places of worship, along with neo-Nazi rallies that have turned deadly. As I referenced in my question, one of the speakers at the Australian conference of CPAC next week is US congressman Matt Gaetz, best known for inviting a Holocaust denier Charles C Johnson to the State of the Union. Mr Johnson is a man who asked for help in taking out—'taking out'—a black civil rights advocate and who denied that over six million Jewish people were murdered in the Holocaust. There is an argument to make that he ought not be allowed into Australia, on character grounds. But there should be no argument that the Prime Minister should call out this extremism as he said he would. And there shouldn't be an argument as to whether the Prime Minister must ensure that nobody from his party attend or be associated with this workshop, which is about spreading extremism in Australia.

We are a proud, decent, multicultural nation. As I said when we moved on a bipartisan basis to censure Fraser Anning, that multiculturalism and that tolerance and that respect has been built by both sides of parliament. That means that those people in the coalition who know that this sort of activity and these sorts of views are abhorrent should ensure that their colleagues do not engage in this conference with people who peddle such hatred and whose views are so contrary to all of Australia. This Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, said he would call out extremism wherever it was. He gave very clear commitments to the Australian people about his support for multiculturalism, respect and acceptance. Well, it's time he showed it by making sure that his people don't turn up to this conference. (Time expired)

3:11 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Smear by association is one of the cheapest, nastiest arguments to be made, and it is befitting of an intellectual lightweight. I had the misfortune of sitting in the Senate last night to hear Senator Keneally's contribution to the adjournment debate, and I've had the misfortune again to hear the attacks by Senator Keneally and Senator Wong on Senator Stoker and others in this place. Attacking someone for attending an event where someone else has views that you find objectionable is a cheap and nasty smear—as I said, befitting of an intellectual lightweight.

On this side of the chamber we believe in personal responsibility, not collective responsibility. People who say things that are reprehensible deserve to be held responsible for it. People who happen to attend conferences with other people who say things that are reprehensible do not deserve to be held responsible for it. Please allow me to illustrate why, for your benefit, Senator Keneally. I imagine that you, along with all your colleagues, have over the years attended many national conferences of the Labor Party that were attended by people such as John Setka. Am I to hold you personally responsible for all the offensive things John Setka has said over the years? Does attending a conference with him constitute your endorsement and agreement with all his ideas, all the things he's said?

Senator Keneally interjecting

I'll take that interjection. Senator Keneally, you said you're kicking him out. Yes, you are kicking him out now. The straw has finally broken the camel's back when it comes to John Setka. But it took an attack on Rosie Batty for you to do that. What about every other statement he made prior to that? What about his attack, outside the front of the Australian Building and Construction Commission, where he said that the families and children of public servants deserve to be attacked and singled out for their work?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

You're standing up with racists. You're on the stage with racists. It's not the same thing.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Wong, Senator Paterson has the right to be heard in silence. Senator Abetz, a point of order?

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I think the opposition leader should withdraw the personal allegation against Senator Paterson that he's standing on a platform with racists.

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I should have said Senator Stoker is standing on a platform with racists. I'll withdraw, and I'll replace it with that.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

That is clearly a reflection on—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I think we're getting into debating points.

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

No, the standing orders—

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Abetz, please resume your seat. Minister?

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

What I would ask you to do is to perhaps take this on notice and consider, because there is a very clear standing order that requires for there not to be reflections on the motivations of individual members and senators and that is, on the face of it, a breach of them, and I think it should be considered on notice.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

On the same point of order, Senator Wong?

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I don't think there is any argument that the same conference Senator Stoker is attending is being attended by Raheem Kassam, who has labelled the Koran fundamentally evil and campaigned against Muslim migration. Now, I think that's racist. This is a statement of fact. I'm not making assertions. People can draw their own conclusions.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong and Senator Cormann, resume your seats. I didn't hear the comment, so I will take your advice, Senator Cormann, and we will review the tapes and come back if there is anything to report on. Please continue your remarks, Senator Paterson, and I will ask others to listen respectfully.

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Madam Deputy President. I would be sensitive too if I had a decades-long personal and political association with characters as unsavoury as John Setka. Those opposite should be ashamed of their long association with someone of such poor character, and it reflects very poorly on them that it has taken them as long as it has for them to denounce him. But if it's good enough for them to level these accusations against coalition senators, then they should accept the exact same standard for themselves.

If they think the attendance of Senator Stoker and Mr Kelly, from the other place, at a conference with people who have obviously objectionable views, that they're personally responsible for that, then you should all be willing to stand up here and take personal responsibility for the views that you've become associated with over the years by attending conferences with people such as John Setka.

John Setka, by the way, is far from the only person to attend Labor Party conferences over the years with objectionable and offensive views, and if I had more time in this place I would go through all the other union officials who have threatened violence, who have made despicable smears against people's characters, that you've happily palled around with at your Labor conferences for years and years.

The best thing I can do to close this discussion, though, is to read out the fantastic statement that Senator Stoker put out, in response to Senator Keneally's smear last night. Senator Stoker says: 'Senator Keneally is so muddle headed, so weak in her thinking, that she seems to believe that everyone who walks into a room, by definition, has the same views on all issues. Any sensible person can see that that's not so. She said:

If we are doing our job properly as politicians, we should be talking with people from all walks of life, every day. We won’t agree with them all. Trying to shame into silence anyone who would speak to a person who is wrong on an issue damages our capacity for constructive democracy. When we are confronted with people with whom we disagree, we need to talk to them more, not less.

She continued, 'We need to engage with and persuade people whose ideas we disagree with—

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Paterson, please resume your seat. Senator Cormann.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

The Leader of the Opposition is well aware—

Senator Wong interjecting

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, order. We've got a point of order.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

that interjections are disorderly. Senator Wong is constantly interjecting, and I would ask you to call her to order.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Cormann. I have asked senators to listen respectfully and I have asked Senator Wong, in particular, to do that. I'll ask senators, once again, to listen respectfully to the debate. I call Senator Paterson.

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I wouldn't want to hear it either, because I think it frames very clearly the dirty and despicable smear they're engaging in here. Stoker continues: 'It also means you can't walk into a room without doing background checks on everyone—that would be a real problem in the Labor Party. It's stupid, impractical and harmful for civil society. Clearly, Senator Keneally would rather that Australians are silenced and siloed, rather than be able to interact with people who have different beliefs.' Senator Stoker says, 'While I don't know all the speakers at CPAC, I'm proud to be talking about economic productivity at an event with people of the calibre of John Anderson AO, Jacinta Price and Janet Albrechtsen, to name a few. If Senator Keneally had any intellectual consistency, she would also be casting nasty labels on other people—like Steve Baxter, the former Labor appointed head of the Office of the Queensland Chief Entrepreneur, of course, but she doesn't.'

3:18 pm

Photo of Kristina KeneallyKristina Keneally (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

Talk about intellectually weak arguments! We heard Senator Paterson, first of all, assert one thing and then undercut his own logic with the second assertion. It doesn't even bear reflecting upon. All I am calling for is the same consistency that this Liberal-National government has applied in the past to people like Gavin McInnes, who founded the alt-Right group Proud Boys in November last year. He was denied a visa by this government so that he could not come here and speak, because he is a racist.

This government denied Holocaust denier and conspiracy theorist David Icke a visa in February this year. Here we go: Holocaust deniers and racists denied visas by this government. Senator Paterson, in all his love of free speech and all this quoting of Senator Stoker, that, 'It's okay, we just have to talk to racists and we can make it work out all right; we shouldn't be denying racists, we should be talking to them more.' Senator Paterson completely ignores that it is his government, a Liberal-National government, that has denied visas to people like this.

We're talking about Milo Yiannopoulos, who, in March 2019, was denied a visa by this Liberal-National government—your government, Senator Paterson; your government, Senator Cormann. They denied Yiannopoulos a visa. Why? Because he called Islam a 'barbaric' and 'alien' religion. He did it in the wake of the Christchurch massacre. Is that why they denied the visa—just because it was in the wake of the massacre—or does this Liberal-National government actually uphold the multicultural, multireligious values that have made Australia great? This is why we have this section in the Immigration Act; this is why we have this discretion for the minister for immigration: to ensure that people who are going to come to this country and incite discord, possibly violent reaction, in the community are able to be barred. Senator Paterson would have us believe that we just let anyone in. We don't. His government has barred people like Gavin McInnes, David Icke and Milo Yiannopoulos, but yet there is someone as reprehensible as Raheem Kassam, just because, oops, Senator Stoker accepted a speaking invitation, and she wouldn't want to be embarrassed twice, because already, earlier this year, she had to pull out of a conference because of the people she was going to be sharing the stage with.

After I made my speech last night, I wrote to the Minister for Home Affairs, Peter Dutton, and the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs, David Coleman, asking them to deny Raheem Kassam a visa, as they have done with Gavin McInnes, as they have done with David Icke, as they have done with Mino Yiannopoulos. These letters were hand-delivered to the respective offices at 10 am this morning. This afternoon, I saw a headline on the The Australian home page that said:

The government will reject Kristina Keneally's calls to ban far-right UK activist.

That story says:

The Australian understand that the Department of Home Affairs will not revoke a visa for former Brietbart UK editor Raheem Kassam despite his offensive tweets which have included calling on Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to “shut her legs”—

so she couldn't reproduce—

after she revealed she had a miscarriage.

These are comments that, today, Minister Cormann has described as reprehensible and abhorrent. The government, however, so far seems to be quite happy for someone like this to come to Australia.

Senator Stoker told The Australian that she's proud to be speaking at the CPAC event. I cannot believe that someone like Senator Stoker or Mr Kelly, or anyone in the Liberal-National government, is comfortable sharing a stage with someone like Mr Kassam, who describes Islam as 'fundamentally evil'. It's not all that different, in fact, to what Milo Yiannopoulos said when he described Islam as a 'barbaric' and 'alien' religion. And, frankly, regarding his comments about Nicola Sturgeon and his implications about the role of women in public life—the view of women fundamentally that he portrays—it is bile; it is being spewed. Raheem Kassam has also said that Islam is a 'fascistic and totalitarian ideology'. So my question to the government is: how is Raheem Kassam any different to Milo Yiannopoulos? How is he any different to the man to whom you had already issued a visa and banned? And why won't you review the decision by Minister Coleman to allow him into the country? (Time expired)

3:23 pm

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The issues the Australian people are concerned about include jobs; they're concerned about the cost of living; they are concerned about the future for their children. These are the issues that engage the minds and concerns of the Australian people. But yet here today we have the alternative government, yet again devoid of any policy platform, seeking to pick on individual new senators. Last week, it was about two sentences out of Senator Bragg's first speech that the Labor Party sought to take note of as the big issue of the day. Today, it is relative newcomer, Senator Amanda Stoker, for going to a conference, as though that should excite the interest of the national parliament. And, just in case those listening are wondering about this conference, a person who was described by John Howard as the most decent man he had ever come across in politics, former Deputy Prime Minister, John Anderson, will be attending that conference. Just keep that in mind. And the person Senator Wong and Senator Keneally went to the barricades on to try to make sure that he became Prime Minister, Mark Latham—thankfully they failed—is also appearing at this conference. That's the former Labor leader, as indeed is Warren Mundine, a former national president of the ALP.

So, I am starting to take the side of Senator Wong and Senator Keneally and ask Senator Stoker what on earth she is doing rubbing shoulders with these former Labor people! But the reality is, as Senator James Paterson has indicated, that this is an issue not about with whom one shares a stage but about what one personally believes. Good heavens above: I've even appeared on The Drum! I've even had GetUp! people in my office! But I can tell you, I didn't agree with GetUp! and didn't agree with all the panellists who were interjecting on me because I was, as is always the wont on The Drum, the lone voice. I even appear on Q&A from time to time! Does that mean I agree with the views and values expressed by other people on the panel? Of course not. That is where the intellectual bankruptcy to which my good friend and colleague Senator James Paterson referred is so absolutely rife in this debate. Indeed, other people who will be appearing at this conference include Nick Cater, from the Menzies Research Centre; Jacinta Price, a well-known Indigenous councillor and advocate; Janet Albrechtsen—and the list goes on.

But let's be very clear here: the Labor Party's affected outrage today is because they have no policy issues to talk about, and in their eagerness to try to find something to talk about today they overlook the fact that in their own midst they have the John Setkas, they have the Luke Colliers, and that one former Labor senator in this place spent over 60 questions trying to defend the indefensible, and the Hansard records—I won't go through all the antecedents of one Mr Collier or indeed Mr Setka and the misogynist, ugly things they said to female enforcement officers in the workplace—deathly silence! There is deathly silence from the Labor Party, especially from the leader and deputy leader of the Labor Party in this place—not a word of criticism. Are they willing to condemn that sort of behaviour? Of course they're not.

So, Mr President, as you resume the chair, I indicate for anybody who might have listened in to the speeches of the Labor Party's leader and deputy leader in this place: their contributions were laced with hypocrisy, duplicity and a standard they would never apply to themselves. Why do they do it? Because they are devoid of policies and have no platform to engage the Australian people, so they engage in this politics of personality rather than politics of policy.

3:29 pm

Photo of Patrick DodsonPatrick Dodson (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Reconciliation) Share this | | Hansard source

This could be a pantomime. This is a serious matter for the integrity of Australia. I stand in support of my colleagues Senator Wong and Senator Keneally in expressing concern about this conference, CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, and about the standards that our leaders, particularly the Prime Minister, need to make clear when it comes to the participation of leaders from this place and other places. In the US, CPAC is an annual political conference attended by conservative activists and elected officials from across the United States. CPAC is hosted by the American Conservative Union. Now we have CPAC down under, with a conference in Sydney from 9 to 11 August.

What's this about? Is this a sign that our fierce Australian characteristics of independent thinking are finally capitulating to rejected offerings from overseas? There was a time when we were concerned about how our national discourse was informed. Now it looks like we're submitting to poisonous ideas without reflection. You can buy a Reagan VIP Freedom Pass to the conference for $599. No-one from Newstart will be there; that's more than their fortnightly allowance. The one-line blurb promoting CPAC in Sydney bills the conference as a chance to 'learn', 'have fun' and 'protect the future'. Learn—what are they going to learn? What do those attending hope to learn from right-wing proselytisers from other hemispheres? Why should our political discourse be polluted by imported poisons and propaganda? Fun—locked up in a conference room with a clique of visiting right-wing nutters who shouldn't be allowed in the country. Protect the future—God save us, if all of those that are in this bunch see themselves as our protectors.

Mr President, I invite you to go to the CPAC website and take a look at the line-up of visiting speakers. Some of them shouldn't be allowed in this country. They obviously have not come by boat! That should not be the reason for them being banned from coming here—they are more likely to fit into an 'intellectual terrorist' category than that of a tourist. Their demagoguery is a danger to democracy. Australia is so intent on protecting its borders from refugees, but how about protecting our borders from prejudiced zealots and intellectual terrorists? Why do we need to hear the US congressman with a questionable record, Trumpified and infecting Australian politics? And what's there to learn about right-wing Americans? Or why do we need to hear from someone who is promoted as a 'British political activist'—someone who is really a racist bigot? Don't we have enough homegrown fascists and fanatics? We already have too much homegrown bigotry and racism in our country. CPAC has taken to social media to defend their invitation to this man. Apparently CPAC is proud to have him at the Sydney conference, arguing that free speech is at stake here.

Like both of my colleagues, I am a strong defender of free speech, but, like my colleagues, I reject any right to hate speech. We already have enough homegrown bigots and racists in Australia. Extremism should not be allowed into our country. And if CPAC sees itself as the exemplar of Australian conservatism—look out, everyone. It's time for the Prime Minister to act on this matter, as it is a threat to our nation.

Question agreed to.