Wednesday, 24 November 2021
I seek leave to move a motion relating to the consideration of general business notice of motion No. 1269 as circulated in the chamber.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice standing in the name of Senator Wong, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter—namely, a motion to provide that general business notice of motion No. 1269 be called upon immediately, take precedence over all other government business and if not considered finally by midday the question shall be put and determined without amendment.
In seeking to debate this motion today, I am calling for true leadership from the Prime Minister and the government he supposedly leads. I call for everyone in this parliament, both in this place and in the other chamber, to urgently and without qualification condemn the violence that we are seeing in Australia. What we have seen at protests over the last few weeks has been shocking. It has been utterly appalling. It has been without precedent in modern times in this country. A swift rebuke of these violent threats should be easy.
That's not what we have seen from Mr Morrison. What we've seen is a bet each way—a Prime Minister talking out of both sides of his mouth, because the Prime Minister is, at heart, just an ad man who wants nothing more than to sell a product, and that product is himself. There are few limits that Mr Morrison will place on his own ambition to keep his own job. He's pandered to violent extremists because he sees value in their vote and he relies on the support of their proxies in this parliament to hold up his government. It's not enough to clinically cloak your words in the democratic language of debate, protest, choice and truth, while those around you are playing and braying with violent threats, parading gallows through the streets, threatening murder and violence.
Peaceful protest, considered and informed debate, and a free and fair media are all, of course, important and cherished pillars of our democracy. These are core tenets of our society and they must be protected. But, instead, they're being sold up the river by a small group in this parliament who seek to undermine them in the violence being described, encouraged and threatened that I encourage us all to condemn today, and the frenzied abuse that has been hurled at health workers and experts, reporters, elected representatives, their staff and their families.
I move that we condemn the graphic threats of violence encouraged by the comments on social media posts by government MPs who do nothing to remove or dissuade these threats. Two days in a row, I have asked the leader of the government in this chamber what the government is doing about specific threats that are being made in response to Mr Christensen's social media posts, and, two days in a row, I have had no answer.
This is more than negligence. This is more than irresponsible. It is actually dangerous. Anger is virulent, in person and online. And we in Australia, as a democracy, are learning in real time that disinformation, fear and anger can create a potent rage. There are those here, sadly, unfortunately, in this parliament, elected MPs, who have stoked anger and rage because they know it yields them attention and relevance and profit at the ballot box. But at what cost to our democracy? Fear and rage mixed together creates something toxic in a democracy.
Let us remember all that is at stake here. In January, in the United States, we saw that protest can spontaneously combust and become deadly. Our parliamentary colleagues in the United Kingdom know only too well that they are made vulnerable by their public accessibility, two of their members having been murdered by extremists. Our Senate colleague Senator Lambie said that we all have freedom to make choices but not freedom for choices to be without consequences. And so what are the consequences of creating fear and fury and your followers deploying tactics of fear and intimidation?
In our service to the people of Australia, we have a responsibility as elected representatives, and that is to make clear the boundaries of responsible debate and discourse. It is to refuse to associate with extremists who peddle falsehoods and intimidation. It is to draw back from this moment, to urge calm and to restore respect before it is too late. We need, in this moment, true leadership, not political spin. The Prime Minister, Mr Morrison, has shown none of that. He has only condemned with qualification, where he seeks to wink and nod and show sympathy to the violent protesters.
Let us be clear: in this place of democracy we must give an unequivocal condemnation and we must unite this country in order to protect it.
Just yesterday I stood in this chamber in question time and asked the Leader of the Government in the Senate whether he or the Prime Minister would condemn far-Right extremism. What I got was the usual waffle, the usual sitting on the fence: 'Yes. Sure. We condemn all kinds of extremism.' That is absolute rubbish. That is bullshit. You are putting people's lives in danger. That's what you are doing. And do you know what? This is nothing new. On the weekend, we saw the far-Right extremists on the streets again. They have embedded themselves in antilockdown and antivaccination organising.
Far-Right extremism in this country is not new. There are people of colour, especially women of colour, who have faced this abuse, these threats and this violence for a very long time—people like Senator Thorpe, Senator Cox and me, and there are others as well—yet there is such a reluctance from this government to even utter the words 'far-Right extremism'. Well, it exists, and you saw it blatantly on the streets on the weekend. But it has been blatant in social media, through people's emails, for a very long time.
You can't even utter the word 'antiracism'. That's how terrible you are in stoking division and fear within communities. All you want out of this is to harvest votes to stay in power and keep doing the crap that you have been doing for years now. That is the truth. Right-wing politicians in this place have fuelled far-Right extremism. They have fuelled racism and have created an environment that is ripe for even further growth of the far Right by mainstreaming their dangerous ideologies and enabling far-Right groups to recruit more members.
We know now that up to 50 per cent of ASIO's domestic counterterrorism case load relates to what you like to call 'ideologically motivated violent extremism'. You can't bring yourself to say 'far-Right extremism'. There was a big report, 'Nazis Next Door', published by the Nine newspapers just a few months ago, which alerted us to the really terrible truths about the growing threat of far-Right extremism and white supremacy. The report was shocking, but it was not entirely surprising to those of us who have followed the rise of the far Right closely and are impacted by its deadly consequences. We have seen those deadly consequences in Christchurch, where 51 innocent Muslims were brutally murdered by an Australian man, because you refuse to stand up and condemn far-Right extremism. Develop a backbone. Do the right thing and condemn far-Right extremism today.
I rise to make a contribution on behalf of government senators to Senator Keneally's motion and I do so wearing a couple of different relevant hats. The first is as the chair of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, currently leading an inquiry into extremism and radicalism. It is an issue which I and I know all members of the PJCIS take very seriously. We have worked very closely with our intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies on what is unfortunately a growing and serious threat to the safety, freedom and security of all Australians. I look forward to—hopefully, in a bipartisan way—handing down a report that makes constructive suggestions as to how we can all tackle this threat together. But I don't think it's fair to besmirch the government's intentions or the seriousness with which it takes these issues, as Senator Keneally and others have done in this debate. The government earlier this year for the first time listed a far-right organisation, the Sonnenkrieg Division, as a terrorist organisation under our Criminal Code, as it should. When handing down that report in this chamber I called upon the government to carefully consider whether any other far-right organisations met the threshold for terrorist listing, and I look forward to further developments in that space very soon.
The second relevant hat that I wear for this debate is as deputy chair of the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19. As we know, much of the protest, much of the anxiety, much of the heat around this debate has been related to the pandemic and the public health restrictions that have been brought in to combat the pandemic and vaccinations. In that role I have consistently supported the vaccine rollout and encouraged Australians to come forward as soon as possible to be vaccinated with the vaccine that they are eligible for. Unlike some other people in this place, who have sought to disparage certain brands of vaccines to undermine the vaccine rollout, I have consistently supported it.
But the third and most important hat that I wear in contributing to this debate is as a senator for Victoria. As a senator for Victoria I represent Australia's and the world's most locked down city. The 250 days of hard lockdown in Melbourne have had an enormous impact on the people of Victoria and the people of Melbourne, and we should not lightly dismiss the impact that that has had on people's wellbeing, on their mental health, on the more than 200 days of schooling that young people have missed, on the employment opportunities people have missed out on, on the small businesses that have closed. In the context of that lockdown it is not surprising that there are many Victorians from all walks of life who are anxious about the Victorian state government's pandemic bill and the powers that it grants that state government. It's not surprising that more than 60 leading QCs, the law institute and other eminent bodies in Victoria have raised profound and serious concerns with that law and the impact that it would have on civil liberties. It's not surprising that many Victorians, in response to that law and the way in which the Andrews government is trying to ram it through the parliament, have taken to the streets in protest to put forward their concerns.
Let me be very clear: it is totally and utterly unacceptable to ever threaten political violence. It is never an acceptable tactic, and I wish Senator Keneally was right when she said that it is without precedent. But, unfortunately, it is not without precedent in this country. There have been other threats of violence in the pursuit of political goals in the not too distant past. I wish that it was only in the context of the COVID pandemic and mandatory vaccination and other issues that members of parliament, senators, their staff and their families had been threatened, had been harassed, had been bullied, had been stalked. But we know that it isn't the only context in which these threats have happened.
You only have to ask Nicolle Flint, the member for Boothby, about her experience at the last election. A man was charged with stalking her in that election, her office was vandalised, her staff were threatened and they were made to feel unsafe doing their work for a member parliament. Unfortunately, this is not without precedent. Unfortunately, when those incidents have happened in the past, they have not been condemned in an unqualified way by people in this chamber. Perhaps the most galling contribution made so far is that of Senator Faruqi, given the association of the Greens political party with Extinction Rebellion, who not only vandalised this building, set a pram on fire at the front of it and vandalised the Lodge but regularly make threats against members of parliament and their staff and make them feel unsafe.
Seriously, what a complete disgrace the Morrison government is, sowing distrust in our country today and sowing division in our country today. In challenging times, when so much has been asked of Australians to get through this crisis, at a time when so many Australians have pulled together and done the right thing to keep this community safe, what we actually need is real leadership. At times like this, what we actually need is real leadership from our national government. We need clear leadership. We need unequivocal leadership. Instead, what we have is Prime Minister Morrison and his doublespeak. We have today a Prime Minister who is actively sowing distrust. We have a Prime Minister who is actively fomenting division in our country today. We have a Prime Minister who is flirting with the violent protesters in Melbourne. Our own Prime Minister today is giving comfort to protesters who are threatening violence to our political leaders in Victoria, in Melbourne, and he is doing that with his doublespeak. He speaks out of both sides of his mouth at the same time. Out of one side of his mouth he condemns the violent protesters. From the other side of his mouth he uses their very words and projects them onto the national stage, giving those violent protesters comfort. He is telling everyone what they are saying—that it's time for government to get out of people's lives. He is using the words of the protesters themselves. He is sympathising with their frustration, sympathising with them that over the last couple of years governments have gone too far in telling Australians what to do. He's using their words, projecting them onto the national stage, as the Prime Minister of this country. What a complete disgrace!
Let's talk about exactly what is going on in Victoria today, because it is real. What is going on in Victoria today is affecting real people. It is affecting our political leaders. It is also affecting our essential workers, because these protesters are the people who, during the pandemic, went to health clinics, went to the nurses who were vaccinating people, vaccinating homeless people in Melbourne, and spat on them. They spat on them for doing their job of vaccinating people to keep them safe. These were nurses in Melbourne's CBD. What a complete disgrace! These protesters have now gone the next step. They have stood out the front of our parliament in Victoria with gallows. They've stood out the front of our parliament in Victoria with fake nooses, chanting: 'Hang Dan Andrews! Hang Dan Andrews!' Premier Dan Andrews and Premier McGowan have both received death threats. The families of parliamentarians have been targeted.
This is not our way. The Australian Prime Minister, our elected leader—the holder of the highest office in our land—must be clear and must be unequivocal. He must give no comfort to this form of political violence. But he has not been clear. He has flirted with these protesters. He has given comfort to these protesters.
This cannot be how you win a political debate in Australia today. There are no grey lines here. There is no room for speaking out of both sides of your mouth. The Prime Minister needs to lead from the front and from the top of this country. He needs to condemn these violent protesters unequivocally and without reservation. This is wrong. It must be condemned, and it must be condemned clearly and unequivocally, by the Prime Minister. All of this—all of the distrust, division and chaos—is happening at a time when Australians are overwhelmingly doing the right thing, when Australians have stood together and protected each other, when they deserve a brighter future and a better Prime Minister.
While Senator Cormann was the Leader of the Government in the Senate, quite often I would attend citizenship ceremonies and I would point out what a terrific thing it was in our country that both the Leader of the Government in the Senate and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate were born overseas yet came to this country and managed to reach two of the highest political positions in this country. I would use that as an example of what a special country we are. You can come from all over the world, from places where political violence is endemic, where people are discriminated against, persecuted and put in jail simply for their political beliefs.
Yet, from those who are moving this motion here today, who are 'seeking to unite'—that's what they say they're doing—all we hear is a torrent of abuse, questioning of our Prime Minister's motives and general reflections upon all government members. Is that how you seek to unite? If you were bona fide about uniting the people of this country, would you do it by attacking in a very personal way the Prime Minister of this country? No, you would not.
We didn't hear, from Senator Keneally, Lincoln's first inaugural speech, appealing to the 'better angels' of our character—absolutely not. We heard a torrent of personal abuse directed against our Prime Minister. That's what we heard from Senator Keneally. Senator Keneally is not seeking to unite Australians. She's seeking to leverage off a straw man she's constructed in order to attack our Prime Minister. That is what she's doing through the course of this motion. She's not seeking to unite Australians.
Senator Faruqi—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President—I'm extraordinarily disappointed with the broad-ranging assertions you cast upon all government members. Can I say to you: I've attended mosques which have been graffitied and which have been attacked. I've attended those mosques with other people of my party and stood with those people in the face of discrimination and in the face of persecution. It is very, very disappointing that, again, in seeking to unite us, you come in here and seek to tar everyone on this side of the chamber with the same brush. This is how you seek to unite?
Listen to it now. Listen to the interjections from Senator Thorpe. Is that how you seek to unite, Senator Thorpe? You're bringing us together with your considered interjections!
Senator McKim, you're going to seek to unite us as well by attacking me, as I draw to this place's attention the fact that, by the very motion you're seeking to unite us with, you are dividing us. You are dividing us. You are playing politics. You've constructed a straw man and then you've sought to conflate—
Honourable senators interjecting—
Here they are. They're uniting us!
Look at them, Mr Acting Deputy President. Here they are, uniting us, bringing us all together—binding our wounds, as President Lincoln said in his second inaugural speech! You're binding our wounds, are you? No, you're playing politics—base politics. You're not seeking to unite us; you're seeking to divide us with this motion. We would expect better of you, Senator Keneally, as someone who was a premier of the great state of New South Wales. You are seeking to divide us and conflating our Prime Minister with despicable extremists. You should know better. Senator Faruqi, please reflect on the fact that members of the government don't fit your caricature—
Honourable senators interjecting—
We're uniting, everyone, are we? We're uniting! Listen to it. Senator Keneally, is this what you wanted? Of course it's what you wanted, because you wanted to divide. You didn't seek to exercise good faith in terms of your assessment of our Prime Minister. You sought to use this for partisan political processes.
You're uniting us, are you, Senator Thorpe?
by leave—Senator Scarr ascribed several motives to my reason for bringing this motion before the chamber today. I'd like to advise Senator Scarr before he leaves the chamber that I brought this motion before the parliament today in part because I personally am the subject of threats from—
This has been confirmed by the ASIO director-general. Those types of threats towards me, towards, I know, other members of this chamber, towards elected premiers, towards elected representatives and towards our health workers, our media and our community as demonstrated by the threats in those Melbourne protests worry me. I am concerned that somebody in this chamber, either on their side, our side or any side is going to be attacked, and if we don't have a condemnation from the Prime Minister that's what's at risk.
[by video link] Leadership is about setting expectations and setting boundaries. It's about bringing people with you in a process of change. It's about clearly articulating beliefs and the importance of working together to achieve change. In a political context it is fundamentally about representing and championing those expectations and boundaries on behalf of community in critical decision-making spaces and bringing community along in a process of change all the while being incredibly conscious of the cultural implications of actions. If you are in a decision-making space that is empowered by the community to shape lives and outcomes for people and planet, the way that you act in that space has a cultural impact beyond that space.
In the last eight years of this government's time in office, we have seen again and again the Liberal Party, when given the opportunity to show leadership, to exercise power and when given the choice to exercise that power in the effort, in the project, of calling out racism, of calling out violence, of calling out political methods and political discourses in the community, either remain silent or indeed give conscious or unconscious permission to those discourses and actions which are causing harm to people. So many times in the life of this government—particularly in relation to the comments of far-right individuals that have ended up in this place or have been contributing either in the national decision-making spaces or in state based decision-making spaces—when the opportunity has been given to them to demonstrate that they are willing to reflect community expectation that these actions, this racism, this absolutely repulsive, violent rhetoric be rejected, they've either kept their mouths shut or given permission to it.
We have seen in relation to this latest wave—and this is not the first: during their time in government, there has been, from Fraser Anning onwards, time and time again where racism of the vilest nature, often directed towards my colleagues, often directed towards Senators Thorpe, Senator Faruqi and Senator Cox, goes uncalled out by this government. I know all too well from my conversations with my colleagues the absolute and abhorrent violence that they are subjected to every single day. When the Prime Minister or members of this government speak in this place or, indeed, fail to speak in this place, the result is that members of our community are put in harm's way.
Over the last few weeks, we have seen the result of months of build-up in organising by the far Right in the community—it has been well reported on by those investigating it—as individuals have sought to exploit members of the community to justify and build their political ends which are, ultimately, racist in nature.
The Prime Minister was given an opportunity over the last few weeks to finally break that pattern of permission and to clearly call it out, and he has failed to do that. The result of that failure is that nurses—the people on the front line of this pandemic—and people in the decision-making spaces of this nation are now being subjected to abuse. (Time expired)