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I rise to speak on the censure motion moved jointly by Senator Cormann and myself and I thank him for promptly engaging with, and agreeing with me, to move a bipartisan censure motion in the aftermath of the comments made by Senator Anning.
Yesterday this Senate passed a condolence motion stating our shared condemnation of the terrorist attack on the Al Noor and Linwood Mosques by an Australian citizen in Christchurch.
We expressed our solidarity with the people of New Zealand, our family. We expressed our shared grief and our sympathy to those who lost loved ones and who are injured and recovering.
We expressed our solidarity with the Islamic community of Christchurch, New Zealand, our own nation and throughout the world.
We made clear the view of this Senate – that we abhor racism and religious intolerance, and that we acknowledge and celebrate the diversity and harmony of our Australian people.
We stated our respect for people from all faiths, cultures, ethnicities and nationalities – a respect that has made our country one of the world’s most successful immigrant nations and multicultural societies.
And we reaffirmed our commitment, as Australians, to peace over violence, innocence over evil, understanding over extremism, liberty over fear and love over hate.
It was an important statement – a collective commitment to stand against hatred.
Because what we saw tragically in the loss of life in Christchurch where hatred can lead.
The tragic murder of 50 worshippers in Christchurch were horrific acts of violence.
They were acts of terrorism, and at their core, they were acts of hatred.
So if we are to end the cycle of extremism, to end the cycle of hatred that underpins it, all leaders – political, community, and religious – must stand united against hatred in all its forms.
Today, we as a Senate make another important statement – to take a clear stand against hatred and extremist ideology.
In the aftermath of the Christchurch terrorist attacks, in the aftermath of horrific acts of hatred, whilst people were grieving, whilst a nation was grieving, a senator from this place made an extraordinarily offensive and divisive statement.
He blamed the horrific act of terror, of murder, not on the extremist, right-wing terrorist, but on the victims of his evil acts.
While families, friends and communities of those lost were still reeling from the shock this senator blamed the victims.
While those injured were being treated, this senator sought to further fan the flames of division.
How pathetic. How shameful.
A shameful and pathetic attempt by a bloke who has never been elected, to get attention by exploiting diversity as a fault line for political advantage.
Well this motion makes it clear he does not speak for us.
He does not speak for this Senate.
He does not speak for this nation
He does not represent Australian values.
This motion makes clear that the Senate repudiates in the strongest terms this senator’s divisive statement and the extremist ideology that either motivates it, or which he simply wishes to fan.
This motion delivers on our collective responsibility as senators – as leaders in our communities – to stand against hatred, to call out hate speech, and to advocate for the values that make Australia the nation we hope it to be.
We must repudiate those who seek to spread intolerance and hate and in doing so undermine our democratic values.
Now I want to briefly speak about this point. There is a difference between freedom of speech and hate speech. The former is a feature of our democracy; the latter is an attack on our democracy. Let me explain why.
Foundational principles of liberal democracies include equality, justice and non-discrimination. All citizens are equal. All are equal members of the community.
Attacks which purport to posit a justification that some citizens should be treated differently is an attack on the principles of liberal democracy.
There is a difference between the robust contest of ideas and attacking people of a particular group because of the colour of their skin or the nature of their faith and dehumanising them.
Because a central element of the way prejudice works is by dehumanising, by singling out people as outsiders, as second-class, as not deserving the protections and dignity afforded to the rest of us.
It is why we say legislative protections against hate speech are so important.
It is why we on this side, and others in this chamber, fought so hard to defend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act from attempts to repeal it.
I do recall Senator Brandis advocating for its removal, stating “People do have a right to be bigots.”
I say hate speech cannot be defended on grounds of freedom of speech because it is an attack on our democracy, because it inflicts real and direct harm.
Senator Stoker’s response, at one point, that if people don’t like hate speech – when she was advocating for Mr Yiannopoulis to be given a visa – she said “the solution is better ideas.”
Well I say this is not about the contest of ideas this is about democratic principles. It is about foundational principles.
Hate speech is inimical to democracy. We can’t normalise it through a concept of “better ideas”.
We have to be uncompromising in our rejection of racism, prejudice, discrimination and hate speech and we must call it out wherever we see it.
I do acknowledge the leadership that Senator Cormann has shown. I acknowledge and honour the words of Senator Birmingham yesterday just as I honour the position that so many good Liberals have taken over the course of many decades in this country – Malcolm Fraser and many others, even John Howard putting One Nation last, I honour Mr Fischer.
There are times in our history where our bipartisanship has enabled us to confront racism and hatred. The White Australia Policy being abolished; the introduction of the Racial Discrimination Act; the confrontation of One Nation in its previous incarnation; the acceptance of so many Indo-Chinese refugees despite community concerns and dealing with them – this was bipartisanship.
It is a great sadness – and I say this not as a partisan point but as an Asian-Australian – it is a great sadness to me to see the way in which some on the other side do not honour that history.
It is a great sadness to me to see the way in which some on that other side have failed to repudiate the ideology of hate speech that we have seen in recent times.
I would make the point that the senator who is the subject of this censure motion, in his first speech, argued for a return to the White Australia Policy. Do you know my parents married when the White Australia policy was still in place and it was abolished by Liberal and Labor Governments?
He also used a term associated with the Holocaust. It was a speech that did not reflect the Australia we know: an Australia built by people from every country, from every part of the world.
A strong, independent, multicultural nation.
It is a sadness to all of us that many people, many Coalition Senators, lined up and shook your hand, and I suspect many of them regret so now.
It was disappointing to see Coalition Senators voted in support of the motion declaring “It’s ok to be white”.
And it has been disappointing to see some Government Ministers being prepared to fan prejudice for political purposes and I have in mind Minister Dutton’s targeting of Victoria’s African community and the focus on “African gang violence”
Even the way in which the Medevac bill has been discussed in the context of ‘paedophiles, rapists and murderers’ and anybody who watched The Project interview of Mr Morrison would have understood, I hope, that what Mr Waleed Aly was saying is that this is also how you frame the debate.
Those who use, or fan, intolerance and hatred for their own political gain, are not only doing the wrong thing, they are actually harming our democracy in the process.
So, today I hope this Senate does censure this Senator for his statement and in doing so we do take a stand against hatred and we are calling out hate speech.
And we are sending a clear message to the Australian people that people across the political landscape stand for values and principles that are central to our identity, Australian identity and Australian democracy: inclusion, acceptance, respect, equality.
And I hope, that this moment that is Christchurch and its aftermath, can in this country generate a recognition of the importance of that occurring across the political spectrum.
We are about to go into an election campaign, and the contest will be fierce, but there are some things which are above the political contest, and this is amongst them.
And if we do this, this makes our nation stronger, at home and in the world.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.