SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

28 November 2018

STATEMENT TO THE SENATE ON PARLIAMENTARY BEHAVIOUR

THE SENATE

CANBERRA

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Ultimately this debate is about what sort of place we want this Senate to be. This is a great institution of the Australian democracy and it is incumbent upon all of us to live up to that standard.

The approach Labor took yesterday is very clear: we will not tolerate sexist and abusive behaviour. We will not tolerate it in the Senate and we will not tolerate it anywhere.

We also believe parliament cannot function without respect for the presiding officers and the rules that Parliament has agreed to regarding appropriate behaviour.

But I make this point: the Senate itself will not be respected if the behaviours exhibited in here demean it. That goes not only to rules but also to standards and expectations.

The people of Australia who elect us want to see us interacting with each other as adult human beings.

We recognise on this side of the chamber that this is a place of robust debate. We have a battle of ideas in this chamber. The battle of ideas can be robust, but it can be respectful of each other and of this place. There must be a distinction drawn between what is acceptable political argument and personal smears and innuendo. We saw those expectations trashed yesterday by Senator O’Sullivan—and he is not the first person in this chamber to do so—by his engaging in deliberately offensive personal remarks.

The community rightly expects a higher standard of debate than to make insinuations of a personal character. Such personal comments, including references—oblique or otherwise—to people’s personal lives, should always be off limits. This has been long recognised not only in our standing orders but in the standards of behaviour we expect of each other.

When it comes to treatment of women in this place there are some who should particularly reflect on their actions and their words. I ask them to consider whether their partners, wives or daughters would permit themselves to be treated in such a demeaning and offensive way.

The shaming of women has been used for decades, even centuries, as a tool of control by those in power. It is odious behaviour, it has never been appropriate and it is not acceptable in this place. To use a sporting analogy: play the ball, not the man or woman.

There are some people in this place who I believe need to find a map and compass about how to conduct themselves in debate and in other fora, including committee hearings, without going women personally. Our colleagues and our daughters deserve no less.

Mr President, can I indicate the Opposition’s support of the approach you have flagged in relation to the discovery process.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.