Senator Fraser Anning - Censure
Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (11:08): What a way to end the last week of the 45th Parliament. Senator Anning has barely been here for 18 months and in that time, he has made headlines for all the wrong reasons. In doing so, he has brought the office of senator into disrepute. Perhaps the 19 people who gave him their first preference vote had an inkling of what he would be saying and how he would respond in this chamber, but certainly the rest of us could not have known that this once unremarkable man would very quickly become one of Australia's most divisive, hateful and indeed hated politicians.
My greatest regret in this parliament was following convention and shaking Senator Anning's hand after his maiden speech, and I'm sure there are many in this place who would feel the same way. As people will be well aware, it was not in support of his comments but instead a regrettable adherence to polite protocol. Well, manners be damned! It is something that I will never, ever do again. It seems that every time Senator Anning opens his mouth, Australia recoils. I'm very much glad that we're taking such a strong stance today to cut out his extreme, unapologetic and very ignorant views.
For too long now, Australia's leaders have done too little to stand up against racism and divisive comments. In fact, this government has often been happy to pile on; refugees in particular have been its favourite easy target. By not objecting loudly to extremist commentary and by not countering the lies with facts and a reminder of the good that migrants and refugees bring to our proudly multicultural nation, a negative mindset has been allowed to fester and grow. The tolerance of hate speech in our parliaments and sections of our media under the guise of so-called free speech has implied support for the venom that spews out of the alt-Right. John Howard at least saw One Nation and its dangerous appeal to the right wing for the poison it was. This government is still somehow trying to have it both ways.
The Liberal Party has finally and perhaps reluctantly drawn a line in the sand and decided to preference One Nation after Labor. It's still not clear whether this will actually happen in seats where One Nation preferences really matter to them, and, so far, the Nationals aren't prepared to do the same. It seems the government's conservative members still think that pulling to the Right and being some sort of 'One Nation lite' party will work in their favour. Ultimately, they're very wrong. Voters don't want empty pandering. They want leaders to create a strong, prosperous and safe nation. They want solutions. And, where voters are barking up the wrong tree, the answer is to give them the facts, not to indulge their ignorance.
I could not believe it when I saw a recent news item in which Barnaby Joyce urged his party to move to the Right to counter what he saw as an electoral threat from the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party. He reportedly said his constituents believed there was too much regulation on tree clearing, firearm ownership and pretty much everything they could do on their land. Incredibly, when asked whether those beliefs were correct, Mr Joyce said:
I don't have to believe whether it's right or not. I can just tell you that we lost a seat over it …
His solution was to pander to these sentiments rather than fight them with facts. That's not what leadership is about. Leadership is about bravery in the face of public ignorance, doing and saying what is right and bringing voters with you on matters of national importance.
If you want a cohesive society which welcomes migrants and refugees and which sees the good in others, no matter their differences, you have to talk the talk. Mr Shorten has been late to the party, but he was at least spot-on when he reportedly said:
The dog-whistling by political leaders about immigration and asylum seekers must stop.
The Prime Minister might like to deny that he has used religion to incite fear in the community, but he has certainly used race to do so. Who can forget that, after the medical evacuation bill was passed, the government's first instinct was to shamelessly demonise as murderers and rapists the refugee men and women who might be transferred for medical care.
It is time that we as politicians remembered that what we say actually does matter, not because it might help us at the ballot box but because our words guide the nation. With our words we can either reject hate or give it refuge. We can embrace and welcome cultures or sow fear and suspicion. All of us in this place have an obligation to lead by example and to remember that what we say echoes and helps shape our nation. With every word we utter about religion and race, we create a legacy—a long-term legacy. We must always be mindful of what that legacy will be. With this in mind, Centre Alliance most certainly supports the censure of Senator Anning.