Mr BROADBENT (McMillan) (18:53): The House of Representatives I first entered in 1990, I realise, with the benefit of that wonderful thing called hindsight, was a different kind of place to what it is now. For one thing, words still mattered. Speeches mattered. They mattered enough for members to actually listen to them, react to them and engage in real debate. Sometimes what was said in the chamber was even reported. Alas, those days, when parliamentary proceedings were seen as more than today’s daily televised sideshow of question time, have passed, but, out of nostalgia, this traditionalist persists with one sliver of those former ways. With each new parliament, I listen with interest to what, apparently, it now is appropriate to call first, rather than maiden, speeches. They provide great insights into new colleagues—their history, their hopes and their aspirations.
So it was, on the last day of the last session back in September, that I sat in the chamber during the adjournment debate waiting to speak on some of the remarkable first speeches delivered earlier in the day. I had prepared to congratulate new members on what were some marvellous, sometimes entertaining and sometimes very moving addresses. But, as I sat waiting for the Speaker’s call, my spirit of good humour evaporated as I listened to the member for Dawson deliver what amounted to a diatribe about the rise of Islam in this country. The member’s speech was replete with generalisations. There were appeals to fear and prejudice that appalled me. My instinct was at the very least to dissociate myself at the first opportunity. I should have remembered the advice that John Stuart Mill gave 110 years ago:
Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.
That I did nothing and said nothing when my turn on the adjournment did come is not something I can be proud of. Controlling my tongue on the basis that saying what I thought would only result in the member for Dawson receiving more attention than his contribution deserved was not the right thing to do; nor was worrying that differences between coalition members would be exploited by our political foes. That had been the response of other members in this and the other chamber to another provocative speech that week, by a new senator from Queensland. She too played on the fears of those Australians feeling economic and social exclusion. She too made those bogus claims that Australia was in danger of being swamped by Muslims—dangerous Muslims who were arriving with their ‘violent extremism’; dangerous Muslims who did not share ‘Australian values’. Same speech, different house. My silence on the adjournment that night did not prevent the views of the senator and the member for Dawson from being widely circulated. It did not stop their words from further inflaming the views of the prejudiced. It did not stop the government’s opponents from exploiting the unfortunately different views that exist on my side of politics.
During the break, I thought long and hard about how to respond to those who encourage division; how to respond to those who exploit fear in the vulnerable and disillusioned for political gain; how to respond to the member for Dawson; and how to politely point out to the Prime Minister that a man who holds an office in the Turnbull government seemingly has views at odds with the Prime Minister’s own description of our country in New York recently, when he said:
We are not defined by race, religion or culture but by shared political values of democracy, the rule of law and equality of opportunity—a ‘fair go’.
These are noble sentiments, good sentiments and sentiments repeated again last week in the parliament, when the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition spoke as one on the issue. They are the kinds of sentiments that should have replaced my silence.
It was a long and lonely walk before the penny dropped as to why I had not called out the member for Dawson on the spot. The issues swirling in our multicultural nation for me are public and passionate, but for me they are not personal. The truth is I did not act as I should have because I am not Muslim, Chinese, Afghan or Greek looking. I am not Italian, Sri Lankan or Sudanese. I am not Aboriginal. I might have noted in that adjournment speech how the member for Chisholm, Julia Banks, spoke quite passionately about the little girl at school who was called a wog, and how she had to go home, grab her brother’s dictionary, look up what ‘wog’ meant and then deal with the pain of seeing others seeing her as being different because of her darker skin and her dark hair, and how she looked a little different and so was a point of attack. I have not been called a wog, a dago, a Chink or a raghead. You see, I am plain white bread, cut for toast. I was born in the town that Gillian Triggs, the human rights commissioner, said she would never hold a function in: Koo Wee Rup. It might be expected for someone with my background to shrug their shoulders when members of parliament make remarks directed at a particular race or to ignore the hurt those remarks can cause; to defend the members’ right to free speech as if that right should be unlimited; and to nod wisely because a member was simply reflecting the views of those who elected them—’Don’t blame me; blame them.’ It is another of those changes in this place that I referred to earlier: the now prevalent belief that members of parliament should follow, not lead.
For my part, I remain as steadfastly Burkeian in my view of the proper relationship between the elected and their electors as I was those 16 years ago. So I remind you of the words of Edmund Burke, that great parliamentarian:
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
That is a principle I have always followed. Perhaps remaining true to my conscientiously held beliefs contributed to the 1998 defeat I suffered along the way, just as Ewen Jones paid the ultimate political price in Herbert this year for his stand in always deferring to his better angels on matters of principle.
But I believe I enjoy a special relationship with the community I now serve. They may not agree with the positions I take, but they know I am on their side and that I am serving them in the best way I know how.
So, too, all of us in this parliament should reflect on our relationship with the Australian people, and right now it is broken. A bit of humble representation from the powers that be would not hurt. It is time for us to rise above the politics of fear and division, because our love of diversity, difference and freedom will endure. Our love of the rule of law, of respect for one another and of tolerance of each other will endure. Our love of freedom of religion, of freedom of speech and of country will endure. Our love of shared values, of a fair go for all and of shared responsibilities will endure.
At the recent election, the coalition received 42 per cent of the primary vote, while Labor received close to 35 per cent and the Greens received a tick over 10 per cent. Eighty-seven per cent of Australians did not vote for minor parties. Only 1.29 per cent of Australians gave their first preference to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation. Family First, the Christian Democratic Party and the Nick Xenophon Team all received a greater vote than One Nation. Why, then, are some on my side of politics prone to cuddling up to Hansonite rhetoric? Those propositions and policies will only hurt the coalition parties in the long run, in the same way that the once great Labor Party is now the captive of the Greens, relying on their preferences to win 31 of their seats in this House.
I understand the fear of Islamic-based terrorism, and the government is responding with every resource available. I understand, as well, the concerns of the Australian people over these issues. I am not immune to the fears that are expressed to me by the people I meet. At the same time, we cannot condemn the whole of the Muslim community for the actions of a crazy, dangerous few. That is not fair. Otherwise, the people who hate all that is good about this nation win, and we are the losers. Australia, we are better than this. We need not walk in the footsteps of the world. We, as a nation, can stand apart—confident, fearless, separated to the better way, together, united and unafraid. Together, we as a people can stem the tide of divisiveness infecting Western countries around the globe. Right here, right now, we can turn to take the higher road, believing in one another to defend against the purveyors of fear and disunity. Let this nation be the circuit-breaker and travel the road of the wise, leaving the foolish to perish in division.
We should always have empathy and consideration for those doing it tough. We must speak to the people in their language about the basic concerns affecting their daily lives. If not, we further push those that feel alienated and disaffected by economic and social exclusion into the arms of the One Nations of this country. As Michael Gordon said in his article in The Age of 30 September:
In other words, the problem in Australia is not with the people, but a leadership more intent on making political points than expressing empathy, or pressing the case that we all gain from an open, inclusive, pluralist society, or addressing inequality, or celebrating the multicultural success stories.
One of them is unfolding this weekend, whether or not the Western Bulldogs raise the Premiership Cup at the MCG: the story of how a club facing extinction survived and thrived by supporting all elements of a community facing multiple challenges. “At a time of widespread institutional weakness, the club is a model of how to win a social licence,” says Labor MP Tim Watts.
Back in June, the club celebrated World refugee Day by hosting its 11th annual citizenship ceremony at the Whitten Oval, when 45 migrants and refugees from 21 countries sang the national anthem and then the Bulldogs’ club song. Along with their citizenship, they received Bulldogs membership packs.
As club president Peter Gordon strolled among the throng at Thursday’s final training session, he recognised many of them in the crowd, joyous, united and prepared to invest without reservation in a dream: the face of modern Australia.
The vast majority of the Australian people fit the Western Bulldogs’s view of the world. It is our challenge now to show those who feel alienated and disenfranchised that they also share in a bright future, investing in a dream without reservation. Our responsibility in leadership is to bring those that feel they have been left behind to know that our intention is for all Australians to share in the wealth and opportunity that this nation affords, to feel they have hope for the future and some control of their lives through representative democracy, and to enjoy a sense of belonging so that they can confidently stand firm against those peddling policies of fear and division. The politics of fear and division have never created one job, never come up with a new invention, never started a new business, never given a child a new start in life and never lifted the spirits of a nation.
At this moment, I do not know what Muslims are asked to do. But I know what Christians are asked to do: to do justly, to love mercy and kindness, and to walk humbly with their god.