24 November 2021

Questions without notice: Take note of answers

There can be no doubting that an essential element of a well-functioning democracy is the right to freely express views on the government of the day and the decisions that the government makes.

It will come as no surprise to most that, being a Labor parliamentarian and former union official, I have spent my fair time, alongside many others, robustly articulating views on certain government decision-making that was not in the interests of the workers at all. Work Choices is one example.

In exercising one’s right to freedom of political communication in Australia, it is important that the manner in which this right is exercised is in accordance with the values that underpin our democracy: respect, civility and the rule of law. I condemn without reservation those who seek to articulate their views through violence or the threat of it. As we all do in this place, I condemn it without reservation.

There is certainly a place in this country for protest. One might even suggest that such activity enhances the quality of our democracy. What there is no place for, however, is harm or threats thereof to participants in that democracy. I am appalled to hear of members of parliament, whether in this place or state parliaments, and their families and staff receiving threats to their lives. We should all be appalled at such acts.

This is not what a well-functioning democracy is about.

It is our duty, not just as members of this place but as passionate democrats, to call out this bad behaviour in the strongest possible terms. That’s what we are doing here today. I only hope that, in due course, we will all join together and call on the government to do the same without reservation. Failure to do so is being complicit in undermining our democracy and gives tacit approval to behaviour we all know is wrong.

It is our duty as legislators to come together and overcome this division. It is our duty not to tear this place down and not to tear down the fabric of our community. Rather, it is our duty to mend those tears when they do appear. I am disappointed that there are some in the other place who do not share our commitment to this solemn undertaking, and I hope that, in time, they will. We saw some examples today and yesterday which I hope will remain a one-off. We can and should be very proud of the democracy which we, as Australians, have built here in this country. Indeed, unlike others, we have for the most part been spared the perils of politically motivated violence.

Yet such circumstances have not come about through luck; they have come about through deliberate action and through a conscious understanding of the importance of always acting with the purpose of strengthening our democracy, not tearing it down. These are things that I recall as a young student, not just at school but at university: core, fundamental principles of respect for one another.

Yes, we’ll have the argy-bargy that occurs in this place, but, when you have actions of members in the Senate and members in the other place that put others’ lives in danger and their families in danger, you need to reflect on that and ask why. Is it that you’re not able to articulate your argument and put it forward in this place? Why do you have to resort to violence? Why do you have to resort to putting someone’s life in danger?

In my home state of Victoria recently, the addresses of many members of state parliament were leaked. One must ask why. What are you trying to prove?

Like many people in our country, go and protest and do so peacefully. Do it at the steps of parliament, as many, many groups have done for decades on Spring Street. That’s what good democracy is about, and I want to make sure that we maintain it that way.