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Wednesday, 27 May 1998
Page: 3945

Mr HOLDING (6:27 PM) —I must say that the people sitting in the public gallery today at question time would have been entitled to think politics in this House was something of a blood sport. I think it is time perhaps as an institution that we looked at the nature of the body politic, because the unfortunate thing is that any objective observer making a judgment about this House as an institution would feel—and probably rightly—that at question time we could do much better than we do. I do not believe the sorts of exercises that took place today and on most days do us as an institution any credit.

Perhaps before we bring them into question time we should provide some sort of a system where they see the hard work that is done on the various committees of this parliament, and I have served on many of them. Members relate to each other. They still have their political philosophy, they still have their differences, but they are able to relate to each other, embrace each other's opinions and produce a report which deals with many of the problems faced by the government of the day.

Mr Nehl —They work in harmony.

Mr HOLDING —That is right, I adopt the expression of my colleague. It is unfortunate therefore in this sense that within our Westminster system—and I am a strong supporter of that system—there are aspects to our processes which are in fact unduly and unnecessarily adversarial. I was a part of this institution and these processes in a state parliament for some time but, as I will be retiring at the next election, I hope I can make some comments which might strengthen this very important institution.

I just want to say that there are many issues which, by their very nature, will always produce controversy. This is not a House for sissies; this is where arguments will be put and argued cogently and forcefully. Equally, we should not forget that on many of the issues which government and the parliament have to deal with there is a large measure of agreement and that policies have been developed in this institution and in the old House which have become very much part of the social fabric of our community. I refer—and I think this is probably the most interesting example—to the way the late Arthur Calwell founded the basis of our multicultural society.

You only have to go to any kind of naturalisation ceremony to see people from all political parties—and in my own community there are members of the state parliament who are members of the Liberal Party who retail their own experiences as young people coming from migrant families—who are as strong and positive supporters of multiculturalism as I am. I think that is one of the things which we can take credit for in this parliament. We have had a series of ministers for immigration from all political parties who have been dedicated and committed to extending that concept so that it has become part of the fabric of our Australian society.

Equally, one of the controversial issues of this government was the introduction of its gun laws. It was done with the support of the opposition. Without that support it could not have been done. It was a reaction to a tragedy that beset Australia. Of course, the government has had to carry a lot of the flak—but I think we also carry some of it—from the gun lobby around Australia. But the more we look at what is happening in America where the lack of gun laws is a part of their history the more we are seeing children being executed in their schools—when some kid wakes up not feeling too well, he blows his parents away and then goes and shoots some of his colleagues at the local school. It is an increasing pattern.

What I am saying is that there are many issues on which as Australians, as part of this community, we agree. The focus of this institution is part of its tradition. If you are in government, you support your ministers, you support your colleagues, and the opposition is treated as the political enemy, despite the fact that on many issues we can work together in a very positive way.

Questions without notice have become a bit of a joke. They have been a joke for years because the one thing they are not is questions without notice. One of my colleagues has left a list of the number of people who are supposed to ask questions to ministers and the ministers probably prepared the questions and prepared the answers. That is not just a sin of this government; it was a sin of Labor governments, and it was my own sin when I was a minister. Therefore, some of the heat that can be engendered in question time in some way vitiates that system.

But it is important, certainly in my own experience, that there are many core values on which as a community and as members of this institution we have common agreement. I think within this parliament there is no doubt of the strength of the feeling right across the parliament about the nature of our gun laws and our willingness to listen but not to resile from the position that was taken by the parliament. I think it was a correct position, and the Prime Minister (Mr Howard) is entitled to claim some credit for it, but I would remind him that he did it with our assistance.

The other policy which I think has become part of the mosaic of Australian society is our support for the concept of multiculturalism. All ministers succeeding Calwell have extended and expanded that policy. It has altered the fabric of our society, I believe, for the good. It was therefore with considerable concern and with some dismay, and I might say with some disappointment, that I read in today's paper that the Premier of Queensland has decided—and he must be feeling fairly desperate—to give preferences to the One Nation Party over the Labor Party.

I have been in politics too long to carry my heart on my sleeve, but if there is a decision which I believe will cause concern, not merely within the broader community but within the ranks of his own party and within the business community of Queensland, it is that, as well as the attitude that has been expressed in this parliament by the honourable member for Oxley (Ms Hanson). She came in as a new member. She is the only member in this House I have ever heard say that they regard Aboriginal people as privileged. She is the only member I have heard in this place denigrate those Australian citizens who have had their birthplace or their origins in China. I do not believe, by the way Australian society is developing, that those sorts of views, whilst she is entitled to express them as a member of this parliament, are entitled to any kind of support from any of our major political parties. I include in that, of course, the Liberal Party.

I say with complete candour that if a One Nation candidate popped up in my electorate I would have no hesitation in putting them last. The situation that we have arrived at in Australia did not come about by accident, but we have produced a multicultural society. That is important for Australia in its geographical location in the world. So many of our primary producers and businessmen are geared to servicing markets in Asia.

Whatever might be said about our political structures, we are a politically stable community. We cannot trade with Asia if any major political party in Australia, in an endeavour to obtain a small political advantage in an electorate, is prepared—and the major political parties are not—to embrace any of the views of One Nation, because those views are not only detrimental to our society but also detrimental to the way we are thought about in Asia.

When I was in Asia recently we had, over a lunch or a dinner, parents saying, `What is all this problem about? We want to know whether we can send our kids to Australia to be educated. Will they be the subject of racist taunts and vilification?' You can say with confidence, `They won't—not in Melbourne, not in Sydney and even, I believe, not in Brisbane.' But there are organisations which beat the racist drum. In Queensland one of the prominent organisations—which had its historic origins in Victoria; it is the most historically based organisation—that has always played a leading role in anti-Semitism is the League of Rights. When the honourable member for Oxley got all those invitations from elderly gentlemen in dress suits for $50 dinners she was wandering around the corridors of parliament saying how kind `the league' was to her. Did she not know what `the league' was? I suspect she may not have. It was the League of Rights; they are there, they are active.

On one occasion I was privileged to represent the Prime Minister at the creation of a Holocaust memorial in the Jewish section of the cemetery at Surfers Paradise. It is a small cemetery, but it was a matter for great involvement by the Jewish community and a great commitment from the donor of the memorial. Within 24 hours it had been vandalised. There will always be people with those sorts of views in Australia. We live in a society where people are able to express whatever political view they like. The government of the day, the Liberal Party, is a serious political party. It is the party founded by Menzies, Fraser; it has a distinguished list of prime ministers. Would they seriously embrace One Nation? Would the members who represent marginal seats in this place embrace the kind of lunatic assertions that come from the member for Oxley? I do not believe that they would. I think more highly of them than that.

I do not think it will be successful but it is a grievous blow to the body politic. It is sad that any political leader is feeling so desperate in the run-up to an election that he gets into a situation where he says, `We will put the Labor Party last—One Nation as a matter of preference before them.' And he does not even get an effective political deal. He says, `We will do that in every electorate except one where there is a large Chinese community.' Who is he trying to kid? A great deal of work has been done to produce the kind of political institutions we have and this is an important one of them. It is important that people come to value the role of this institution and the role that people play in it. There is really no place in the society we are trying to build in Australia for the kind of political opportunism shown by Mr Borbidge. I do not believe it will succeed, but it is sad in a party that has played an important role in the development of Australia. I have plenty of differences with the Liberal Party in my own state but I say this: I do not think Jeff Kennett would ever make that deal. I do not think any political leader—although their philosophy may differ from mine—would get into the kind of sordid political stunt that this is. It gives a credibility to someone who is passing on the political scene, who is not and who has never been treated seriously in this parliament and does not deserve to be. She is a creature of the press. The very unorthodoxy of her views has made her that and she has had some interesting characters writing her speeches and being her political mentors and guides.

Politics for most of the people in this place is a serious business. There are people who would probably do much better economically outside this place if they did not regard it as serious business. It is time that all members of parliament put some value on themselves, their institution and their own political parties. All political parties go through periods of strength and weakness. In a major policy party you cannot separate a Queensland branch from a Victorian branch; they may have quite different attitudes but if you are the premier of a state, even if you are holding on by only a narrow majority, there is not only a public responsibility but also a political responsibility. The Premier of Queensland deserves to be consigned to political oblivion because of the action that has been taken today. It is not only an action that is not in the interests of the Australian people but also an action that is not in the interests of his own party. It is a sordid political endeavour which deserves to fail because it brings him and his party to a depth of political cynicism which I did not believe I would ever see in Australian politics—and I have seen a fair bit.

I believe it would be appropriate for the Prime Minister to say to Mr Borbidge, `If you are going to go down that track, don't expect any support from me, my ministers or the members of our parliament.' It is also regrettable that the National Party, whatever its problems, seems to have got itself involved in this. I hope saner views will prevail because it is important. It is not for me to tell other political parties how they should behave. I do not do all that well in telling my own party. But I think it is important that on a matter which embraces some of the issues that are involved here which go to the very nature and fabric of our society, all of us stand up and be counted and say, `This is not a game we are playing. The kinds of decisions that are involved here go to the nature of how we see ourselves and, more importantly, how other people who have come to this country and people with whom we are trying to build close relationships will see us.' This has been a retrograde step for the body politic in Australia and I hope it will be resolved.