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Tuesday, 4 April 2000
Page: 13271


Senator BOLKUS (3:05 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (Senator Herron) to questions without notice asked today, relating to Aboriginal reconciliation and the stolen generation.

In question time today we saw a minister who is clearly under pressure and should be sacked. In question time today we saw a minister who is not on top of his portfolio and should be sacked. We saw in question time today a minister who claimed that stolen generations were not mentioned in the Bringing them home report—a matter on which he is totally incorrect. In question time today we saw a minister who denies that his actions over the last few days have been a huge obstacle to getting reconciliation back on track, and if he cannot appreciate what he has done he should be sacked. The Adelaide Advertiser this morning got it right: `The issues simply will not go away by adopting a mean-spirited policy of blind denial.' They say: `It is offensive and mean spirited for the federal government to now effectively deny what was a widespread practice.'

I think the public is incredulous at this minister, this Prime Minister and this government's position on an issue which will continue to haunt us until we get it right. The country is essentially going through a crisis which we did not need to have. It is a crisis of policy which we do not need. It is in fact the last thing we need. It is a crisis which will do both economic and social damage to this country. It is the job of government to build a nation, to build a national spirit, to build a national cohesiveness. It is to build, not to wreck. It is to bind, not to divide. But this is to the contrary: the actions of Senator Herron and his puppeteer, the Prime Minister, have inflamed what was already a difficult situation. Be under no delusion: their actions over the last few days have exacerbated the divide in this nation. It is a nation that is poorer for this episode. As I say, most people I have spoken to are incredulous at the degree of obscenity in policy formulation and exposition over the last few days.

Most people are saying, `Why have we got this? What is the motivation?' At best those people's rationale, their reasoning, is that it is incompetence. On that ground alone, on the best assessment you can make of the minister's performance, he should be sacked. But this is an action which was taken with intent, an action developed over some time, and it is an action which was designed to attract the hate vote. It is all about wedge politics. It is all about resurrecting some sort of constituency in regional Australia. It is about being down in the polls, and the only way this Prime Minister knows how to resurrect himself is to try to appeal to that hate vote. This document was done with intent. This document was leaked by the minister's office. It is a document which was produced at the highest level of government by the Office of Indigenous Policy in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and it is in line with instructions from the Prime Minister's office—instructions which led this government's case in the Federal Court in the Northern Territory, which was completed just a few weeks ago.

The buck stops with this Prime Minister. On election night he promised reconciliation, but what he did not say was that he wanted reconciliation between himself and the stolen generation of voters, the One Nation voters that he had lost at the last election. It was not about nation building and reconciliation; it was about base politics. Peter Yu from the Kimberley Land Council put it quite rightly—it was yesterday or today—when he said that what is missing in this nation at the moment is the right spirit; we have a terra nullius of the spirit of the nation, and I think that is something that concerns all decent, thinking Australians. The real disappointment of many of them is you, Senator Hill, as well as Senator Vanstone, Mr Williams, Senator Payne and Senator Eggleston—the so-called wets of Liberal Party, those who have claimed that they stood for something bigger and better, those who have pretended to distance themselves from the policies of Senator Minchin and from the race related motivation of some of their colleagues. When will you draw the line in the sand?


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Address the chair, please, Senator Bolkus.


Senator Hill —Madam Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I would argue that it is an adverse reflection upon a senator to claim that the individual's policies have been determined on the basis of race, and I think that Senator Bolkus should be asked to withdraw that.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Bolkus, will you withdraw?


Senator BOLKUS —I will not withdraw, Madam Deputy President. That is not a reflection which is unacceptable here. The motivation is very clear, and I will continue to make that point as I have made it over recent years.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Would you please address the chair.


Senator Hill —Madam Deputy President, I have raised a point of order and I look forward to your ruling.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I understand it was an accusation about policy, not about a particular aspect of policy.


Senator Hill —I do not want to debate it with you, Madam Deputy President, but it was not in relation to policy at all. It was an adverse reflection upon a senator because it said that the senator had formed a view on the basis of racial attitudes, which is not in relation to policy at all. If it were a debate about policy that did not make reference to any particular senator, then I would not have objected, but Senator Bolkus knows that he said it in relation to Senator Minchin. It is offensive and he ought to withdraw it.


Senator BOLKUS —On the point of order, Madam Deputy President: Senator Hill knows full well that I have about 40 seconds to go and he is trying to take up time. The reflection was on the policy motivation and on the strategic motivation. It is not the first time that point has been made, and it is a point that I will continue to make. The point I would make is one that is reflected in the paper this morning when, for instance, Ton-That Quynh-Du from Lyneham said, of the difference between the Howard government and those who do not overtly fan racist sentiments, that the `other 50 per cent are too busy counting the votes milked by such tactics'. I put Senator Hill in that category. Senator Hill may not like that and he may raise points of order, but unless he puts his hand up against these tactics he will be smeared by them.


The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I do not consider that there was any unparliamentary reflection upon another senator.


Senator BOLKUS —The real concern here is that this issue has been kicked off by this minister in this government at a quite sensitive time for this nation. We are not far away from the Olympics. This was an act of provocation. Over the next few months we will be getting team after team of foreign journalists in this country and what this government has done will ensure that those journos, apart from going to Homebush, will be going out to see the conditions of indigenous Australians and will be reporting not just negatively on those conditions but also on the sort of government that uses these people, the most underprivileged in our society, as political footballs and as the targets of their politics in Australia. (Time expired)