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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 3418

Mr SHORTEN (MaribyrnongLeader of the Opposition) (15:15): This government has got the wrong priorities. The Prime Minister has been under pressure for two days in a row with his most ridiculous honours scheme, which the whole of Australia regards as a laughing-stock—including, it would appear, the Minister for Communications, who referred to it as the precedent set by Guatemala and Peru. What we have seen in the last two days is the Prime Minister of Australia lose his composure. We know why he has lost his composure and we know why he gets personal. It is because he knows deep down, in the part of his heart which he does not examine often enough, that he has made a colossal mistake.

Since this government has been elected, we have made it very clear that this is a government which will never fight for anyone's jobs but its own. We have been at pains to demonstrate that it has the wrong priorities. But this week there have been three dreadful mistakes which have, I think, pushed the opposition's message right into the core of public consciousness.

There was this laughable bunyip aristocracy nonsense from the fawning attitudes of a very few in the government, who have said, when there is an economic problem like unemployment, when there is a challenge about the budget: 'What should we do? Let's create some knights and some dames.' What a very weak proposition that is. It is not just the opposition who know that that is weak. I compliment members of the government; I compliment the anonymous backbencher—not for his courage but maybe for his wisdom in staying anonymous—who said, 'This is absolutely insane.' We are having a sweep on this side on who in the government was smart enough to have thought of that; we have come up with 25 names.

Then we get to the member for Herbert, Ewen Jones. To be fair, he has a good turn of phrase sometimes. He makes us laugh, at least until that is made illegal in this House! He at least said, 'I guess there are other issues that we have got to work on.' Then you have Senator Ron Boswell. In 'Boswellian' style, without necessarily a lot of words, he expressed his surprise at this development. I acknowledge the elegant understatement of the member over there, whose seat I have momentarily forgotten, Mr Broadbent.

An honourable member: McMillan.

Mr SHORTEN: The member for McMillan. He is, I think, a proper, old school Liberal from the days when the Liberal Party might have been someone you could vote for. He said it was 'an interesting surprise'. I think that is a masterful understatement.

I, of course, liked what the Minister for Communications had to say last night. It was written up as 'gently mocking' the proposal—gentle! He is a known republican. I do not want him to run the next republic campaign, because we will lose it. I do know that he did say, dipping into his vast repository of republican knowledge, 'Well, they do it in Guatemala, they do it in Brazil and they do it in Peru, so why shouldn’t we do it here?' Why not indeed? I give him points for trying.

The knights and dames decision is not actually the worst decision they have made this week. It is certainly the funniest one they have made this week. One of the other bad decisions is the refusal to come out with a commission of audit. That is a cowardly government.

Mr Frydenberg: In good time.

Mr SHORTEN: The member for Kooyong sneers and says 'in good time'. We say a good time is before an election.

Government members interjecting

Mr SHORTEN: He did not sneer; he smiled and he joked because he knows it is a joke. The simple message to the people of Western Australia is: if the Prime Minister does not trust Western Australians with the information about their commission of audit, why should Western Australians trust the Prime Minister? That is why you need to have a strong Senate team, not a rubber-stamp team who will simply sign through, sight unseen, cuts to services, to health care, to education and to jobs.

There is a third decision, which I believe is the most reprehensible of their priorities. The contender for the third could have been the cutting of benefits to the orphans—that is just stupid. There is no debate needed on that. That is literally one of the dumbest decisions I have ever seen an arrogant mob make: 1,200 kids, $215.60 each, 'Quick, let's cut that, because we said we would.' As if they ever said they would. Find me one document where they said, '1,239 orphans or double orphans, the children of totally and permanently disabled service people, or people who have made the ultimate sacrifice, will have benefits cut'. They never said that. What an unscrupulous bunch of scallywags they are!

But the worst decision this week is watering down the protections against bigotry and racism. There was some competition this week for the weakest contribution to public policy in parliament in Australia. The Prime Minister came close and, to be fair, the knights and dames decision deserves an honourable mention. But the silliest, the most outrageous and the worst statement, which I never expected to hear in the parliament, is that 'you have a right to be a bigot'—wow, a right to be a bigot!—from the Attorney-General of Australia. That must fill people who are concerned about being humiliated or vilified by racism with a lot of confidence. We have the Attorney-General of this country saying, 'There is a right to be a bigot.' I know that when the opposition raised this with the Prime Minister in question time on Tuesday there were members of the government who simply did not believe what we said. They literally thought we were making it up, because there are people of good spirit on that side, and I recognise that. There are people of good spirit on that side, Member for Hasluck. There are people of good spirit on that side, Member for Gippsland. Do not get your hopes up, Member for Kooyong—I will stop the list there. I do think he is in a difficult position; I just worry he has gone the wrong way.

What is wrong about this decision is that we should not be sending the message in a multicultural nation that it is okay to be a bigot. It is never okay to be a racist and it is never okay to be a bigot. Let me draw to the attention of the House Premier O'Farrell's comments. He has called the Abbott Liberal government for its disgraceful attitude. Premier O'Farrell said today:

Bigotry should never be sanctioned, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Vilification on the grounds of race or religion is always wrong. There is no place for inciting hatreds within our Australian society

Premier O'Farrell has said that bigotry should never be sanctioned, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Where on earth does that put the Attorney-General of Australia? Premier O'Farrell said what millions of Australians think, what every man and woman on this side of the parliament thinks and what tens of thousands of members of the public listening to Parliament know: it is not okay to be a bigot.

When the Attorney-General of Australia says there is a right to be a bigot, that is a wrong priority. When they want to lower the protections in 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, when they want to disarm the guardians of protecting, all Australians, those are wrong priorities. When you are an Australian, it should not matter your religion, it should not matter your gender, and it certainly should not matter your ethnicity.

I am proud of the fact that nearly 27 in every 100 Australians were born overseas. I am proud of the fact that, since 1945, we have brought 7.5 million Australians here to become Australian citizens. I am proud that, in my electorate of Maribyrnong, 51 in every 100 Australians has a language other than English at home. I am very proud of the fact that this is the most migrant nation in the world. I am not proud of the Attorney-General of Australia. I am not proud of the Abbott Liberal government changing the laws. I do not accept that bigotry is okay.

I agree with Premier O'Farrell. I agree, in this case, with Warren Mundine, who described the whole thing as quite offensive. I agree with Vic Alhadeff, the Chief Executive Officer of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, that it is a retrograde step that significantly weakens protections. I agree with Colin Rubenstein, head of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, that to pass the amendments as they stand would risk emboldening racists. I also happen to agree with the million Australians who visited our Facebook to express their concern about racism.

This is the week of freedom of speech, but when you have the Attorney-General of Australia advocating the right of people to be bigots, that is not freedom of speech—that is abuse of freedom of speech. This week we have seen a government with wrong priorities: this facile distraction of honours—of knights and dames—and the unwillingness to reveal the Commission of Audit. This is a shifty, sneaky government with the wrong priorities. If they will persist in defending the right of people to be bigots and trampling the rights of others, we will oppose them every day until the next election. (Time expired)