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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 489


Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats) (4.09 p.m.) —Pursuant to contingent notice of motion standing in the name of the Leader of the Australian Democrats, Senator Kernot, I move:

  That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Kernot moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to give precedence to General Business notice of motion No. 1007 standing in her name for this day, as amended, relating to Cathy Freeman's performance at the Commonwealth Games.

We have spent quite a bit of time over the last three days trying to find words that everyone would be happy with so that we would not have to spend what might indeed end up being close to an hour debating the matter in this place. Unfortunately, we could not get the Liberal Party of Australia to agree that we actually support Cathy or commend her in any way for her actions.

  I will leave Senator Campbell to argue on behalf of members of the Liberal Party why they feel very reluctant to actually go as far as supporting Cathy for her actions, but I point out that many Australians, and indeed many members of the Liberal Party, have openly gone further than simply acknowledging Cathy's right to carry the Aboriginal flag and have supported her actions. This issue has obviously, as everybody knows, been brought to a head by the decision of Mr Tunstall to reprimand Cathy for those actions. It has certainly put the issue on the public agenda. The feedback that we have been getting is that an overwhelming number of Australians support Cathy for her decision to openly recognise and indeed applaud her Aboriginal heritage.

  I will just go through some quotes from various media reports. These are why I find it amazing that we are now debating this motion rather than simply letting it go through as formal. I start with the Adelaide Advertiser. I think anyone would agree that this paper is very conservative. It is certainly very supportive of Mr Downer, so I do not think he would have been misquoted. The Adelaide Advertiser states:

The Prime Minister, Mr Keating, and the Opposition Leader, Mr Downer, have expressed support for Freeman but declined to comment on Mr Tunstall's actions.

This particular article also refers to the South Australian sports minister, Mr Oswald. It states:

. . . the Australian Commonwealth Games Association should elect someone to replace Mr Tunstall, who was "out of step with ordinary Australians".

  "I think Arthur Tunstall will be very surprised at the anger of the Australian community towards him and Cathy Freeman should be applauded for her obvious display of pride at being an Aboriginal Australian . . .

I can go on to a number of other media comments. This one is from the Canberra Times of 26 August and refers to the Western Australian Aboriginal affairs minister, Kevin Prince, who also supported Freeman, saying she was representing Australia and representing her people. Then the Premier of New South Wales, John Fahey, is quoted as saying Freeman had the right to demonstrate the fact she was an Aborigine. I move on to the Age—this is also of Friday, 26 August—where the Premier of Victoria, Mr Kennett, said that Mr Tunstall had been `at one games too many'. Mr Kennett described Freeman's win and subsequent celebration as `absolutely beautiful' and `stunning'. I comment again that I cannot understand why the word `support' is causing so many problems for members of the Liberal Party in the Senate. I move on to the Sydney Morning Herald, which stated:

. . . Mr Tim Fischer said there was nothing wrong with Ms Freeman's symbolic gesture.

The article also states:

The opposition spokeswoman on Aboriginal Affairs, Ms Chris Gallus, called Mr Taylor's remarks stupid.

Mr Taylor is the honourable member for Groom. An article in the Canberra Times states:

Ms Gallus described Mr Taylor's comments as "inappropriate".

  "Freeman is Australian, she carried the Australian flag . . . she is also an Aboriginal and she wanted to show her pride to Aboriginal people and she is a marvellous example to them . . .

All I can suggest is that perhaps we have some very different people here in the Senate representing the Liberal Party than those we are listening to in the media.


Senator Campbell —Why don't you quote what I said on the front page of the paper?


Senator LEES —I am quite happy for Senator Campbell to support his own arguments when he has his five minutes. I have great problems with members of the Liberal Party here who seem to find it very difficult to go that extra step to actually support someone standing up and being very proud of her Aboriginal heritage.

  We see again here in the Senate what I believe is the right wing of the Liberal Party unable to support its leader, Mr Downer, on yet another issue. I think it is very appropriate that we pass this motion today as formal. We also need to look at what the sporting community itself has said. Unfortunately, my time is almost up, but we can go through a number of key sporting people and look at their support for what Cathy has done. That includes the director of Sport and Development of the Australian Sports Commission, Mr Arnaudon, the President of Athletics Australia, Mr David Prince, the national events director of the Australian Gymnastics Federation—I could go on and on with those who are prepared to support Cathy and indeed commend her for what she has done.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Colston)—Before I call the minister, I remind honourable senators that we are speaking to a motion that standing orders be suspended. We have just had a speech about the substance of the motion. I ask subsequent speakers to keep that in mind.