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Monday, 29 August 1994
Page: 492


Senator CAMPBELL (4.10 p.m.) —Mr Acting Deputy President, as you correctly pointed out to the two previous speakers, we are debating a motion for the suspension of standing orders. I would like to explain why it is that, with great regret, the opposition parties will not be supporting the motion. When notice of the original substantive motion was given on the last sitting day, it congratulated Cathy Freeman on her gold medal performances; congratulated her for becoming the first Aboriginal woman athlete to compete for individual Commonwealth gold medals; and commended her, in broad terms, for her decision to carry the Aboriginal flag.

  After consultation with some of my colleagues, I recommended to Senator Lees last week that, in a fortnight when we have seen hundreds of Australian athletes of all races and ethnic backgrounds doing Australia proud, it was not only unfair to them but also in many ways unfair to Cathy to single her out for her achievement and seek to further politicise unnecessarily her decision—which the opposition has recognised in a number of public statements, including my own which was published on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald. That would be an inappropriate thing to do.

  For that reason we sought to amend the motion. I am glad that Senator Lees and the Australian Democrats found it appropriate to incorporate the substantive amendments which I drafted. In particular, my draft clause 1 congratulates all Australians athletes, and clause 4 specifically `commends Cathy for her pride in her Aboriginal heritage and the inspiration and encouragement she provides to young Australians, and particularly young Aboriginal Australians'. I put a lot of thought into that drafting on behalf of the coalition and on behalf of all senators, because I think the Senate in these things should reflect the views of all Australians and not try to take sides and to therefore politicise things.

  It is very sad that it has had to come to a debate as to the wording of a motion. Indeed, earlier this afternoon the Australian Democrats came to me and said that they wanted to include clause 5 specifically supporting the decision to carry the Aboriginal flag. As the minister has just said, that is a matter that the community has found to be contentious and that has in some ways divided the community. I think most people would not really care less and would not want to see controversy surrounding this, but the fact is that there is controversy. So we sought to find, over the last hour or so, a set of words which everyone could agree to, to ensure that the Senate would not have to spend its time debating a motion and politicising the issue.

  I can only second guess what Senator Lees's motivation is in forcing a debate on the wording of the motion regarding Cathy's decision to carry the two flags on her laps of honour. I would be very sorry if, deep inside her, part of that motivation was to fuel further controversy. We tried extremely hard to ensure that the motion subtly reflected and incorporated the views of all Australians and did not seek to be controversial. That is why we oppose the suspension of standing orders; it is not over support for Cathy Freeman.

  The coalition has been at the forefront in supporting her performance and what is the best performance at the Commonwealth Games of any Australian team. It has made all of us feel proud, particularly those of us who have involvement with Aboriginal people in our working lives. Cathy's achievement is special, particularly for that section of the community which does require role models and does need, more than many others, positive reinforcements of successful Aboriginal individuals. The coalition, by supporting the original wording of the motion, was showing its enthusiasm for that concept. All we were seeking to do was to find an appropriate course of action in relation to the controversial part. We thought that to use another set of words would have been better. That is why we will oppose the motion to suspend standing orders. I indicate that the coalition will seek to amend clause 5 during the substantive motion.