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Tuesday, 10 August 2004
Page: 26008

Senator STOTT DESPOJA (3:30 PM) —This is a disgraceful debate. What a disgrace this government is in the Senate. What other nation on this earth with a democracy comparable to ours would have a debate that denigrated 43 of its eminent, high-achieving citizens? They are citizens who have helped to make this nation what it is. Not all of us will agree with the sentiments or the comments expressed by these distinguished Australians at any time throughout their careers, but let us not forget that these are Australian citizens who are being denigrated, mocked, ridiculed, patronised and trivialised—not just in the Senate today under parliamentary privilege but in the public and community sphere. It is a disgrace, and I am embarrassed by a debate such as this, even though politically I may not line up with some of those Australians.

Over many years I have been used to this place and this executive government deriding, trivialising and patronising youth and talking about wisdom relating to age and about the invaluable notion of experience and relating that to age. But, today, we have done the opposite. It is all about contemporaneity. It is all about older people and if they are `informed'. Let us not forget the statement that was made in this place: that we value the views of informed older Australian but we do not value the views of uninformed older Australians. Let that sentence go out into the community. Who are we to determine whether we value informed or otherwise views of the citizens that we represent? What a horrific and disgraceful debate.

As for the issue at substance—whether or not this nation went to war on a lie—we can express our personal and legislative views, and my views and those of my party are well known. This nation was, in my opinion, taken to war on a lie. It was not something that was substantiated or that evidence was appropriate or whether it was weapons of mass destruction or any other terror link—whatever rationale was given, we know the truth and citizens know the truth. And let us never `shoot the messenger', which is an expression that has been used. When citizens express their opinion, whether we consider it valuable because it is informed or not, how dare we denigrate it.

To take 43 of our most distinguished, serving, eminent Australians and talk about them in this way has been shocking. Whether it is Mrs Kelly, Michael Baume—whom I watched on Lateline with absolute stunned wonder last night—or members of this parliament, they should know better. Yes, by all means we can agree to disagree, but the personalising of this debate has been shocking. It does not surprise me—but I thought that if you were going to pick on people you might not pick on people as distinguished and wise as these people and make this debate about age.

I have to admit how ironic it is after all these years—and I can see Senator Kerry Nettle sitting near me; the two of us know more than most in this place about having our opinions devalued because of our age, although maybe not so much these days, I hope—that the opposite debate now stands. This is nothing to do with age. This is about truth, accountability and honesty in government—government scrutiny, and truth and openness in government. How dare we personalise this debate.

In my remaining minute I was going to comment on the cooling-off period to which the Labor Party have today made comment on as another aspect of truth in government. I put on record the private member's bill I moved as leader of the Australian Democrats back in February 2002 which did provide for a cooling-off period. On that occasion Minister Hill, in his response to me in question time two years ago, made it clear that he did not support that notion. At the time I got the impression that the Labor Party did not support it, so today I welcome their support for such an idea and I urge them to consider my private member's bill on this issue. It looks at different experiences—certainly the second reading speech does—around the world. In light of former Senator Alston's employment that was announced today, I think it is about time Australian citizens knew that there was a cooling-off period for ministers. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.