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Thursday, 12 August 2021
Page: 4793

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Senator CANAVAN (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate) (09:52): I rise to oppose this motion because this motion seeks to turn this house of review into a house of censorship. This motion seeks to silence people who are elected representatives of the Australian people from speaking about a particular viewpoint. That is our job. Our job is to express views and opinions. Sometimes we might even disagree with each other on those views and opinions.

God forbid that this house would be a place of debate. God forbid that we would have differences of opinion and actually argue it out respectfully and put different views. That's what this motion seeks to do. This motion seeks to make sure we all continue to get paid during the pandemic but that we don't do our job anymore, because our job here is to debate different issues. If you don't like someone's view, you've got a voice. Have an argument. Put the other perspective and convince people of the different opinion.

In her contribution, Senator Wong spoke of weakness. How weak is it that you can't even have a debate? How weak is it that, apparently, the greatest fear of Leader of the Opposition in the Senate is a 90-second statement from the member for Dawson? How is that not weak? How weak is it that she can't even stand up and have a debate and put a different view? Instead, she wants to censor and silence people.

We've been through tough times as a nation and this is a tough time. I do support the part of this motion that seeks to recognise the efforts of frontline health workers. This is a very tough time for our nation. But we've been through tougher times. During World War II, this place met. During World War II, this place had a debate about war strategy. During World War II, the Labor Party brought down an elected government, with a vote of no confidence in the other place. During World War II, the House of Commons had the Norway debate, where they debated for three days on the war strategy of the Prime Minister at the time, Neville Chamberlain, and he lost his job at the end of it. We had debates. There were leaders. And the Australian people are calling out, 'Where are the leaders today?' because all of us are, apparently, cowering because the member for Dawson spoke for 90 seconds in the House of Representatives the other day. That is a joke. That is not doing our job.

If there is one thing that has unfortunately happened during this pandemic, it is a complete lack of parliamentary accountability. We have not had accountability for the decisions that governments have made. Almost all the decisions that are being made under public health orders have not gone through this place. There has not been legislation. There has not been a committee. There have not been disallowable instruments. So all the businesses that have been shut down, and all the restrictions that have been put on people's freedoms, have happened without even a scintilla of parliamentary accountability. I think that's a big question for us post this: whether that's the right approach.

But to silence even the limited abilities of parliamentarians to try to hold to account those who are making decisions about people's livelihoods and their freedoms, and to then say even a 90-second statement can't be made? We are not doing our job. Our job is to review the decisions of government. That's what this place is meant to be. That's what this place is about. And I don't want to turn us as senators into a bunch of noddies. Many of us have been there, at the press conferences behind other people, where we just nod our heads in agreement. That's what this motion seeks to do. It seeks to turn us into a bunch of noddies, where all we do—apparently—is just stand there and nod our heads behind whatever the government or officials are saying at the time. To those that are supporting this motion, and who want to turn us into a bunch of noddies: you do not deserve the title of senator. If you want to be a senator, you've got to be willing to get into the debate. You've got to be willing to get into the fight, and sometimes your views will be held to account. Sometimes your people might disagree with your views. But have the guts and show the leadership to stand up for your opinions instead of seeking to silence others.

There is a great disconnect in this country. There is a great disconnect between what we do here and what people think and believe out in the public, and a big reason for that disconnect is that there is a pall of censorship that has come over our political discourse in the last couple of decades. And, if we support and continue that pall on our discourse, we will only widen that gap between parliamentarians and those we represent in this country. The sooner we allow ourselves to do our job and debate things again, the better for our nation. (Time expired)