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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26485

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (12:44 PM) —It would be difficult to have a more precise example of this government treating the Senate with utter contempt. The government suggests that we should be cooperative. I do not think we should even go through the motions of trying to be cooperative when we get spat in the face like this. I do not think we should even go through the pretence in future—it would save us the time of trying to pretend this government gives a toss what anyone else thinks. The government pretends to consult and then it comes along with drivel like that. I do not know whether it is against standing orders to mislead the Senate, but virtually every statement the minister just made is grossly misleading.

We saw 43 Australians willing to stick their necks out at the start of this week and cop vilification from this government as a consequence. The contempt for the truth that this government has is historical in its enormity and we have just seen another example of it. To somehow or other blame the Senate for having spent the last two weeks debating the free trade agreement when we had to sit here whilst the government and the opposition waited for the word from the United States about whether they could go ahead is just a disgrace. You could have stopped that debate at any time and brought on any of these bills. You know it and you continue with this fatuous pretence that somehow or other it is the Senate's fault that you let that debate go on until you figured out what you were going to do. Then you have the gall to say that you are allowing anybody who wants a say to have one. Let me quote the minister's words: `Any senator who wants a say on these bills can have a say.' That is totally dishonest. Your own speakers list has enough people on it to go well beyond 3½ hours. You are quite happy to let a bunch of hate merchants sit in the middle of our great hall and spew out bile against gay and lesbian people in this community.

That you had the gall to come in here to try to gag us from giving the truth about what you were doing is an absolute disgrace. It is probably quite appropriate that you are trying to gag debate on a bill that is trying to take away people's freedom of speech under the antiterrorism laws—completely appropriate. The next step, no doubt, will be making speaking in the parliament against the law—an act of sedition or something. Can you believe that the Labor Party would agree to it? They have just voted to say that these matters are urgent. It is not urgent to make sure that carers get properly paid because you stuffed up the legislation by rushing it through back in June. That is not urgent. It is not urgent to fix up all the mispayments with the family benefit payments that you stuffed up by rushing it through after the budget. That is not urgent. It is not urgent to make sure people get their proper entitlements. It is not urgent to make sure that people who need assistance get it. What is urgent? Ripping away peoples' freedoms, taking away freedom of speech, taking away freedom of association, attacking marriage and vilifying gay and lesbian people—that is urgent. That is what is urgent to the Labor Party—nothing else.

When was the last time we had a guillotine? I still cop flak from you guys for a guillotine in 1999 over how outrageous it was. We had a week-long debate that was guillotined at the end of it and you said how appalling it was. What do we get? We get 3½ hours on gay marriage. That is what is urgent. It is the only guillotine, I suspect, since the last election that Labor have supported, and they have supported it to comply with John Howard's agenda of vilifying gay and lesbian people. It is unbelievable—absolutely unbelievable. On your own speakers list there are six Labor senators wanting to speak on this bill about marriage. There are four from the coalition and others from the crossbench. Even in the second reading debate we will not have time to deal with it. You have the absolute contempt to come here and say. `This is a nice piece of benign time management.'

If the 43 eminent Australians who signed the letter at the start of the week because they thought things were bad in terms of lies, dishonesty and contempt for the democratic process from the government were to seek more signatories at the end of this week, they would get up to 43,000 eminent Australians. This is just an absolute disgrace—and to do it on legislation that attacks the community. Let me remind the Senate what we are doing. We are saying that this is so urgent we cannot leave it until we come back here in two weeks time. It is so urgent that we make sure there is no prospect of any same-sex relationship being recognised as marriage in the next two weeks. We have to do it now otherwise society will crumble and the world will end. How will we cope if we go another two weeks without stopping gay and lesbian people from being able to get married? That is what the Labor Party are saying. Do not just look at what is in these bills, look at the message it sends, which is even worse: you are giving priority above everything else to the deliberate agenda that you guys have spent the last three years criticising—the Prime Minister using dog whistle politics to vilify sections of the community. He has given up the dog whistle; he has brought out the megaphone. And you are there alongside him saying, `Yes, that's OK.' In fact, it is not only okay; it is urgent. There is a well-known phrase about evil happening when good people do nothing.

Senator Ferris —That counts you out!

Senator BARTLETT —Senator Ferris gives the usual response from the government to anyone who criticises them—total vilification.

Senator Vanstone —You would not be doing that yourself, would you?

Senator BARTLETT —There is another minister. I know you want to gag people and that you are passing bills that prevent freedom of speech, but at the moment we still have the right to speak in the parliament. I am sure you would like to stop that. That is what you are trying to stop by passing your gag motion. Not only are good people doing nothing and allowing this evil to happen, people are actively making sure that it happens by giving these bills urgency. Normally I would not use such phrases as that but we had Senator Peter Cook speaking in here last June—I know he is not here and that he has been ill and I do not seek to take advantage of that—in a very passionate speech that went late and we did not gag that debate. We let that go as long as you liked because we knew you believed it was important. It was a very passionate debate. He specifically said that the Senate was passing evil legislation because it potentially allowed people's rights of association as workers in the building industry to be compromised. And we understood those concerns. That is why we put in place protection after protection after protection and a sunset clause at the end of it all. He was still unhappy with that, obviously.

Now we have these antiterror laws that take away the freedoms of every Australian, including freedom of association. These allow not only building workers but also everybody else to be targeted by a government. You know as well as anybody else that there are no depths to which this government will not go if they want to target a group and they think they can create the political circumstances to justify it. So do not ever come in here again and say that you are concerned about protecting workers from being targeted by this government. You are passing laws that make it a criminal offence to associate if a government minister is able to create a circumstance that he thinks he can get away with, without the protection of the courts at all. And you are giving it urgency over everything else! It is not even a matter of good people doing nothing; it is a matter of good people aiding and abetting. This is beyond belief. It is bad enough that we are even sitting on a Friday when we should not need to, let alone then gagging debate on such fundamental issues. You are saying, `It is urgent that we take away as many freedoms and rights from people as possible and do it really quickly before they notice and get a chance to be upset about it.' If you reworded the motion and were at least honest about that then maybe people would be a bit clearer about what you are doing.

I thought you would have learnt the lesson from three years ago about what happens when you acquiesce to absolutely massive power grabs by government—taking away people's freedom in a massive abuse of government power—but you are letting it happen again and guillotining this debate to allow it to happen. It is a tragedy. The real concern, of course, is not about the consequences of this in the chamber but about the consequences of this for the Australian people. Many Australians, as a direct consequence of this, will not only have far fewer freedoms but also feel a lot sadder about being Australian. They will feel, quite rightly, that they are lesser members of the community and that they are not safe to live their lives. It is impossible to overstate the seriousness of what is being allowed to happen here, and that is why it is impossible to overstate the enormity of the contempt that is being shown. (Time expired)