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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1402

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:19): I thought this debate was about freedom of speech, not about so-called marriage equality. All I can say to the previous speaker, Senator Rice, is that, if she had voted the right way a couple of months ago, this would have been a done deal by now. It would be all over and done with. The plebiscite would have been held. The Australian people would have made their decision and advised parliament what it was all about, but the Greens stopped it. The Greens and the Labor Party stopped it, and yet they have the hide to come in here and complain about it. Senator Rice, if you had supported this last year when it came before this chamber, this issue would not be being discussed at the moment. We would have had the plebiscite. The Australian people would have spoken, and whatever they said would now be the law of the land. So do not talk to me about marriage equality. It would have been dealt with by now had it not been for the Labor Party and the Greens.

Getting on to the subject of freedom of expression and freedom of speech, I walked in and heard Senator Rice using words like 'intolerant', 'hate speech', 'very small minority' and 'loudly imposing their views'. I thought, 'Hello! She is talking about the fake demonstration that was outside my office just last week.' An elected member of parliament, no less, and her paid staff were outside my office in Townsville with a few paid union organisers, yelling and carrying on in an intolerant way, interrupting people going about their normal course of life in Townsville, and rabbiting on about penalty rates—penalty rates which were determined not by me or the government but by the Fair Work Commission, a commission set up by the Australian Labor Party and Mr Bill Shorten, in particular, and asked by Mr Bill Shorten, when he was the minister, to look into this issue of penalty rates. They did that. I pay respect to this commission and I accept its decision, but it was a commission stacked with former union heavies, former union organisers and officials. That is who the commission was. Yet it has heard the evidence, come down and said that there should be some addressing of the penalty rates paid on Sunday. I suspect—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Gallacher ): Sorry, Senator Macdonald, resume your seat. Senator Dastyari?

Senator Dastyari: I am well aware that we normally allow a fair bit of scope and free range in these debates, but—through you, Chair—I would ask the speaker to try to at least bring it back to the issue at hand. I appreciate that we normally sway a bit, but I think this is perhaps getting a bit too far.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Dastyari. Senator Macdonald, you may resume your contribution.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I always know when my speech is successful, because Senator Dastyari or one of his mates in the Labor Party will always try to interrupt me. I am pleased about that because it shows that what I am saying is true and it is actually having an impact.

We are talking about freedom of speech. Can I tell you that I, quite frankly, do not care if Ms O'Toole, the illegitimate—I might say—member for Herbert, spends her time demonstrating—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Dastyari, do you have a point of order?

Senator Dastyari: Unfortunately, I am not going to be able to quote the exact standing order, but my understanding is that calling a member elected in the other house illegitimate would extend—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, given your many years of experience here—I am not sure that a person can be an illegitimate member of parliament. Either you are a member of parliament or you are not. So I would ask that you withdraw your reference to 'illegitimate'.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I do so, Mr Acting Deputy President, but can I just explain. I will withdraw, as you ask. I am not referring to her personally. I am not suggesting what Senator Dastyari is suggesting I am saying about Ms O'Toole. Certainly that is not it. What I am saying is that she won the election by 37 votes, and, as the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has already clearly determined, there were more than 100 votes in doubt in that particular election.

Senator Chisholm: Why didn't you take it to court?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Well, hang on. Wait for it.

Senator Chisholm: You didn't, did you?

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Wait for it, and I will tell you why. If you want to have this argument, let's go for it. Let's go for it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, resume your seat. Please, contributions must address the chair. Interruptions are disorderly, and I ask those on my left to desist.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I will get back to the freedom-of-speech issue, but there is evidence before the Electoral Commission that there were incidents that happened that prevented anyone from knowing—for example, so many cases of double voting that the candidates and the political parties were not even made aware of until well after the time for taking action in the Court of Disputed Returns. But more about that on another occasion. My reference to 'illegitimate' was as a member of parliament for that seat. That is not the right result. I called it an illegitimate result. I was certainly making no personal reflection on Ms O'Toole.

But back to the freedom of speech: Mr Acting Deputy President, quite frankly, I do not care if Ms O'Toole and her paid staff members campaign outside my office. I believe in freedom of speech. I would have thought that perhaps that is not what she and her staff are being paid for. She, I would have thought, would have had some more important work to do in Townsville, trying to help the hundreds and even thousands of young unemployed in that city rather than conducting a fake demonstration outside my office. What adds insult to injury, I might say, is that they always have these fake demonstrations when they know I am not in the town, when I am out somewhere else in Queensland representing my electors.

But I like free speech. If they want to have a demonstration outside my office, that is fine. I have not seen any of this in Townsville, but, if the Palaszczuk government is going to set the police on to preachers in the south-east of the state, then perhaps the Palaszczuk government should just think about these illegal, unlawful demonstrations outside the front of my office. I repeat: I do not give a damn about it. Nobody took much notice of them. Those who were interfered with as they walked up the street simply laughed at them. It was the CPSU—would you believe, Mr Acting Deputy President?—complaining about the reduction of penalty rates on a Sunday. Tell me which member of the CPSU works on a Sunday.

Senator Gallagher: Quarantine staff.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Tell me which one?

Senator Gallagher: Quarantine staff.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay. There are not many of them. If they want to demonstrate, that is fine, but we need some consistency in Queensland. Perhaps we could ask Ms Palaszczuk: what is the difference between an unauthorised street rally in Townsville that just happened to be organised by the unions that keep her in business and these people trying to get across a message about their faith in the south-east of the state?

Australia is home to a diversity of faiths united by tolerance, mutual respect and a commitment to democratic traditions. I do not always agree with people who come and speak to me, try to speak to me or make public speeches about various parts of their faith or the religion they follow, but I will fight to death for them to be able to express their view, as long as they do not harass others who are going about their lawful activity. Where there is harassment—if that is the allegation—I agree that people are entitled to their right of movement, their right of going about their business, without impediment. But my understanding of the issue that Senator Roberts has brought before the Senate is that these are simply people of a faith who are standing on a street corner, standing in the mall, giving their view on their faith and trying to encourage people to think about their lives and their faith position, and that is fine by me. As long as they do not impede my progress, as long as they do not in any other way interfere with my freedom of movement, I have no objection to them.

In concluding, I ask the Palaszczuk government: tell me the difference between a demonstration in Townsville where people are impeded and a preacher or a group of preachers making a comment, an argument, a dissertation, on their faith in Brisbane. I think when we get down to trying to impede the free speech of people anywhere in my state of Queensland or anywhere else, we are approaching difficult and dangerous times. Accordingly, I really do think that the Queensland government, which is the subject of this particular debate today, should be consistent. You either stop everyone or you stop no-one. I go for stopping no-one. Providing they are not harassing anyone, people should be able to express themselves in whatever way they like and should not be impeded by police forces in Queensland apparently set off by the Queensland government. Ms Palaszczuk cannot have it both ways. It has to be either everyone stops or everyone is allowed to go. It should be that everyone is allowed to go within the reasons I have mentioned. I thank Senator Roberts for raising this important issue. It is the sort of important issue we need to discuss in this chamber.