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Tuesday, 30 July 2019
Page: 1200

Senator KENEALLY (New South WalesDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (20:05): In less than 10 days time a political conference is descending on Sydney. It's called the Conservative Political Action Conference, otherwise known as CPAC. CPAC is an annual event in the United States, attended by conservative activists and politicians. They're now branching into Australia. This local event is hosted by the American Conservative Union and another group called LibertyWorks. If you want to know more about who's behind these groups, good luck to you. The American Conservative Union and LibertyWorks do not disclose the names of the businesses, the organisations or the individuals who fund them or what they stand for, so we don't know much more about why these groups have chosen to branch into Australia or seek to influence Australian politics.

CPAC Australia is also sponsored by the Menzies Research Centre, the Liberal Party's think tank, and Advance Australia, that conservative group who are best known for their distasteful, inappropriate and sexualised video targeting the member for Warringah, Ms Zali Steggall, in the other place during the recent election campaign and the Institute of Public Affairs—naturally!

I have always welcomed political debate. I have chosen a career where I get to engage with people who have different views to me, such as Senator McGrath. However, there is a difference between engaging in political debate and spewing vitriolic bile. There is a difference between meeting up at a political conference and associating with racists. And there is a difference between listening to political leaders and influencers and giving a platform to hate speech. And while CPAC may have an innocent name, it is definitely not innocent by nature.

I'd like to highlight that both the member for Hughes, Craig Kelly, and our Senator Amanda Stoker, a Liberal senator from this place, are scheduled to be speaking at this event. I also note Warren Mundine, who the Prime Minister handpicked to be the Liberal candidate in Gilmore, is attending and speaking along with the Liberal candidate Jacinta Price. That's their prerogative if they want to do that. But I would like to bring to the Senate's attention the company these Liberal members of parliament will be keeping, associating with and sharing the stage with next week. The speaker's list is a who's who of right-wing extremism, with numerous guests having long records of attacks on women, on gay and lesbian people and on Islam, as well as having links to anti-Semitism.

Let's start with Raheem Kassam, one of the headline speakers at CPAC. Mr Kassam is described as 'a British political activist' according to CPAC's website. However, the organisers of the event chose to omit the details of what Mr Kassam thinks being an activist is. Mr Kassam has an extensive history of vilifying people on the grounds of their race, religion, sexuality and gender. He has described the Koran, the holy book of the Muslim faith, as 'fundamentally evil'. Mr Kassam has campaigned for 'limited migration' against what he describes as 'large-scale Muslim immigration'. He has regularly attacked the LGBTI community with homophobic and transphobic comments on social media. And there's this one: after the Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon suffered a miscarriage, Mr Kassam tweeted:

Can someone just, like … tape Nicola Sturgeon’s mouth shut? And her legs, so she can’t reproduce.

The question is simple: why is the home affairs minister allowing this individual into the country? Section 501 of the Migration Act exists so that the minister has the power to refuse the visa of an individual of such character. The minister can refuse a visa if there is a significant risk that an individual would 'vilify a segment of the Australian community', 'incite discord' or 'represent danger' to them during their time in Australia. We should not allow a career bigot—a person who spreads hate speech about Muslims, about women and about gay and lesbian people—to enter our country with the express intent of undermining equity and equality. If the home affairs minister allows Raheem Kassam into the country, he is encouraging a cavalcade of intolerance to continue at CPAC's talkfest of hate.

Another speaker taking to the stage is Matt Schlapp. He is Chair of the American Conservative Union, the people behind the event. He is a self-described 'lover' of the National Rifle Association. He has defended the chief of the NRA for saying, 'People who want gun control hate freedom.' Mr Schlapp said that having a Republican politician of colour in the role of chairman of the Republican National Convention in the United States was 'the wrong thing to do'. Regrettably, that is not Mr Schlapp's only instance of racist dog whistling. This is yet another speaker those opposite are willing to share a stage with.

The speakers at CPAC and their views don't stop there. US Congressman Mark Meadows is taking the stage. He has advocated conspiracy theories about US President Barack Obama being born in Kenya and in 2012 he vowed to send the then President home to Kenya. Those were his words—'I will send the President home to Kenya.' The congressman opposes any restrictions on gun purchases and opposes gun registries that would list detailed information about firearm ownership. Late last year Mr Meadows, the US congressman, was fined $40,000 for failing to deal with sexual harassment allegations in his office. He was also recently accused of using an African American public servant as a racist prop. Yes, he's slated for speaking at CPAC.

US Congressman Matt Gaetz is also welcome at CPAC. He is best known for inviting Holocaust denier Charles C Johnson to the 2018 State of the Union address in the United States. The person Gaetz invited, Johnson, was permanently banned from Twitter in 2015 after asking for help 'taking out' a black-lives-matter activist. In 2017 he denied that over six million Jewish people were killed in the Holocaust. Congressman Gaetz apologised later for providing the ticket to Mr Johnson. To quote the US lawmaker, he said, 'Mr Johnson showed up at my door.' Apparently you just have to show up at the congressman's door and you get to go to the State of the Union address. At the same time, Congressman Gaetz insisted that Johnson was not a Holocaust denier—'He's not a white supremacist.' How does he know, if he just showed up at his door? For heaven's sake. These are the people.

Congressman Gaetz is also currently under investigation by the House ethics committee in the US for intimidating a witness. He's a lifetime member of the NRA—a commonality for these speakers—and says that the open carrying of weapons is a right granted not by government but by God. These are the people attending this event and speaking at it.

I would like to know if Senator Stoker is comfortable sharing the stage with these people. If Senator Stoker cancelled her CPAC appearance it would not be the first time she has withdrawn from such a commitment. In May, during the federal election, the senator was billed to join the Sunshine Coast Safe Communities group. Much like CPAC, it is innocent by name but not by nature. They describe Muslims as 'incompatible people' and Islam as 'the destroyer of multiculturalism'. The senator did cancel because she had the flu. I wouldn't fault her for cancelling her appearance at CPAC. I would say that it would take a lot more than the flu to keep the member for Hughes off the stage.

This is a test for the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. Is he comfortable with his members of parliament sharing the stage with people like this? Will the Prime Minister direct them not to attend? Will he step in and show leadership? In John Howard's time the Liberal Party was a broad church, but, boy, are the sands shifting now.

This is not political activism; this is the normalisation of extreme right wing in Australia. And why is Nick Cater from the Menzies institute allowing a once reputable institution to be behind this ugly intolerance? Australians will be uncomfortable with this. The question is: who in the Liberal Party will stand up? Will it be the Prime Minister? Will it be the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg? Will it be the Attorney-General, Christian Porter? Senator Payne and Senator Birmingham: are they comfortable with this type of conference and their colleagues standing up?

I can't speak for Robert Menzies but I have to think that the founder of the Liberal Party would be turning in his grave at what this party and the institute in his name have become.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Stoker ): Thank you for your contribution, Senator Keneally. Senator Siewert.