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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1257

WYATT ROY (Longman) (19:20): I rise on this momentous day marking the fifth anniversary of the national apology to our stolen generations to reflect on the responsibility of our federal parliament to be a standard-bearer for acceptance, diversity, fairness and decency. As the Leader of the Opposition stated in this place this morning:

So much of what happens here passes people by; sometimes it even annoys them. May this be an occasion when the parliament lifts people's spirits and makes them feel more proud of our country and more conscious of our potential to more often be our best selves.

On August 29 1946, Robert Menzies drew a road map for the modern Liberal Party when he said:

We need to return to politics as a clash of principles and to get away from the notion that it is a clash only of warring personalities.

Sometimes rhetoric transcends time and eras. It becomes as pertinent today as it was yesterday and as it will be tomorrow. Sir Robert Menzies, Australia's longest serving Prime Minister nailed it. But have we? There is room for improvement. No doubt the public wants those who are privileged to occupy the benches in this place to rise above the clatter, which might feed the 24-hour media news cycle but which starves Australians of a real voice here in Canberra.

We not only believe in diversity, we promote it. In the 1940s the Liberal Party promoted Enid Lyons, the first federal woman MP, and Annabelle Rankin, the first woman to administer a federal government department. A Queensland senator, Rankin was succeeded in 1971 by another Liberal, the first Indigenous federal parliamentarian, Neville Bonner. Today, we in the Liberal Party continue to promote diversity by simply ensuring our democratic processes are untouchable. These procedures guarantee that anyone who seeks elected office has a fair and equal opportunity to do so, regardless of race, gender, age, wealth, status or creed. Perhaps I am a case in point. A then 19-year-old, I took my chances in 2010 in a grassroots preselection. I stood before a gathering of local party members at a local hall and argued my case. Yes, I was nervous, but participating in a time-honoured tradition and profoundly democratic procedure conferred a sense of occasion. It was strangely reassuring. Winners and losers departed that hall with their heads held high.

Sadly, such notions and principles are not clung to as tightly by the federal Labor government. All too often the Labor Party machine will take a unilateral decision and bypass the vote of local branch members. If you have favoured sons and daughters you destroy the narrative of Australian democracy as an advertisement for the empowerment of anybody. You feel the dream slip, you feel cynicism in people about the authenticity of the candidates they get and the last thing you do is promote diversity. We have spent years telling Australians of all backgrounds that their best opportunity of getting into politics is to join a party and work through the grassroots level. When the Labor machine instead of the democratic will determines our elected representatives, the great majority of Australians are going to wonder why they should waste their time.

Australian democracy is owned by all Australians not by faceless men and women doing dodgy deals, and certainly not by the Prime Minister. It should be government of the people, by the people, for the people. The public rightfully look to everybody in this place for strength and leadership, but also as a benchmark for inclusiveness, trustworthiness, impartiality and decorum. On this day, of all days, we need to be mindful. In the words of Australia's alternative Prime Minister, we must grow our awareness of being the best selves.