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Wednesday, 21 August 1996
Page: 2780


Senator ABETZ(12.45 p.m.) —The matter I wish to raise this afternoon is the unfortunate assault on Monday on our nation's Parliament House by extremist elements. A number of fundamental questions and issues arise as a result of what occurred last Monday. Most important—and I trust we all cherish it—is the right to freedom of speech and the right to demonstrate. Unfortunately, the events on Monday will put pressure on the Presiding Officers and other people around this place to try to limit the demonstrations near Parliament House and the right of people to give voice to their feelings and views. It is my hope that the ugly scenes on Monday of this week do not lead to that because I think it is vitally important that the Australian people have the right and freedom to have access to this Parliament House and their representatives.

Of course, that is the other important and fundamental point; that our Parliament House is a symbol of the Australian way of life and our democratic process. Any assault on the Australian Parliament House is, in fact, an attack on our way of life and our democratic process. It is an attack on our freedoms and, as such, I am sure everybody would wish to condemn what occurred last Monday.

Whilst we are talking of symbols, can I say it was most disturbing to see a Young Labor flag hoisted upon the coat of arms outside the front of this Parliament House. It really was a besmirching of the symbols of this great nation. The fact that protesters, especially of Young Labor, sought to hoist their flag and use the coat of arms for that purpose ought to be deeply regretted by all Australians. I trust that the Australian Labor Party, through their own processes, will be able to find out who was responsible for that and deal with it appropriately.

It has been somewhat interesting and at other times somewhat pitiful to observe how some are now running to dissociate themselves from the attack on Parliament House. On the other hand, some such as Bill Kelty tell us that the ACTU rally was a great success. I suppose he is right—it is just a question of definition: what is success? Do you measure it by the number of broken ribs, the number of bruises, the pints of blood that were spilt or the dollars worth of damages occasioned to the Parliament House? I suppose it really is simply a question of definition.

To think that this same man, Bill Kelty, was the one who sat ex officio at Labor's cabinet table! He was the keen supporter of the former Prime Minister Paul Keating who allowed that man to become Prime Minister. No wonder Robert James Lee Hawke had no chance whatsoever when confronted with that sort of tactician.

The Secretary of the ACT Trades and Labour Council, Jeremy Pyner, has taken some responsibility. I was pleased to read that in today's Australian. It is to be regretted that it was not combined with an apology. The CFMEU tells us that they will not conduct a witch-hunt amongst their members. I would have thought that was not necessary because every single Australian who watched the TV news on Monday night saw people with white t-shirts and white windcheaters emblazoned with the red lettering of the CFMEU breaking down the doors of Parliament House. I would have thought it to be very easy for them to determine who those people are and take the appropriate action.

If they fail to take action against people who were wearing their insignia on clothing—undoubtedly produced and handed out by the CFMEU—and fail to condemn them, they will be rightly accused of harbouring thugs and vandals. If the CFMEU wants to have any credibility in future industrial negotiations or with the Australian people they will need to be seen as responsible trade union citizens of this country. I urge the CFMEU, rather than trying to attack the police as they did and trying to blame the police for starting it, to take some action within their own ranks and expose those involved for the thuggery and damage occasioned on Monday.

A number of the apologists for what occurred on Monday said, `Look, it was a good peaceful rally but things just somehow got out of hand. We are not sure how or why.' If that is the case I suppose we need to ask ourselves who addressed the rally and what type of language was employed at the rally. I remember when we were discussing the Racial Hatred Bill being lectured and hectored by those opposite in the Labor Party, talking about the need to deal with people who would seek to vilify and make people the object of hatred and who might incite violence as a result of outrageous comments.

What did the Labor Party's leader say at the rally? What did he tell the assembled throng? In full view of the TV cameras, so that it was broadcast into every household of this nation, he said, `The Liberal government that hates the workers, hates students, hates Aboriginals and hates women,'—one wonders who is left in the community when one goes through all that list. They were the words of hatred, incitement and vilification that those on the opposite side tried to lecture us about when we were previously discussing legislation.

I simply say to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Beazley, `You can't use language like that and then walk away from the consequences.' I think that Mr Beazley is basically a decent bloke. I think that in his heart of hearts he deeply regrets using those words last Monday. Nevertheless, he used them in public and in full view of all Australians.

I have then got to ask: if that is your public behaviour then what would you be like in private when the TV cameras are not on you? When one is asking that question of the Leader of the Opposition one should more importantly ask the same question of those trade union officials who were battering down the front doors of Parliament House. If that is how they conduct themselves in full view of the TV cameras, can I ask the rhetorical question: how would they behave when negotiating with a small businessman without any other witness present? How would they deal with a worker on the factory floor behind the lockers with no other witness present if that is the sort of behaviour that they are willing to display in full view of the TV cameras of this nation?

Similar questions can unfortunately be asked—and I must say that it pains me to have to say this—of certain elements within the Aboriginal movement. There have been a number of allegations about what has been occurring within Aboriginal communities in Australia. I have heard that dissident Aboriginal groups—and they have spoken to me—do suffer substantially because they are not part of the mainstream culture of Aboriginal leadership and bureaucracy.

It would appear that this sort of thuggery is part of the culture for some people within the Australian Labor Party and it would be fair to say that some have come to live with it. The honourable member for Sydney, Mr Peter Baldwin, is a living example of that sort of behaviour. He still bears the scars of physical attacks for his views he held within the Australian Labor Party and for which he has suffered greatly.

What occurred last Monday was nothing but an horrendous assault on the institutions of our democracy and an horrendous assault on our freedoms. It was most regrettable that when I went down to inspect some of the damage immediately after it occurred banners of the maritime workers, the health services union and the communications and postal union were all scattered on the floor. It was a very dark day in the history of the trade union movement of this country.

I fully accept that people who have lived with a culture of compulsory trade unionism and are used to getting things their own way feel threatened by this government's move to try to free up our industrial relations system and give individual workers the right to choose whether or not they want to belong to a union. I have to say to my Labor colleagues on the other side of the chamber and the people of Australia, `Remember this—most Australians believe in a fair go.'

The Prime Minister, Mr Howard, and the Liberal government have been in power for not even six months and they are trying to turn on a turn like this. Basically, the Australian people will be repulsed by what occurred. The trade union leadership did itself and its cause a great disservice. For pure political purposes and as a supporter of the government's industrial relations thrust, I suppose I can say that it was pleasing to see that it was so counterproductive.

More important than the short-term political gain that somebody sought to achieve from that demonstration is the potential damage that was done to the very institutions of this nation—and, in particular, I talk about the symbol of our parliamentary democracy, the symbol of freedom, which is this Parliament House—and the denigration and besmirching of our coat of arms for very cheap political purposes by some extreme elements within the young Labor movement.

Having seen some of the people who were affected by Monday's events and having seen the damage in the Parliament House gift shop and elsewhere, I felt moved to put on record my views and my feelings and to urge all Australians and all CFMEU and ACTU members to write to their trade union organisations and say, `Sure demonstrate, sure engage in freedom of speech, but when you organise rallies and things of this nature make sure that you run them in an appropriate way so that people do not come along with the sorts of things they came along with to this rally which would clearly indicate that some of the activities that were undertaken were in fact premeditated.' Just because the mood changes it does not mean that crowbars, battering rams or paint all of sudden materialise out of thin air. Those things do not just appear. They were there at the very beginning.

Let me simply say that I hope that the events of 19 August 1996 will never be repeated and that the seriousness of what occurred on 19 August 1996 will be etched forever in the minds of the leadership of those movements that were involved in the demonstration and that they ensure that something of this nature never occurs again within Australian politics.