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Wednesday, 10 August 2005
Page: 120

Senator RONALDSON (5:00 PM) —Thank you, Mr President, and I congratulate you on your re-election. This place only has the powers specifically enumerated in our Constitution. For that I am grateful. I am grateful for both the wisdom of our founding fathers and the generations of Australians who have seen fit in so many referenda to reject the request of rapacious governments to increase the power of the federal legislature. I am grateful that the powers of this place are limited because, like the founding fathers of the 1890s, Australians of today are cynical about the use of powers of this or any place to do good.

I am a liberal and I sit proudly on this side of the chamber. I am a classical liberal, economically and politically. As such I believe first and foremost in the innate goodness and sense of the Australian people. More than that, liberalism is based on trust—trust in ordinary Australians, both as individuals and as a collective group. This trust in ordinary Australians manifests itself in a preference for minimal and dispersed government. This trust in individual choice means a recognition that the free market is not only good but is necessary for the creation of individual choice and private wealth, which are social goods in their own right.

However, while this place’s powers are circumscribed, they are sufficient. The Australian people’s grant of power to this place carries with it all that is proper and necessary for us to do our job. While I have just spoken about the importance of the curtailment of this place’s power, just as important, though, is the necessity for us to use the powers we have been granted to deliver on our promises to the Australian people.

Some would take it as given that the government is elected to govern, but, to the shame of some honourable senators past and present, that has not always been the case. A series of reforms never voted on by the Australian people, from the introduction of preferential voting in 1918, compulsory voting in 1924, proportional representation in 1948 to the enlargement of the Senate in 1948, 1974 and 1984, has led to a situation whereby for 24 years the government of the day has been denied a majority in this place. This is an electoral system that would be completely alien to the house of review planned by the founding fathers, who instigated a system likely to give the government of the day a majority.

This anomaly has been used capriciously over the last nine years to stop key election policies endorsed by the people of Australia from being implemented. In a shameful chapter in this place’s history, the Senate has acted as a block on the government’s ability to deliver its promises to the Australian people. Indeed, I believe one of the urgent tasks this place faces is a reconsideration of the deadlock provisions and how they interact with the electoral provisions introduced since Federation. For my part, I will be doing my utmost to deliver to the Australian people the promises that were made to them by this government. They expect no less and they deserve no less.

While liberalism is based on a foundation of trust and individual liberty, the ideologies of the Left—Labor and Greens—are based on the premise that a select few know what is best for ordinary people. This pattern of mistrust by so-called modern Labor and its willing ally, the Greens, is clearly evident in two recent public policy decisions. The first was the disgraceful attempt to deny Australians tax cuts—a decision of breathtaking arrogance and seeming contempt for Australia’s working men and women. The other is so-called modern Labor’s attempt to stall industrial relations reform and its support of the ACTU’s obscene scare campaign. It shows again that Labor is prepared to sacrifice jobs and real wage rises in favour of its primary political donor. It is remarkable that in 2005 Labor does not trust ordinary Australians to sit down and negotiate their terms of work comfortable in the knowledge that they are fully protected.

I have had the great privilege of serving the Australian people in a variety of ways throughout my career—as a city councillor in my home town of Ballarat and as a member of the House of Representatives representing Ballarat, both in opposition and government. I have had the privilege of serving in several shadow ministries, as a member of the Executive Council and as Chief Government Whip. I now have the privilege of representing the people of Victoria as a senator. I intend to honour their trust by undertaking to exercise my caution in the growth of state power. Coupled with this is my determination to use powers such as we have to improve the lot of ordinary Australians by delivering on this government’s mandate.

Just as I am cautious about expanding the powers of this place, I am cautious about expanding the powers of other wings of government. For example, I remain firmly of the opinion that the implied rights doctrine of the High Court is a dangerous one. The implied rights doctrine is an attack on the rule of law and the sovereignty of parliament. It takes the precious right to change our Constitution away from the Australian people and delivers it to an activist judiciary who never face election. The judicial activism that has led to the implied rights doctrine is also the nub of the doctrine of legitimate expectation as set out in Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs v Teoh—another case of the judicature attempting to usurp legislative power.

Since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, a key norm of international law has been state sovereignty. Each state, including our own, has the right to organise its own affairs. Treaties are made by the executive by virtue of the foreign affairs power but must then be ratified and given effect by the legislature. To give a treaty automatic force of law by judicial fiat enables the executive to make law, flying in the face of the doctrine of the separation of powers. The obiter dicta in the High Court decision in Re Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs; Ex parte Lam is insufficient to lay this to rest. It is time to ensure that Teoh is undone forever—if necessary, by an act of parliament.

Unfortunately, the central values of liberal democracy are also in danger from an external threat. Jihadist fundamentalism is the greatest challenge to the liberal democratic way of life we face today. We are faced with the ethical dilemma of a radical group who want to kill us because of our free, liberal, secular, egalitarian society, and they are using these very freedoms we hold dear to attack us. We must work to remove the voice of those who foment terrorism. Where it is possible, we must deport clerics who teach that suicide bombing, in any country, is acceptable.

While this view is at odds with some media commentators, I am reminded of the words of Winston Churchill:

An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.

It is interesting to note that, decades later, another Prime Minister of England—a Labour Prime Minister—is now firmly of the view that appeasement is not an option, but rather tough yet measured approaches are required. We must use the full force of the law against those who use positions of trust and authority to incite hatred and violence. Neither radical Muslim cleric Abdur Raheem Green nor Sheikh Abdul Salam Zoud should be allowed to enter this country to preach their messages of hate. Just as our current laws limit the right to speak where such speech incites violence, so too must we limit the ability of hate-speak to incite terrorism.

It goes without saying that when a regime attempts to commit the genocide of Kurds, when a regime commits repeated aggression on its region and serves as a state supporter of terrorism, such as the $25,000 payments to the families of suicide bombers, it should be reprimanded militarily. Of course, this position assumes a moral judgment that genocide, military aggression, terrorism and suicide bombing are wrong. I am talking of the Baath Socialist regime led by Saddam Hussein. The sanction or otherwise of the United Nations should be irrelevant in the face of such evil.

The problem with the other side of this place is that it is morally adrift. The philosophy of today’s ‘broad left’ is founded on postmodernist, deconstructionist, poststructuralist and cultural-relativist philosophies. To the extent that it has had an effect on the ALP and the Greens in the Australian parliamentary system, it has disengaged them from the battle of ideas. The ability to deconstruct any fact or truth requires the cultural relativist to depart from the plain speaking that Australians hold dear. When there is, as the postmodernists hold, no objective truth, then all statements are equal. You would think that in this place political differences could be put aside to say that genocide, military aggression and terrorism are wrong. Unfortunately, there are those in this place who would seek to make excuses for the terrorists who would destroy us—who, as poststructuralists, see no difference between those who do wrong and those who seek to do right.

Former Labor senator Sue Mackay said in this place:

The war against Iraq is wrong and Australia should be having no part of it.

Labor Senator Kate Lundy said:

... this war is about oil and domination more than disarmament.

There is no humanitarian motivation in military intervention into Iraq, only a concern for the bank balances of the West.

On the UN vote condemning the security fence that Israel so desperately needs to protect itself from the global scourge of suicide bombers, Kevin Rudd, federal Labor shadow foreign affairs minister, said:

A more appropriate course of action would have been for Australia to have abstained on this particular resolution.

These Labor senators and members stand condemned along with those who hold that Australia, America, Spain and Britain are the ones to blame for September 11 and the Bali, Madrid and London bombings.

For those Labor and Greens members and senators who have explicitly stated that we should not have liberated the Iraqi people, let us not forget Saddam Hussein’s legacy. As recently pointed out by Tony Parkinson in the Age, the atrocities uncovered in the aftermath of the Kuwait occupation alone were horrific. In 1991 the US military lawyers of the Office of the Judge Advocate General commenced a report into war crimes committed ‘at the direction or with the approval of Saddam Hussein and officials of the Baath Socialist Party’. The report details as follows:

The gruesome evidence confirms torture by amputation of or injury to various body parts, to include limbs, eyes, tongues, ears, noses, lips and genitalia. Electric shock was applied to sensitive parts of the body (nose, mouth, genitalia); electric drills were used to penetrate the chest, legs or arms of victims. Victims were beaten until bones were broken, skulls were crushed and faces disfigured. Some victims were killed in acid baths. Women taken hostage were raped repeatedly. Eyewitnesses described the murder of Kuwaitis by Iraqi military personnel who forced family members to watch. Eyewitnesses reported Iraqis torturing a woman by making her eat her own flesh as it was cut from her body.

It saddens me that some within the party of Curtin now identify with those that fight freedom. It is disturbing that the party of Hawke, which, for all its faults, once stood arm in arm with fellow democracies like the United States and the United Kingdom, has sunk to such lows that some of its parliamentary representatives would have condemned the people of Iraq to the continuation of Saddam Hussein’s socialist regime.

Another example of the Left’s postmodern moral muddle on terrorism was the ABC’s coverage of the 7 July bombings in London. While the rest of the world condemned those vicious terrorist attacks, the ABC’s web site referred to ‘a suspected militant attack.’ By the next morning, they had even dropped ‘militant’ in favour of the non-judgmental heading ‘The London bomb attack’. The ABC’s style guide advises taxpayer funded journalists:

Remember, one person’s ‘terrorist’ is usually someone else’s ‘freedom fighter’. ‘Terrorism’, ‘terrorist’, ‘militant’, ‘gunman’, etc. are all labels. Our reports should rely first on facts, and clear descriptions of events, rather than labels that may seem too extreme or too soft, depending on your point of view.

We must not be afraid to call this what it is: it is terrorism. We must not be afraid to describe it in moral terms: evil. I stand here today proud to be a government senator. The fight against fundamentalist terror is likely to be the greatest challenge of this century. It is a challenge for which Labor is not ready. It is a challenge that we cannot shirk.

The scourge of postmodernism is not just an obscure philosophy held by some in the ALP and the Greens with respect to terrorists. Postmodern literary theory has also infiltrated our schools. Labor governments across the country have removed traditional literacy and numeracy programs, music and sport from our children’s curriculum. They have been replaced with deconstruction, so-called fuzzy maths, whole language learning and an institutionalised guilt in being members of a liberal democracy. Indeed, former Victorian Labor education minister and Premier Joan Kirner has said of education that it should be ‘part of the socialist struggle for equality, participation and social change’.

Fractions and percentages matter for kids. The ability to master mathematical operations and calculations is critical for numeracy. Mental arithmetic, times tables and long division are not arcane; they are the skills our kids need for life. Guesswork, fuzzy maths and calculators are a cop-out. Spelling, grammar, sentence structure, punctuation and vocabulary are necessary for a literate society—not so-called whole language learning. Indeed, as young Australians, our kids’ birthright should be to inherit the great traditions of Australian and English literature. The poems of Henry Lawson and Banjo Paterson and the plays of Shakespeare should mean something to our children. Even the simple pleasure of playing a musical instrument is denied to so many of our children. Only 23 per cent of children at state schools have access to music education. The blame for this lies fairly and squarely at the trendy ‘whole of arts’ education promulgated by so many state Labor governments.

Our children deserve to learn the times tables, be given spelling lists and learn grammar. Children at all schools should have the opportunity that physical education and music teachers provide. Similarly, Australian parents deserve to know when their kids are failing and to be given appropriate assistance to help if they are at risk of failing. I will fight tooth and nail in this place to ensure that our kids are not subjected to this pseudoeducation of failed education fads under successive Labor governments.

Unlike the cultural relativists of the Left, we of the liberal and conservative traditions are prepared to say that there is an objective truth. There are not always two sides to every argument. There are some normative values which are both self-evident and necessary for Australia to continue as we know it: the rule of law; a good education for our children; the separation of powers, both vertically and horizontally; freedom of speech and association; free exercise of religion; trial by jury; secure borders; the maintenance of national security. These are the cornerstones of Australian liberal democracy and I will fight any attempt to diminish these at every turn. These are my non-negotiables.

Some 12 years ago, in another place, as shadow minister for sport I proposed an hypothecated lottery to fund sports in this country. I am still a supporter of this concept but believe that it could be broadened to benefit many more ordinary Australians. I would like to propose the ‘Triple A Lottery’, the Advance All Australians Lottery—a dedicated fund to invest in the priorities of people and places across Australia that have been forgotten. State governments across Australia spend too much on professional sports and not enough on putting physical education teachers in schools. They invest too much in opera companies and not enough on music teachers in state schools. They spend too much funding trendy artists with no audience and not enough on programs to help disabled kids find meaning in their life. Good causes to benefit ordinary Australians which could be funded include programs in education, sports, charities and community organisations. I will be continuing my work to make this a reality.

I am a proud member of the Victorian Division of the Liberal Party and will be working hard to ensure the division and those representing it are treated such that merit is recognised and that the division’s position within the party is accorded its full dues. I take this opportunity to thank the members of my party and the Victorian people for their trust and confidence. I would like to thank my friend Helen Kroger for her tireless efforts in rebuilding the jewel in the crown of the Liberal Party—our Victorian division. I would like to praise Peter Costello for his outstanding leadership and thank Michael Kroger for his friendship. From the bottom of my heart I sincerely thank Cate for her support and assistance to me. To our three children, Joanna, Claire and Jack, thank you for your untiring devotion and support. To my staff, I thank you. To my friends from the other place, thank you for your support over many years. To the Treasurer, thank you for your attendance today. It is an extraordinary honour for me to be here. It has been a long time coming—some 18 months. I thank honourable senators for their courtesy.

Honourable senators—Hear, hear!