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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9621


Senator MADIGAN (Victoria) (13:40): I rise today to speak in support of the core values at the heart of our political, social and economic institutions. While we do not hear too much about morality in this place, everything we do, our system of government and our economy are anchored within a moral code. At the heart of this moral code is the idea that we are all born equal and that we are all free. From these core values come the idea of human rights, most fundamentally the rights to life, liberty and property, and the idea of limited representative government.

In essence, this is a social contract between our people to establish a centralised authority to make and enforce laws to uphold those rights. These values have both religious and secular origins, emerging out of the idea of God-given natural rights in the thinking of John Locke and, later, the secular moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant. These values give rise to our tradition of political and religious freedom, the idea that we are free to live whatever life we choose, so long as we are not harming others and, conversely, that we must not impose ourselves on others in a way that restricts their rights.

While this might seem obscure to some and obvious to others, it is worth restating these values here today. Indeed, the values are constantly under threat. We must be vigilant to guard them. The most obvious threats to our way of life are generally external. Last century we were constantly in fear of the totalitarianism of Soviet communism and other Marxist movements. When that threat abated as the USSR dissolved, it moved one commentator to famously argue that we had arrived at 'the end of history'. Rather than the classless utopia Marxists had committed tens of millions of murders to bring about, that commentator, Francis Fukuyama, saw this as the final victory of liberal democratic values over all other ideology. However, his declaration has proved to be premature.

Today, Western democracies are once again at war with a movement that completely rejects liberal values. Islamist terrorists, most famously through groups like al-Qaeda and Islamic State, and the fundamentalist interpretations of Islam they subscribe to completely reject liberal democracy and the values it relies upon. And, while toleration of others' views and their right to live the lives they choose is central to our values, this certainly does not extend to the toleration of millenarian sects carrying out odious acts of mass murder or the ideology that underpins their activities.

In the face of this threat, those of us lucky enough to live in societies enjoying the fruits of liberalism must assert our values and ensure that we guard them vigilantly. Unfortunately, the reflex of our governments is often to do the very opposite, and this is what we have all too often seen here in Australia in response to the Islamist threat. Earlier this year we saw a raft of legislation passed by the government that will restrict civil liberties in the name of national security. Some of the measures introduced were sensible in light of the threat we face, but others were a clear case of overreach. Unfortunately, at times we saw the government quite obviously exploiting the situation for its own political ends. This was especially the case when it was deeply unpopular with the electorate. Facing defeat at next year's election, we suddenly had weekly national security briefings and a relentless focus on laws to combat terrorism. This kind of political cynicism has become too common in our political discourse. Over recent years we have seen both sides of politics exploiting the issue of asylum seekers for political gain, demonising some of the most vulnerable people the government comes into contact with in the belief that this will win votes. We have seen the issue conflated with terrorism and approached in a highly militaristic manner with briefings from military officials and refusals to comment on 'on-water matters', while Customs is now called Border Force.

This is not a matter of national security. There has not been a single case of a refugee coming to this country and going on to commit a terrorist act. They are people just like us—men, women and children, fleeing horrific circumstances, just as we would also do in the same circumstances. Our values require that we treat them with respect and compassion. The government says it is treating asylum seekers especially harshly in order to deter others. But again, this is contrary to our core values.

The major religions recognise every life as sacred, while secular morality requires us to treat every person as an end in themselves, not a means to an end. Government policy treats asylum seekers as a means to an end. This is wrong and everyone in this place who offers support for this policy should think deeply about what it is they are signing up to. They are failing to uphold the values that make us who we are.

On the other side of the coin we have the Greens, who often talk about pluralism and tolerance of others' beliefs. They may recognise our treatment of asylum seekers for the moral outrage it is, yet at other times they fail to uphold liberal democratic values. Last week I gave a speech in this place about the campaign by the Greens to censor the Archdiocese of Hobart from airing its views in relation to marriage. The Greens are, of course, ardent supporters of same-sex marriage, while the church promotes the traditional view that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The differences between these two perspectives are stark. However, our core values require each to tolerate the other. Unfortunately, the Greens do not see it this way, and Greens candidate Martine Delaney has complained to the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner that the church's teachings breach the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act. This is unfortunately not an isolated case and is part of a trend that sees leftist movements around the world seeking to use anti-discrimination law to silence views they are opposed to. We also see this in the debate over climate change, if one can call it that. Here, those who subscribe to the idea of impending catastrophic climate change refuse to engage in genuine argument, preferring to deride those who do not agree with them as deniers.

One cannot help but think of the inquisition in the Middle Ages when heretics were burned at the stake for their beliefs. I ask: are what the Greens term 'climate change deniers' the heretics of our contemporary world? Unfortunately, on both sides of politics we see a failure to uphold the values that make us great, at least when it does not suit them. This is no good for anyone, and it is a tendency that must be strongly resisted.