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Wednesday, 10 June 2020
Page: 2686

Senator STOKER (Queensland) (20:54): It's not easy for me to stand up here now and speak about the Queen's birthday honours at the moment. That's not because I don't support them or, indeed, Her Majesty. I very much do. It's because they feel like a luxury at a time when so many Australians are struggling. They're worried about whether or not they'll have a job next week. They're unsure of what the economy will be like tomorrow. And they're frustrated by decisions like that of the Queensland Labor Premier to pig-headedly keep our borders closed, in circumstances where it means our state's tourism operators are having their businesses decimated by being unable to take international or interstate tourists—particularly in these vital winter months when businesses ordinarily peak as southerners come to the Sunshine State to defrost. Yet here I am, and I'll explain why.

Earlier this year, a woman named Bettina Arndt was the subject of a motion moved by Labor Senators Wong and Keneally. That motion claimed she had acted in a way that had the potential to bring the Order of Australia into disrepute because of an ill-worded tweet she had posted in the aftermath of what was a terrible tragedy—namely, the brutal murder of Hannah Clarke and her three lovely children. Ms Arndt had been honoured for her lifetime of service to the community as a social commentator and to gender equity through the advocacy she has done for men. The motion said that her comment—which praised a police officer for indicating he intended to keep an 'open mind' in the investigation, including to consider whether the husband of Ms Clark had been 'pushed too far'—was 'reckless and abhorrent' and inconsistent with the responsibilities of the privilege of her award. I'm all for open-mindedness, but the fact remains that nothing can excuse a decision to douse your family in petrol and set them on fire. It's inexcusable every day of the week. But in this motion there was much virtue signalling, much bucketing on an otherwise accomplished woman for one dumb sentence, and that one sentence was used to invalidate the recognition of a lifetime of work. It wasn't so long ago—it was just February this year—yet with all that has gone on since, it feels like a lifetime ago.

Like I said, I'm really reluctant to discuss this, because on this side of the chamber we are focused on people's jobs: securing your job and making our economy run better so that we can bounce back from these COVID-19 restrictions fast. But this is a matter about culture. One thing people don't often appreciate is that, in the long term, our culture has an enormous impact on our economy. When people say that these things don't create jobs, they're actually quite wrong. What has made our society so prosperous is the powerful, combined impact of the rule of law, the protection of private property rights, respect for individual initiative, protecting fundamental freedoms, and respecting individual effort. Some people call these Judaeo-Christian values, but no matter what you call them, and whether you're religious or not, we all benefit from them. And so I'm pretty disturbed when I see politicians harm our culture.

It's not healthy to have a call-out culture, where people who've said one thing with which you disagree are shut down, shouted down, thrown from their jobs and shunned, with their lifetime's contribution dismissed. Deplatforming denies us all the benefits of hearing from those with different perspectives, of learning to engage in the contest of ideas with people who think differently and of gaining the ability to solve problems that comes with it. This is how we equip our society to deal with the challenges of the future, to solve the problems we face as a society. It's the same madness that sees people demand the removal of statues of historical figures who, despite having given great service in their time, held a view on something which was unremarkable at the time but is no longer acceptable according to modern standards. It's the kind of historically blinkered approach that makes undergraduates deface a statue of Churchill with the word 'racist'—which happened this week, by the way. As Dan Hannan tweeted:

Churchill was a racist? Just wait till you hear about the guy he beat.

We are still benefiting from that guy's work—Churchill, that is. Everyone makes mistakes. At some point we've all said dumb stuff or things that in time have come to be understood as wrong. But being able to reflect, admit mistakes and grow without trying to rewrite history is the sign of a functioning adult.

I'm not comfortable with parliamentarians who seek to interfere with the decisions of an independent council that considers which Australians are appropriate to receive an honour. It shouldn't be politicised, because we want all Australians to believe in and respect the integrity of the process by which these people are chosen. While parliamentarians should have input into the criteria by which we award these people, parliamentarians should not get rights of outright veto on those duly awarded.

Queen's Birthday honours were granted on Monday. Among the many recipients was Mike Carlton. He was honoured for his service 'to the print and broadcast media, and to naval history'. To call this man a potty-mouth is generous. It's more accurate to say he's a vicious online bully, a keyboard warrior—the ultimate coward. He might have contributed to naval history—I can't honestly say I know—but I do know that a broadcaster and writer who can't engage with or even observe someone with whom he disagrees without launching a torrent of abuse cannot possibly make a substantial contribution to print and broadcast media.

I won't be calling for Carlton's honour to be stripped. That's not my place. But I do want to observe that Mike Carlton has advocated for violence against women. My friend and colleague the member for Boothby has been on the receiving end of his vitriol in the context of her participation in Q+A. In a discussion about domestic violence, fellow panellist Jimmy Barnes recounted a horrific story of a family member receiving brutal abuse from her husband even on the day of their wedding. Mike Carlton then tweeted, using the hashtag to try to get it displayed on TV for all to see: 'Never have I admired Jimmy Barnes so much as tonight. How does he not leap from his seat and strangle the Liberal shill on his right?' It's disgusting.

Mike Carlton has a record of racist, anti-Semitic slurs. One of many examples is he called an individual who dared to criticise an article he wrote about Israel a 'classic Jewish bigot', suggesting that there's some special attribute of Jews that makes them bigots. He's generous with his anti-Semitic insults, but here's the thing. Where are the outraged motions from Labor senators demanding that his honour be reviewed because his words are so abhorrent as to bring the award into disrepute? That's the precedent that has been set. Where is the long line of senators wanting to speak about the horror of encouraging violence against women? Where are they? Where is the bleating about the horrors of racism we are used to hearing from those opposite? They are deathly silent.

Violence against women is wrong. Violence against anyone is wrong. Racism is wrong. This is rank hypocrisy. Because he leans to the political Left, Carlton is a protected species. One rule for them; another for everyone else. So I issue a challenge to Senator Wong, Senator Keneally and, indeed, most of the Labor and Green senators: for a change, be consistent. Racism is wrong whoever says it, whatever their politics and whatever the colour of their skin. Encouraging violence against women or, indeed, men is wrong, whether the speaker is a member of your political tribe or not. Reject your usual hypocrisy, which you weaponise so readily to shout down anyone whose political causes don't match your own and to chip away at our culture of being able to agree to disagree without going feral. We may not be perfect, but on this side of the chamber at least we are intellectually consistent.