THE Greens failed to separate the wheat from the chaff when they walked out on the “first speech” of One Nation’s Pauline Hanson.
They made a point, as did the Xenophon senators that joined them. However, they vacated the high moral ground by playing a part in undermining our democratic processes and principles.
A young neighbour knocked on the door of my home last week and presented our family with a gift as part of his family’s celebration of Eid al-Adha or the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice. It was a delightful gesture. Neighbourly. One that we appreciated very much. Within hours Pauline Hanson rose to her feet to slam these people as not fitting into our society.
No doubt that the lamb that was presented to us as a gift was halal. The same halal that the leader of One Nation wants banned. Looks the same. Tastes the same. The blessing makes about as much difference to a meal as it does to meals that are kosher or those eaten in the Christian tradition following grace.
A first speech, according to the 13th edition of “Odgers’ Australian Senate Practice” states: “Special conventions of debate apply to the first speech of a new senator. It is expected that the Senate chamber will be well attended for a first speech, and that the new senator will be heard without interjection or interruption”.
This is a far cry from the robust debate that will follow in the years to come. Through the first speech the community really gets to understand why an individual stood for election, how they perceive their role in the community and their agenda.
The One Nation Party had more than half a million votes. The ideas that they represent ought to be heard in the parliament. But also vigorously challenged. And this is the mistake made by the Greens. They do not have to be respectful of the concepts or ideas of another senator. They do have to be respectful of the right of any senator to present views.
In July 1996 Bob Brown took up his seat as the second senator elected for the Australian Greens. He had been a Tasmanian MLA and his colours were well nailed to the mast. It must have been a great temptation for some of the more conservative senators to walk out on him. They did not do so. Instead they attempted to challenge his ideas, to argue and even to have him (and his colleague Dee Margetts) marginalised.
Testing ideas in a parliament is so much better than testing them by force of arms. It is in the marketplace of ideas that we should be testing racism and bigotry that confront us. We can do this most effectively by also looking at where there might be common ground. Common ground? With Pauline Hanson? Yep. What about when she questions: “Transfer pricing, which involves minimising taxation by artificially charging high prices or operating costs to subsidiaries in Australia, and other forms of tax minimisation”?
“I can feel the Greens cringing… and squirming in their seats,” Hanson declared – before realising – “No, they have left”.
Hanson took the high moral ground that the Greens had vacated. She concluded her first speech with: “I look forward to working with each and every one of you, including the Greens, if you are prepared to see this country prosper rather than shut down.”
It is time to test her ideas.
“I call for stopping further Muslim immigration and banning the burqa,” she said. Muslims make up less than three per cent of the population. And for someone who wants to ban the burqa with a justification that it is not “a religious requirement” we ought to be reminded of the Catholic nuns of a few decades ago. Why is it that there were no complaints about that even more restrictive dress code, paraded in the streets as a badge of belief?
It is always time to challenge the destructive ideology, xenophobia and half-truths. Evidence, facts and explanation of the impact on ordinary people when minorities are made scapegoats and divide our community. If we allow this attack on a minority group, let’s ask who will be next. Refugees are already in One Nation’s sights. Who next? Will it be Hindus as the women wear a sari, Sikhs and turbans, people with different-coloured skin, Asians? Unfortunately, history tells us where it will end.
We can celebrate diversity in our community as my Muslim neighbours demonstrated. I was pleased that I was able to show some appreciation to them with the appropriate gesture of thanks… Eid mubarak.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.